Monday, May 30, 2005

Nilgiri's: Feeding ‘tons’ of Bangalore

Feeding ‘tons’ of Bangalore

Deccan Herald

Bangalore’s first true department store is part of a trusted 100-year-old institution. It is set to gain both glitter and substance in the centenary year.

The Nilgiri Dairy Farm stands today at the 100-year milestone of its existence. Among its immediate plans for the centenary is a facelift to its department store on Brigade Road.

The founder’s young, fourth generation members are eager to set the beautification process in motion. “The Nilgiri’s establishment should acquire a trendy look,” declare these youngsters, into whose hands the destiny of the Nilgiri’s empire will pass in due course. “Everything from flooring to shelves and human resources has to change.”

The chairman of Nilgiri Dairy Farm Private Limited, M Chenniappan, insists that quality and service should remain Nilgiri’s prime concerns. He makes no attempt to match the younger administrators’ zeal for change.

“I used to just walk. They (young family members) run, and run very fast. They have different plans,” he remarks.

Still, Chenniappan cites direct imports as one major area of projected expansion. Vying for shelf space in the Nilgiri’s department store then will be pastas and olive oil from Italy, cheese and canned meat from Australia, honey from New Zealand and biscuits from the US, the Gulf states and Thailand. He mentions plans to set up the first overseas Nilgiri’s store in a city in the US and one later in Canada.

Humble origin

The origins of the Nilgiri Diary Farm can be traced to a small cottage at Vannarpet, a hamlet in the Nilgiri hills. The founder, S Muthuswamy Mudaliar, worked as a mail runner at Coonoor nearby.

Born in Morattupalyam near Erode, Muthuswamy used to help his poor parents in their traditional weaving business but traveled to the hills seeking a better livelihood. He and his two younger brothers settled down in Wellington near Coonoor.

Muthuswamy’s brother Armuga Mudaliar secured employment with Patel, a butter dealer. Armuga Mudaliar once overheard Patel asking a friend whether anyone in the south made butter. A transport snag had held up Patel’s butter supplies from Gujarat.

His brother’s words formed the spark that fired Muthuswamy’s imagination. He undertook to supply butter to Patel.

Then an Englishman in Vannarpet decided to wind up his butter business and return to England. He asked Muthuswamy if he knew anyone to take over his business.

Once again, the Morattupalyam brothers jumped at the offer and secured both the business and the rented premises from which it operated. There, in 1905, was born the Nilgiri Dairy Farm and that launched Muthuswamy’s journey towards great success as a dairy man.

His brothers, sons and other relatives have built on the foundation he laid and created today’s multi-crore, multi-faceted establishment comprising dairy, bakery, confectionery, department store, cafeteria and hospitality wings.

Nilgiri’s own or franchise outlets are spread over Bangalore, Chennai, Coimbatore and Erode and more will come up soon in Kerala and other places in the South. In 1939, the Nilgiri Dairy Farm opened an outlet on Brigade Road. Muthuswamy put his second son Chenniappan in control of the Bangalore unit after some time.

Nilgiri brigade

In the years that followed, the dairy farm opened a milk bar and ice-cream parlour, acquired two bakery units, opened a grocery and general store as well as a coffee bar at their Brigade premises. In 1956, the Nilgiri’s management bought up the premises on Brigade Road.

New flavours

The original building has been renovated and expanded. Its five floors now house a cake shop, cafeteria, hotel and a bank, in addition to the department store and the Nilgiri’s administrative offices. The cafeteria has already received a new look and identity.

The basement cake shop now sports a chaat counter too! The annual cake show around Christmas time draws the attention of everyone in Bangalore and even outside.

No liquor

The hospitality segment comprises the Nest, a small but elegant hotel. Nilgiri’s instant processed food products are in good demand, while cigarettes and liquor are kept strictly off the Nilgiri’s department store shelves.

The young administrators do not have to grapple with the kind of obstacles that the Nilgiri Dairy Farm founder, Muthuswamy Mudaliar or the chief architect of its growth in Bangalore, M Chenniappan faced and overcame.

The challenge that this generation faces is one of keen competition. Considering their inherited spirit of innovation and perseverance, they seem well-equipped to keep the Nilgiri’s banner flying high through this century and beyond.


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