NET.COLUMNS: Building a mass market for the Internet in India – The story of Amul in Anand

Recently, I visited the Gujarat Co-operative Milk Marketing
Federation (GCMMF) in Anand. About 45 minutes drive from Baroda, Anand
is the unlikely place for the headquarters of India’s largest foods
brand. However, rightfully so, because this was the place where the
milk revolution in India started some fifty years back. The
cooperative revolution which has made India the largest producer of
milk in the world today.

When I began my presentation to Amul’s top executives on the Internet
in Anand, I was told by Mr BM Vyas, GCMMF’s managing director, “Amul
is not a food company. It is an IT company in the food business.”
Amul’s 15-word vision for the future ends with the phrase “information
technology integration.” Internet access was available right through
the presentation (via a VSAT through NIC’s network). The presentation
I had sent via email the previous night had already been set up by the
time I arrived. I have had a harder time in board rooms in South
Mumbai making Internet-based presentations!

But then, that is Amul. Always the
one to look ahead, leveraging IT. An epitome of the Networked Economy,
where distance is irrelevant. Each one of Amul’s 40+ offices has email
connectivity and sends daily reports on sales and inventory to Anand
on the backbone of an ERP system. Over the past five decades, Amul has
engineered a revolution in the foods business and created one of
India’s most trusted brands. To understand the impact the Internet can
have, it is interesting to examine what Amul has done with it over the
past two-and-a-half years. To see the future of the Internet in India,
it is important to understand how the Internet can improve the lives
of the farmers, the first rung in Amul’s chain of food production and

March 1996: I got a call from Anand, saying that Amul wanted
to put its topical on IndiaWorld. The Cricket World Cup was on, and
Amul wanted its hoarding on the Internet also. Amul wanted a 6-month
advertising contract. A year earlier, we had set up IndiaWorld. We
were just getting used to selling ads for a week or a month. And here,
we were being asked to quote for a 6-month period! Within 3 hours, the
rate was finalised, and the next day, just in time for the semi-final,
Amul’s “Little Moppet” topical was up on the Internet on IndiaWorld’s
hope page. It has stayed there since.

The response that the topicals evoked was extraordinary. Emails came
in from all over, as people commented on the topicals and Amul. The
topicals have always struck a chord, and now suddenly, geography knew
no barriers. For Amul, it was first-hand feedback — within minutes of
the topical going up. An outdoor hoarding may evoke a wry smile, but
it is not interactive: how do you write to Amul? The email became the

Amul’s home page (one of the first
five among Indian corporates) began by talking about the Amul Story
and the history of its topicals. Over the next few months, topicals
from previous years and recipes were added. Amul also become the first
company to have its web address regularly carried as part of its print
ads. Feedback continued to pour in. People wrote about how they grew
up with Amul butter, and how they missed it. Perhaps, Amul had a
bigger market for its products abroad.

August 1998: Amul Surabhi, the programme in Hindi on Indian
culture broadcast on Sunday nights, has completed five years on
national television. Surabhi carries a quiz question at the
end. Answers are normally sent on postcards. Amul announces an email
address where entries can be emailed. The first week sees 120
emails. By the eighth week, the number has climbed to 2600. The first
emails start coming in within minutes of the question being asked! The
convergence of three media: television drives people to dial out to
the Internet. And remember: the programme is in Hindi, and the
computer and the Internet speak English.

September 1998: Amul launches the
Amul World Cricket Rankings in
association with KHEL.COM. The
marriage of India’s finest brand with India’s most popular
sport. Rankings are updated after every match, encouraging people to
write in their comments. The first two weeks have seen over 500 people
writing in, with comments on what makes Amul and the Rankings so
special to them.

Within the next two months, Amul will launch its products in the US
market. Each of its products will not only carry a toll-free number,
but also its web address. The objective is to make it as easy as
possible for the consumer to send in the comments, and have it
redirected to the appropriate product manager.

Another example of the techno-savvy Amul is the commencement of
“Dial in Amul Icecream” service in Ahmedabad since last couple of
weeks. The phone no. is published in an advertisement in leading
dailies. Customer calls up the no. and orders min. Rs 50 worth of Amul
Icecream. Incentives like a Chocobar free on orders upward Rs 100 etc
are also built in. The delivery time is approx 30 minutes as
mentioned in the ad. The Order booking office calls up the area
distributor and informs about the customer order. Delivery boys with a
bike are kept ready at distributor point who get the stocks and rush
for delivery. Cash is collected at time of deliver. In peak hours, it
does take upto an hour but the customer does not complain. The
response has been very good.” Imagine ordering two litres of milk and
one pack of butter in the same way. From anywhere.

In the evening of my Anand visit, I visited a village to actually see
the chain of events which begins with the farmer delivering the milk
to the local milk co-operative society. Milk is delivered twice by a
day by the farmers, payment is collected 12 hours later. The farmer’s
passbook carries the details of the transactions. The record-keeping
is manual and paper-based. A tanker will come later and pick up the
chilled milk, and take to the dairy for processing. Two million milk
producers in 10,000 villages of Gujarat perform this task twice a
day. They collectively own 14 modern dairy plants which handle an
average of four million litres of milk each day. If the Internet has
to revolutionise communications in India, this is where it has to make
a difference.

Can India have 25 million daily Internet users by 2005? Can the
Internet really make a difference to us? We need technologies and
services which can (a) remove pain from people’s lives, and (b)
enhance their quality of life. Unless we can do both, there cannot be
a mass market. Over the coming weeks, we will explore ways and means
by which we can do so, and in the processs, build a Networked India.

Which are the services that cause pain in your lives? Can you think of
a solution to the problem?

The five best responses get a free copy of “The Amul Story” by Ruth
Herediya. You can send in your comments, ideas and suggestions to
Rajesh Jain at

Published by

Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.