The making of Britannia's Milk Bikis

It’s warm milk and vanilla. Molten sugar. Caramel. Malt. It’s kindergarten juice and biscuit breaks. Tea time in college canteens. Road trips, chai stalls, midnight snacks.

Standing in the centre of Britannia’s Perundurai factory, in the Milk Bikis wing, I take deep breaths as I try to separate flavours from memories.

This year, Britannia turns 100 years old. Started in Kolkata in 1918, it originally produced ‘Sweet and fancy biscuits’, according to company records. In 1955, the iconic Bourbon was launched. And, exactly 40 years ago, in 1978, the Milk Bikis made its grand début.

Today, with annual revenues in excess of Rs. 9000 crore, Britannia is one of India’s biggest food companies. Their products are available in over 5 million retail outlets, reaching over 50% of Indian homes. But I didn’t hop on a plane and drive 80 kilometres from Coimbatore because of these statistics. I went solely to eat a warm, freshly-baked Milk Bikis straight off the conveyor belt.

The making of Britannia's Milk Bikis

The factory office is strung with white and red flags for the anniversary, punctuated by cheery notices like ‘we bake happiness’. At the conference room, over a plate of Good Day, 5050, Marie and Milk Bikis (all baked on site), factory Manager Prabakaran S talks about how, at 25 acres, this is one of the company’s biggest factories in India.

They bake about 40 million biscuits a day here. 8,000 Good Day biscuits are made every minute, as are 10,000 Milk Bikis and 6,000 Marie. They run 24/6 for 270 days in a year. This is possible because of the high level of automation, a necessity in this price-sensitive market. “The challenge is delivering a high-quality product at an affordable price,” says Prabakaran. “Our Tiger packet is ₹3. Milk Bikis are ₹5. A cup of tea costs you ten rupees now!”

Over the phone from Bangalore, Ali Harris Shere, VP-Marketing of Britannia Industries, explains that the company cuts costs in ways that don’t affect the consumer. “Transportation, for instance. Biscuits are a voluminous product, so we now have factories across the country... Our norm is the biscuits should not travel more than 250 km,” says Shere. This has an added benefit: consumers get to eat the products a couple of days just after they are baked.

Inside the factory, we are wrapped in a persistent scent of biscuits. “These flavours will embed themselves into our clothes,” says Prabakaran. “When you go into the street, many dogs will follow,” he adds with a laugh. (He’s right: I’m cookie-scented for the rest of the day.)

The making of Britannia's Milk Bikis

The company is secretive about some of their processes and machines (not to mention consistently cagey about the Milk Bikis formula), so I’m instructed to follow their staff and take pictures only in approved areas. They do allow me to climb a sturdy little ladder and watch as thousands of cookies slide on a conveyor belt, shimmering through a tunnel-like oven. Baking time: five minutes and 43 seconds. The whole process, from separate ingredients to a pack of Milk Bikis, takes about half an hour.

The chain begins in a bright, high-ceilinged room, where ingredients are stocked in carefully-marked sections: huge blue drums of Soy lecithin, 25-kilogram sacks of sweet whey powder, bags of skimmed milk powder etc. The next room, heavy with the sticky scent of sugar, is where the flavouring is added: there are three jars, of which one is vanilla. The others are secret blends. All put together, they give you that familiar Milk Bikis flavour.

Battle ground

The Milk Bikis is Britannia’s fourth-largest brand, after Good Day, Marie and Tiger. (Good Day sells about 370 million packs a month.) But it is their most popular product in Tamil Nadu, which is the product’s largest market. This is why, when they launched Tiger in 1997, they didn’t introduce it in Tamil Nadu for two years, worried it would cannibalise Milk Bikis sales. “Over time, we realised the proposition of Milk Bikis was different,” says Shere. “It’s milk vs glucose. Completely different taste profiles.”

The making of Britannia's Milk Bikis

A huge vibrating sifter works on the flour, while the sugar is powdered. It is then blended with palm oil and made into a cream, which is combined with flour and other ingredients in a mixer. Everything is mechanised, so my first opportunity for a taste is when the dough finally emerges, just before it gets shaped into biscuits. It’s a tight, low-moisture dough, probably to extend shelf life and tastes pasty but familiar, thanks to the overriding flavour of milk.

We walk through a long corridor, beside the tube-like oven, to watch just-baked biscuits emerge. Finally. Prabakaran gently picks one off the conveyor belt, then hands it to me. It’s so hot I juggle it between my hands for a few seconds, then unable to wait another second, I take a bite. Still soft from the oven, it is fragrant with that distinctive Milk Bikis scent and just mildly sweet. As I reach for a second, I notice Prabakaran take a step back. He shakes his head seriously, “I don’t ever get tired of eating them. But since I work in a biscuit factory, I have to restrict myself.”

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Printable version | Mar 5, 2021 6:13:31 AM |

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