The story of Lijjat Papad: Seven Women Who Made a Business Worth Over 1600 cr from just 80 rs.

In March 1959, in a small chawl colony of Mumbai, homemakers saw a dream. Later that became true with a remarkable name and fame. The dream was to make and sell papad today it is known to every house. Yes, we are talking about the famous “Lijjat Papad”, Lijjat Papad is the result of seven visionary Gujarati women.

It was started by Jaswantiben Popat and her six friends Parvatiben Thodani, Ujamben Kundalia, Banuben Tanna, Laguben Gokani, Jayaben Vithalani, and Diwaliben Lukka. They all embarked on a mission to create a sustainable livelihood for housewives. They were determined to overcome the financial challenges faced by women like them.

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The idea of making papad

One day Jasvanti Jamnadas Popat and her friends were discussing things with each other after completing their household work. Jasvanti belonged to a humble family and wanted to help her family financially. She shared her idea of making papads with her friends to earn some money. They all liked the idea and decided to utilise their culinary skills to produce papad and earn money. But just like others in the 60s, their condition was also not good.

They had no money to start a business. But all were determined for it, they borrowed Rs. 80 from Chhaganlal Karamsi Parekh, a social worker and member of the Servants of India Society, to purchase ingredients. They all gathered on their building's terrace, the women produced four packets of papads. Their first customer was a merchant in the Bhuleshwar market of Mumbai. He liked the quality and taste of the Papad and asked them for more orders. 

Initially, they faced numerous challenges, but they adhered to a strict policy of self-reliance refused monetary aid and relied solely on their efforts. Chhaganlal also played a crucial role in the journey of Lijjat sisters. He suggested them making standardise Papad and he also taught them marketing and banking.

The business soon became recognised by women living near be areas. Within three months, around 25 women joined the papad-making venture. By the end of their first year, their annual sales reached Rs. 6,196. Even the broken papads were not wasted and were distributed among neighbours. Their product quickly gained popularity, prompting local shops to buy wholesale, leading to further expansion.

Expansion of Lijjat Papad

In 1962, the cooperative business adopted the product name "Lijjat," chosen through a cash prize contest by the Lijjat sisters. The business expanded rapidly and the sales reached Rs. 1,82,000 by the end of the year. The organization began to purchase the necessary equipment and infrastructure to support its growing operations. The cooperation was also renamed “Shri Mahila Grahu Udyog”

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In 1966, Lijjat registered as a society under the Societies Registration Act, of 1860. It was also recognized under the Khadi and Village Industries Act as a unit for the processing of cereals and pulses. This recognition brought financial support and tax exemptions, further solidifying Lijjat's foundation.

Lijjat began to diversify its product range and introduced khakhra in 1974, masala in 1976, and bakery products in 1979. They also established flour mills, a printing division, and a polypropylene packing division. 

Around 1978-79, Lijjat's marketing team collaborated with Ramdas Padhye, a ventriloquist, puppeteer, and puppet maker, to create an advertisement. Padhye introduced a pink-coloured bunny as the mascot for Lijjat Papad, along with the catchy jingle "Karram Kurram Kurram Karram." Despite initial reservations, the mascot and jingle became hugely popular and made Lijjat Papad a household name.

During the 1980s and 1990s, Lijjat expanded its reach across India and began exporting to countries like the United States, the United Kingdom, the Middle East, Singapore, the Netherlands, and Thailand. By 2001, annual exports exceeded US $2.4 million, and the business recorded a turnover of INR 300 crores.

Lizzat papad
Lijjat Sisters

Equality and unity among Lijjat sisters

The motto of Lijjat Papad is "Sarvodhya," meaning upliftment for all. The cooperative model also ensures collective ownership, with every member considered an equal partner. Profits are distributed equally among members and foster a sense of unity and equality. Lijjat also initiated literacy campaigns and scholarship programs for the daughters of its members, as well as recreational and infrastructural development projects in rural areas.

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In 2002, Lijjat generated over $300 billion in revenue and exported Rs 10 billion. It employed over 42,000 people in 62 division branches all around the country. 

The brand has also won many awards. In 2003, Lijjat won the "Best Village Industry Institution" Award. In 2011, it was chosen as a "Power Brand" by Indian consumers. The cooperative expanded to 82 branches in 17 states and began exporting to over 25 countries.

By 2019, Lijjat Papad had grown into a formidable enterprise with 45,000 women, known as "Lijjat Sisters," working for the cooperative. The same year, Lijjat received the "Business Women of the Year" award from the Economic Times. In 2021, Jaswantiben Jamnadas Popat, one of the founding members, was honoured with the prestigious Padma Shri award by President Ram Nath Kovind, recognizing her immense contribution to women's empowerment and the manufacturing sector.

In 2022, the company's net worth was over Rs 1,600 crore. Lijjat sisters have sold over 5.5 billion papads.   

Lijjat Papad stands as a symbol of empowerment, resilience, and the indomitable spirit of women. It has transformed the lives of thousands of women, providing them with financial independence and a sense of purpose. Lijjat Papad is not just a beloved snack but a testament to the power of collective effort and the strength of unity.

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Written by Manvi