While the heatwave in Delhi-NCR had every living being running for cover, it was good news for those businesses that help you cool down. No wonder, ice-cream sales soared by 45% in April- May and will continue to flourish through June and well into the monsoon months.
Though big brands like Kwality Walls, Mother Dairy and Vadilal benefited most from the surge,Delhi has its own home-grown kulfi brands with their own loyal clientele whose sales do not figure in the statistics of the corporate giants.
Delhi’s Chawri Bazar, congested even on weekdays, has been a kulfi destination for over a century. Most famous is Kuremal Kulfi, which started off nearly 116 years ago in 1906. Named after the gentleman who started it, the business has sustained three generations of the family. Their branch in Bengali Market in the heart of the capital city is equally well-known.
Just a few blocks ahead on Sitaram Bazar Road is another small outlet named ‘The Kulfi Zone’. Yogendra Singh, who has been working here for the last 10 years, says they stay ahead of the big brands by innovating new flavours like ‘stuffed mango’ and ‘Jaipuriya’. For the last few years, they have started providing services for marriage functions and that has been a win-win proposition. They employed around 80 workers and even at the time of the pandemic, retained 30 of their staff.
Like other local sellers, Singh admits that the market is dominated by the ice-cream majors and online retailers. “Yes, I agree the times have changed and the customer’s first choice is the popular Vadilal, Mother Dairy and others, but that’s the nature of any business.”
The secret, it seems, is to evolve as per customers’ demands. “We keep bringing new discount offers like ‘Buy 1 get 1 free’ and adding new flavours. We also offer a ‘Flavour of the month’ special”, says Singh.
One can also try the kulfi of a street vendor named Dharampal Kashyap, whom regular customers simply call ‘Uncle’. He started selling kulfi at age 24 and is still going strong at 55 years. “I started near a bus station where buses would come every 2-3 hours and would sell kulfi at the rate of 5 paisa”, he says.
Kashyap is a man who has no fancy outlet, nor needs any advertising. “I’ve been in this area long enough for people to come and eat my ice cream, and I’m popularly known as Uncle here”, he states matter-of-factly. “Your readers too can come and ask for me. People will guide you straight to me. I’m no less than a brand here.”
Online orders and home delivery have such sellers stumped. Kashyap states, “The online market has been quite disruptive. Earlier, if people wanted ice cream, they had to come to us, which made our business flourish; but now, people order it online, and we are left with nothing”.
Asked why he didn’t try to go online, he replies, “I’m a simple man, and neither do I understand the complicated nature of the online business nor do I have the strength left in me to go through all of this”.
How has competition affected Kuremal’s business? A worker, Pawan Kumar, seems unfazed. “Our legacy is way too big to be troubled by any brand, and we are adapting to the changing scenarios. You can order our kulfi on Swiggy, Zomato and other prominent food delivery platforms as well. We are evolving ourselves by constantly adding new kulfi flavours for our customers”.
Sharing his experience over the last seven years that he has been employed there, Kumar says, “When I started out, social media and online branding were not so widespread. The only time the business didn’t do well was during the Covid pandemic as people were sceptical about processing and hygiene.” Even after the lockdown, though they were following all necessary precautions, sales numbers fell drastically.
Speaking on the online marketing front, Yogendra Singh says, “We have also started online delivery and enlisted our business on popular platforms like Zomato and Swiggy, which helps us secure around 4-5 orders a day.”
Upping their marketing pitch, some of their outlets allege that ice creams mass produced by big brands contain harmful chemicals, whereas kulfi is prepared with no added preservatives and is 100% natural and healthy.
Of course, not all businesses are sanguine about their future. While Dharampal Kashyap is obviously not getting the cooperation of his younger generation, Yogendra Singh makes a sarcastic comment: “Youngsters only want to eat ice cream and run off.” However, he expects youngsters will eventually realise the value of their family business and keep it going. They have an online presence via a website.
It’s not only in Old Delhi that such small businesses flourish. South Delhi has its famous Siyaram Nannumal Kulfi Wale. Here, too, the present owner Vikas Gupta inherited the business founded by his grandfather in 1958. Three generations have carried on the family tradition.
Gupta recalls that his grandfather started out with only three flavours: Rabri, Aam Kulfi and Malai Cream Kulfi. Earlier, people used to sell kulfi in a pot by roaming the streets, selling 10-15 pieces a day. Now they have opened up shops and introduced new flavours with different varieties like Roller Kulfi with falooda (a kind of white noodle). They also cater to marriages all over Delhi. Gupta reveals that Jamun Kulfi is their speciality and is available all year round. It takes around 2-3 hours to create a lot of 100-200 kulfis.
However, the story has its flipside. According to Raza, a vendor in his mid-40’s, selling from a cart on the streets of Chandni Chowk, “The situation is very bad. People these days only want to eat flavoured and well-wrapped ice creams. No one wants to eat chemical-free kulfi, even at a mere price of Rs 10.”
Raza says he sells 50-60 pieces per day, which brings in a meagre Rs 500-600 per day, more than half of which is the cost of production. He further adds, “I struggle to make ends meet, though I am out from 12 noon to 7 pm.”
Also, while the big brands sell comfortably from air-cooled outlets and via online orders, the heat wave had very few shoppers venturing out from their homes. I was hoping the extreme heat of Delhi would help boost the sales, but even the weather is conspiring against us”.
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