A vision and a bottle of medicinal oil turn 50 – the Medimix story

26th Jul 2018
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As Medimix completes 50 years next year, it carries on a legacy that began with one doctor’s vision and a bottle of medicinal oil.

 

A green bar of soap enclosed in bright red packaging was one many stories were made of.

Your grandmother espoused its Ayurvedic qualities, your father swore on its freshness, your mother loved the feel of it on her skin while your neighbour found it the right size to take along, anywhere.

That Medimix, the green bar of soap, has been part of the lives of many in India over the past 50 years is no exaggeration. Over time, it has added variants, fragrances and changed packaging, but the essence remains the same. It’s a homegrown brand that has not only given international brands a run for their money, but also remains true to its roots, that of being handcrafted.

This Khadi-enterprise had its serendipitous beginning in the kitchen of Dr VP Sidhan, an Ayurveda practitioner, employed with the Indian Railways. He treated his patients with a variety of Ayurvedic oils and other homemade products.

Given the popularity of the medicinal oil he prescribed for skin ailments, his friends advised him to turn the remedy into a soap that would be perfect for skincare. Bouyed by the popularity and the confidence his friends placed in him, he set up his manufacturing unit in a small rented building in Perambur, Chennai, with just one employee, and registered as Cholayil Private Limited.

Print ads of Medimix soaps.

In fact, the early advertisement for Medimix, in the 70s, carried the tagline, ‘Doctors Prescribe,’ that vouched for the genuineness of the product.

However, things took a turn in the 80s when a major strike crippled production, following which the unit remained shut for two years.

In 1983, work resumed when Dr AV Anoop, Sidhan’s son-in-law, took charge of the south market and started the factory in Madhavaram a year later. The year 2007 saw a division in terms of responsibilities – with Sidhan’s son Pradeep Cholayil taking over operations in North India. Dr Anoop is the Managing Director of AVA Group, Cholayil Private Limited, the parent company that produces and markets Medimix soap.

Medimix is not only known by what goes into it, but also by what goes behind making this Ayurvedic soap a force to be reckoned with in a market dominated by multinational players. The process does not use any electricity, but relies on a series of innovations made by the labourers involved, which makes it seamless and cost-effective.
Inside the Medimix factory.

Hand-rotated wheels are used to mix the ingredients and the soap is poured into moulds and left to mature. The employees suggested innovative ways to cut the mould into plates and bars by designing machinery that worked through hand-rotated wheels. Even the stamping process, the most accident-prone, was tweaked to make it safe.

Scaling up

“Engineering companies told us that it's not possible to scale up (without using electricity); so we asked each worker, to come up with their own ideas, and it worked! Our labourers are the ones who make the product; they deal with Medimix daily, so they know better. Because of this, a worker who has only studied up to the eighth standard is equipped to handle machinery production. He conceives ideas, and also designs the machinery,” explains Dr Anoop.
An in-house innovation to make the soap making process seamless.

Every month, the company receives ideas from all workers, across its numerous factories in south India. An in-house team studies these ideas, which is allocated a separate fund for experiments and trials.If the trial is successful, the company implements the idea across its units.

Labour first

That the AVA group relies heavily on its labour force is also perhaps its biggest strengths.

Production of handmade soaps is laborious and time-consuming. Yet the AVA group has continued to maintain bulk production due to its “strong and committed” labour force.

L-R: Dr AV Anoop; and the range of products manufactured by the AVA Cholayil Private Limited

With a strength of 262 employees spread across its four factories - two in Chennai, one in Puducherry and Bengaluru - the company produces over 10 crore bars of bath soap every year.

“Our policy is to have a long association with workers, staff, vendors, auditors; and everyone who is associated with the product. They are with us from the beginning and we have a high turnout at the factory all the time,” Dr Anoop says.

Over the years, the AVA group has maintained its workforce by providing them various facilities -housing, education and healthcare facility for family, medical insurance, yoga sessions in the morning, and training programmes.

Further, the AVA group has made an effort to employ workers, primarily women, who are economically backward. The aim, Anoop says, is to empower women and provide them basic training in terms of clean hygiene, communication skills, and even motivate them to go back to studies.

Women undergo multiple training programmes.

Making it in a mechanised market

Maintaining consistency in terms of quality, process integrity, and safety are key challenges faced by this industry. 

Handmade soaps have remained a cottage industry, with Medimix leading this sector while other large soap makers such as Hindustan Unilever Ltd (HUL), Wipro and Godrej have shifted to mechanised production.

The company claims it manufactures over 9000 tonnes of Medimix soaps annually. The affordable price, which ranges between Rs 15 and 50, is possible due to its labour force who has been encouraged to become micro-entrepreneurs in their daily jobs.

Currently available in six variants of soap, two variants of body wash, three variants in the facial cleansing range and a few other products, Medimix is expanding its range and bringing natural skin care to more people across the world. Herbs used in the products include Chitraka, Dharu Haridra, Guggulu, Devadaru, NimbaTwak, Vacha, Jeeraka, Krishna Jeeraka, Chopchini, Sariba, Usheera, Dhanyaka, Sariba, Jyothishmathi, Vanardraka, Bakuchi, Yashtimadhu.

The company claims it manufactures over 750 tonnes of Medimix soaps monthly.

The company remains true to its “herbal, handcrafted” roots and its decision not to take the mechanized route. For mechanisation would a loss of jobs. Also, hand-made soaps are skin-friendly and the use of a higher proportion of coconut oil mixed with ayurvedic herbs retains the body’s natural glycerine, which leaves the skin soft.

“If you compare our products in the past 20 years, our soaps are uniform, with a quality that is equal to those made by machines,” Dr Anoop concludes.

As Medimix completes 50 years next year, it carries on a legacy that began with one doctor’s vision and a bottle of medicinal oil.

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