Britannia: Rising to the Occasion
The name ‘Britannia’ is a dead giveaway. One of India’s most popular brands of bread was launched by an Englishman. But did you know that the name ‘Britannia’ was inspired by a construction company? We take you back more than a century, to tell you the amazing story of this bread maker.
Britannia did not start making packaged, sliced bread for more than 60 years after it was launched. The company started out as a biscuit maker in 1892.
A small operation, it was launched in Calcutta by a British businessman with an investment of Rs 295. In 1897, the outfit was acquired by the ‘Gupta brothers’ and called ‘V S Brothers’. They were four brothers, one of them being Nalin Chandra Gupta, an attorney at law.
In 1918, ‘V S Brothers’ became Britannia Biscuit Company Ltd, when an English building contractor and friend of the Gupta family named Charles H Holmes became a partner in the business and named it after his construction firm, Britannia Construction Co. In 1924, Britannia became a subsidiary of British biscuit maker, Peek Freans.
– In 1921, Britannia became the first company east of the Suez to use gas ovens.
World War I (1914-18) proved a huge boon for Britannia, which was contracted by the British colonial government in India to supply specially made biscuits – called ‘service biscuits’ – for its soldiers on the frontlines. Business boomed but the company figured that the future of the business depended on it being able to convince the public that biscuits could be made in India at par with those imported from Europe.
– Then, in 1954, Britannia started making high-quality, sliced and wrapped bread. Bread was made for the first time in bakeries in Delhi and Bombay.
It was only in 1978 that a public issue firmly established Britannia as ‘Indian’ as its Indian shareholding crossed 60 per cent. It sealed its Indian identity the next year, when the company changed its name from Britannia Biscuit Co Ltd to Britannia Industries Ltd.
The 1990s saw a bitter war for control of Britannia, between the company’s chairman, Rajan Pillai, also called ‘Biscuit King’; the Wadia Group headed by Nusli Wadia; and French food company Danone. Britannia is now part of the Wadia Group.