Mumbai’s Parsi Dairy milks modern retail, with nostalgia and social media

Once an iconic Mumbai landmark and cafe, the 102-year-old brand is reinventing itself

Parsi Dairy Farm, set up by Nariman Ardeshir in 1916 is redolent of an era when the city beat to a different tune. Set in the heart of what used to be Mumbai’s busy trade and market district, Kalbadevi, stories around the dairy are legion. Culinary anthropologist Kurush Dalal who is familiar with the history of the brand and the family that runs it recalls an anecdote that he heard his father tell. Newly settled in Bombay at the time, the senior Dalal was a bit of stickler when it came to dairy products and he was frustrated with the quality of milk that the city offered him. After repeated enquiries with local milkmen, one of them finally sent him off to Parsi Dairy Farm saying, “There is only one mad man in this city who sells milk without water mixed in it.”

But today, more than its fabled past, Parsi Dairy Farm is relying on modern retail and packaged nostalgia to win over a new generation of customers. Its products (curd, ghee, butter ice-cream among others) are available on Godrej’s Nature’s Basket and the Future group’s Foodhall, both premium retail channels known to stock gourmet brands. And the fourth generation of the Ardeshir family that owns the brand is also focusing on online channels and pursuing an aggressive social media strategy.

“We are now concentrating more online,” said Bakhteyar Irani, the fourth generation of the Ardeshir family, who keeps a family tradition alive by being there at the café every day during peak business hours.

Packaging the past

The brand’s trademark authenticity will come handy in winning over new consumers say brand experts. “Legacy brands have a big advantage when it comes to food products and Parsi Dairy is a highly recognised legacy brand,” said Ambi Parameswaran, founder-CEO

Old timers in the city are familiar with the fanatic loyalty that its products once commanded. There used to be mile-long queues for its milk every morning and its curd and sweets sold out no sooner than they arrived. The brand hopes to leverage this and is sticking to the familiar blue and white colours in its new packaging and reinforcing the presence of the family in the café’s day-to-day operations.

“What worked for Parsi Dairy Farm is its ability to personalise and an obsession for quality. They owned a lab to test each barrel of milk delivered to them back in the 1980’s,” said Dalal. It was also alert to expansion opportunities. In the 1980s, they opened Princess Bhelpuriwala and Princess Kulfi House. These soon became the place for the best kulfi in town and most hygienic chat, Dalal recalls.

Riding into the future

Nearly 8-9 years ago, the brand tied up with Godrej’s Nature’s Basket as a retail partner. “We approached the dairy as we wanted to launch unique, artisanal, high quality products,” said Avinash Tripathi, associate vice president, Godrej Nature’s Basket. Today Parsi Dairy Farm features among the top 15 brands and contributes 2.5 per cent of the revenue accrued from the dairy business at Nature’s Basket. It has also teamed up with Foodhall and food delivery aggregator Swiggy.

Home delivery is not a new concept for the brand. “Throughout the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s,it has been delivering milk to various parts of the city, as far as Bandra, which was very impressive for those days. This milk was carried in a sealed aluminium can and government certified measuring jars, to ensure quality and fair quantity,” Dalal reminisces. The brand’s main outlet in Marine Lines in Mumbai flaunts pictures of these sealed canisters.

“Parsi Dairy has a strong brand recall among Godrej Nature’s Basket’s customers and our strategy will be to have consistent product availability of its range and continue innovating the range with time,” Tripathi said.

Parmeswaran holds out a word of caution. “The brand has been in decline and disrepair. If they can redefine the brand for the new generation, identify a few iconic products under their label then they can rekindle the old magic. It cannot be the same old story. They have to bring back a few old iconic products and give them a new livery,” he said.

The family says it is aware of the challenges at hand and Irani said, “We are working on our packaging to be able to sell fresh milk online.” He is also keen to build the brand’s social media presence, a team manages the Facebook page that highlights new launches and celebrity fan following (Ranbir Kapoor is a faithful customer).

While these steps have helped keep the spotlight on the brand and thwarted persistent rumours of a shutdown, brand experts and retailers say that given the growing clutter in the dairy market, Parsi Dairy needs to build a bigger national footprint for its brand. And that would make the brand truly future-ready.

How Parsi Dairy is remaking its legacy for life under modern retail

Published on Business Standard