A soap opera

April 27, 2016 12:00 am | Updated 02:04 am IST

The founder of Medimix originally intended to make medicinal oil for conservancy workers in the city. Here’s how the journey of the olive-green soap began…

There are certain fragrances that are part of life in South India: incense at a place of worship, the pungent potpourri of smells at a grocery store, the aroma of rice boiling in a pressure cooker.

The smell of Medimix is also one such; the olive-green soap has been around for almost 50 years that most of us would’ve used it — be it at home, a small-town hotel or a college hostel.

Last year, I visited the factory of the AVA Group in Puducherry, to trace the birth of a cake of soap, from a tub of oil till it is neatly packed in boxes printed with the logo.

The factory has an old-world charm to it — devoid of air-conditioning and modern machinery, it is filled with well-oiled hand-churners that mix heated oil and lye to make the soap. Uniformed men move around gigantic green slabs, while women in rubber gloves slice off small rectangles from long slabs of freshly-made soap.

Then, another group of women packs the cakes in green-and-white boxes at a hypnotic pace. Technology takes a back seat here, as even the logo is punched in by hand.

The core of the closely-guarded formula was born in 1969 at the humble house of V.P. Sidhan from Thrissur, Kerala. A medical student from a family with strong roots in Ayurveda, Sidhan made the soap with his wife Sowbhagyam in Perambur.

It all began when young Sidhan wanted to help conservancy workers in Madras.

He initially made and distributed Ayurvedic oil to them, and later, went on to make soaps.

“This was so that his product would reach the masses,” explains V. Murugan, senior manager, operations. Marketing was mostly word-of-mouth; soon, the doctor who made soaps in his kitchen saw that he had a successful business venture in hand.

“His first factory was in Perambur,” adds Murugan. From then on, Medimix had a dream run, opening one factory after another and hiring hundreds of people to make the soaps a young man formulated in good faith.

Today, the soaps haven’t changed much in their design or formula. The black-and-red pattern on the box that was synonymous with the brand was changed in 2005.

The present generation that runs the company — A.V. Anoop, the founder’s son-in-law — has diversified its product range into transparent glycerine soaps, hand and face washes.

“We now have two factories in Chennai, two in Villupuram, and one each in Puducherry and Bangalore,” says Murugan. Every day, these factories churn out a mammoth six lakh soaps.

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