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Haldiram & Bikaji: Story of the brothers who control half of India's namkeen market

A week after ethnic snack brand Bikaji listed on the stock markets, CNBC-TV18 has learnt that the brothers of Bikaji’s promoter Shiv Ratan Agarwal are now charting IPO plans in the next 18 months.

These brothers run India’s largest snack brand - Haldiram’s, and are now merging their operations in Delhi and Nagpur to create an Indian ethnic snacks behemoth.

Nagpur-based Haldiram Foods International is run by the oldest brother Shiv Kishan Agarwal, while Delhi-based Haldiram Snacks is run by the youngest brothers Manohar and Madhusudan Agarwal.

But as you read this, some may wonder – there were two Haldirams? Bikaji and Haldiram’s are run by brothers?

Bikaner, 1919:

11-year old Ganga Bishan Agarwal, nicknamed Haldiram, began to take interest in his father's Bhujia business. Bikaner was no stranger to Bhujia - a snack made with chickpea flour or besan.

But Ganga Bishan, at a young age, decided to create his own version of the snack, a thinner bhujia made from moth flour and not besan. The experiment from his father's shop was an instant success, thereby laying the foundation of the two entities, who in financial year 2022, clocked combined revenue of around Rs 9,000 crore.

Ganga Bishen had three sons - Moolchand, Satyanarayan, and Rameshwarlal. The four sons of Moolchand, who also had a daughter Saraswati Devi, are the current generation running the various snack companies.

Kolkata: 1950s

Ganga Bishen arrives in the city with his son Satyanarayan and Rameshwarlal and establishes the "Haldiram Bhujiawala" brand. Accompanying them is Ganga Bishen's eldest grandson Shiv Kishan.

According to the book “Bhujia Barons: The Untold Story of How Haldiram Built a Rs 5000-crore Empire” written by Pavitra Kumar in 2016, Moolchand, his wife and three younger sons managed the Bikaner shop, while the business in Kolkata witnessed strong growth and even expanded beyond the traditional bhujia.

Rapid Growth Between the 1960s - 1990s

Ganga Bishan returned to Bikaner in the 1960s handing over the reins to Rameshwarlal and Satyanarayan. The latter split from the family to start "Haldiram & Sons," but failed to replicate his father's success.

Rameshwarlal also cut ties with his brother Moolchand, thereby making the businesses in Kolkata and Bikaner separate from each other.

Come the 1980s, Shiv Kishan Agarwal and his sister Saraswati had expanded their business to a new state - Maharashtra, where they had a flourishing business in Nagpur.

Moolchand's youngest sons - Manoharlal and Madhusudan took the brand to India's capital New Delhi in 1984. The move gave the brand a national and eventually an international identity.

Moolchand's son Shiv Ratan, took over the operations in Bikaner and molded that into Bikaji, that went public a couple of weeks ago.

Family Fued & Current Times: 1990s - Present

The brothers and their cousin Prabhu, known as Prabhuji, engaged in a bitter legal battle in the early 1990s over the rights to do business as "Haldiram Bhujiawala."

It was amidst this legal feud that the Delhi business changed its name to "Haldiram's", according to the book Bhujia Barons.

The decades-long court battle only resolved in 2010 when Prabhu & his brother, who ran the Kolkata entity, were barred from using "Haldiram's" or "Haldiram" in Delhi

This is how things currently stand:

Delhi Unit: Run by Manoharlal & Madhusudan Agarwal

Nagpur unit: Run by Shiv Kishan Agarwal

Bikaner Unit: Run by Shiv Ratan Agarwal

Kolkata Unit: Run by Rameshwarlal's son Prabhu Agarwal

All the business run as independent entities. Among these, Delhi is the biggest in terms of revenue at close to Rs 5,000 crore, followed by Nagpur (Rs 4,000 crore) and Bikaner (Rs 1,600 crore).

With Bikaji going public, the three brothers are setting the ground running to merge their businesses and file for an IPO in the next year-and-a-half.

Interestingly, Pankaj Agarwal, the son of Manoharlal, and touted to be the scion of the Delhi business is quoted saying in the book Bhujia Barons:

"An IPO is almost impossible for us. Unfortunately, the way the brands are divided, it will be very confusing for both our customers and our stakeholders. The internal structure is also not geared towards it."


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