Started with Rs 100 in Ludhiana, this Amritsari papad brand has scaled up to sell overseas
S. Amanpreet Thind, GRD Papad
In 1937, S Pal Singh came to Ludhiana from Lahore (in now-Pakistan) with grit, determination, and Rs 100 in his pockets. Facing the struggle of earning a livelihood in a city, he could think of only one thing to do to make ends meet — using his skills to make papad.
The demand for Amritsari papad at that time was on the rise, especially in the Punjab region. However, there were not many players in the market to cater to that demand. And so, S Pal Singh decided to hit this opportunity and start his own Amritsari papad brand. But, what could he do with just Rs 100, especially for a labour-intensive product?
In an interaction with SMBStory, S Amanpreet Singh, grandson of S Pal Singh, shares the 82-year-long journey of the business that has gone through thick and thin to become a much-sought after brand of Amritsari papad. He says,
“My grandfather started the business single-handedly without any support. He just had Rs 100 in his pocket, and papad-making requires intensive labour. But, he didn’t lose hope. He started manufacturing papad himself. At that time, there were no machines. From kneading the dough and blending spices to rolling out, everything was done manually, and he did it all by himself.”
In the early days, when S Pal Singh started manufacturing papad, the costing was Rs 5 per kg. And the output was just 8-10 kg per day. He opened a shop in Chaura Bazaar, Ludhiana, in a small area for retail known as ‘Amritsarian Di Hatti’. Amanpreet says,
“My grandfather by himself could churn out about 10 kg per day. And, after making the papad, he would sell them in the shop. So, you see, it was dual work he was involved in — manufacturing early in the morning and then opening the shop to sell.”
Things were going steady, and S Pal Singh was able to cater to the demand. But, the business’ scale and growth really grew apace in the 1960s, when his son S Shyam Singh joined the business. Amanpreet recalls his father was just 15 years old when he entered the business, and after he joined they ventured into wholesale.
Earlier, the supply and sales were restricted to Ludhiana city, but, after S. Syam Singh joined, he explored nearby areas and expanded the retail presence to small towns located near Ludhiana, including Phillaur and Phagwara. By that time, the father-son duo had sourced labourers to increase their manufacturing output.
From Ludhiana to Canada and Australia
Around the early 2000s, Amanpreet joined his father in the business. And, that was the beginning of the business’ modern trade. He revamped the traditional business model and formed the current brand of GRD Papad. He says,
“When I joined, I got most of the things already structured. The initial struggles and building the value of the product was already done long back. I had to take it forward keeping the traditional ethical values intact and, for that, I had a lot of responsibilities on my shoulder.”
The modern retail trade was growing then, with hypermarts like Big Bazaar, Easy Day, and others making a steady move in the Indian retail ecosystem. And, Amanpreet thought it was the right time to innovate and enter these spaces. Thus, in 2005, the brand arrived on the shelves of Big Bazaar, and since then there has been no looking back.
Having been around for over 80 years, Amritsarian Di Hatti now boasts of 14 SKUs including papad, wadi, mangodi, rice fryums, soya chaap, and more.
Amanpreet explains that papad, wadi, and mangodi are manufactured in his own units while the rice fryums, sabudana papad, soya chaap, rice papad, and others are sourced from other locations in India.
There are three spice variants (high, medium, and low) in papad and wadi and the medium-spice papads have gained the most traction, says Amanpreet.
After Big Bazaar, the company has also entered Best Price, Reliance Fresh, D Mart and Metro Cash and Carry across Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Jammu & Kashmir, and other states.
Today, GRD Papad captures 80 percent of the Punjab-Amritsari papad market, Amanpreet claims, and the company records an annual turnover of about Rs 5 crore.
After stepping into the modern retail sector, Amanpreet also wanted to see the business spread its wings internationally. However, with the long procedure of LC licencing, he found another way out and started exporting to Canada and Australia through a dealer located in Amritsar.
“Getting the license involves a long process, and now, as I am the only person managing this age-old brand, I didn’t want to get distracted from the business. And so, I started exports through a dealer,” says Amanpreet.
He goes on to explain that Amritsari papad is a niche category and there are only two players in the Indian market, including GRD, who are catering to the huge demand. He also shares that, while the technology has developed and there are papad-making machines now, the papads sold under GRD brand are all handmade. He adds,
“For making papad, machines are not apt, Amritsari papad is known for its handmade quality, and we cannot play with it. Though we have machines deployed in our manufacturing unit, we have 23 labourers who hand-make the papads. As of now, we have a production output of approx 1500 kg per day and we sell around 500 kg daily.”
Amanpreet also claims that he is one of the first Amritsari papad manufacturers who have deployed solar heaters in the factory. He also claims a USP in that each of the products has the nutritional contents displayed on the packaging.
“In the Amritsari papad market, no one is educated enough to understand things like putting a green / red / brown mark on the packaging or including nutritional value. But, we have incorporated that in our brand’s packaging,” he says.
Product stock at Amritsarian Di Hatti
Amanpreet points out that the papad industry is dependent on the weather conditions. Bad weather can hamper the productivity for the entire day as papads need bright sunlight to dry; for the same reason, the production reduces in the monsoon.
Finding the right labourer is also a challenge as a lot of learning and unlearning is involved when it comes to making Amritsari papad; they are a little thicker and larger than the standard papad size and the blend of spices has to be measured exactly.
Talking about the way forward, Amanpreet says that he has been approached by various dealers keen to take GRD papad’s franchise, but he is waiting for the right time and may go forward with the franchise-based model targeting other states in India.
He is also expecting to increase the company’s revenue in the coming years by expanding the business both locally and internationally.
(Edited by Athirupa Geetha Manichandar)