Who doesn’t have MDH masalas in their homes ?! Who doesn’t start rhyming MDH-MDH when someone mentions the name of this brand! Who doesn’t remember the picture of Dadaji on the packaging of MDH masalas?! I am sure everyone does. But are you aware of the success story of the man behind the MDH?
Let’s take you through the journey of Dharampal Gulati, who, without any degree or marketing teams put his own photo on the packet with his ever-smiling bespectacled ‘Dadaji’ in his iconic red turban and white sherwani which resonated with people so much so that it helped flourish his MDH masala business.
MDH, short for ‘Mahashian Di Hatti’, was founded a century ago in 1919 by Mahashay Chunni Lal Gulati in undivided India’s Sialkot region. Over the years, Gulati tirelessly worked to build his small family business into a multi-crore company that promises just one thing — a perfect blend of fragrant Indian spices in a powdered form.
From ferrying passengers to selling mirrors and doing carpentry, Gulati is a self-made crorepati who identified the pulse of the nation early on and made a homemaker’s life easy with ready-to-use ground spices.
Born in 1923 in Sialkot (Pakistan) to Mahashay Chunnilal and Mata Chanan Devi, Gulati had a simple childhood. Spending time with buffaloes near riverbanks, playing kushti in akharas, helping his father sell milk products and going to school occupied his early days.
Gulati was disinterested in studies from the very beginning and as a result, he dropped out of school in class five and joined his father in their small business of selling mirrors, followed by soaps. He also branched out to other products like hardware, cloth, and rice trading.
For a brief period, the father-son duo also opened a spice shop under the name of Mahashian Di Hatti, and were popularly known as ‘Deggi Mirch Wale’. However, during Partition, the Deggi Mirch family had to leave behind all their belongings and migrate to Delhi overnight.
It was Sept 7, 1947, when Gulati reached a refugee camp in Amritsar with his family. A 23-year-old at that time, he left Amritsar with his brother-in-law and came to Delhi to look for work, and there he was, a young man with only Rs 1,500 in his pocket. He used Rs 650 to buy a tonga and started ferrying people from New Delhi Railway Station to Qutab Road and Karol Bagh to Bara Hindu Rao at merely two annas.
However, the fate had another plans for him. He was confident of earning more in his spice trading business, something he was already an expert at. So, he sold his tonga and bought a small wooden khokha (shop) at Ajmal Khan Road in the Karol Bagh area. The banner of Mahashian Di Hatti of Sialkot, Deggi Mirch Wale was up again.
In the next couple of years, he and his younger brother Sat Pal earned a name by word of mouth and local ads and opened more shops in areas like Khari Baoli. It was not just limited to this. They also set up the first modern spice store in Delhi in 1953.
Imagine coming from an era where it was believed that masalas can only be pure if made at home. Fast consumerism was still alien and it was certainly challenging but since Gulati sensed the need to make his masalas stand out from the rest, the man banked all his energies on developing an ad campaign. They used cardboard packaging with the words ‘Hygienic, Full of Flavour & Tasty’.
Imagine, a man with no education degree or marketing teams put his photo on the packet which resonates with people till date and the packaging remains the same with a few changes in current times as well.
The psyche behind featuring himself in the ads was to let the customers see who they were buying from and build a special connection with them.
MDH has remained true to its catchphrase ‘Asli Masale Sach Sach’ in all its ads as well as its superior and consistent quality. While Gulati adapted the technological advancements, he ensured that the taste and quality of masalas remained the same.
Most of the raw materials are imported from Kerala, Karnataka, and even Afghanistan and Iran to maintain consistency.
Masalas like chilli powder, coriander, and blended spices are ground in automatic machines (that can manufacture 30 tonnes daily). MDH manufacturing plants are present in several parts of India, including Delhi, Nagpur, and Amritsar.
They also have quality control laboratories that check the quality standards. All their masalas are detailed-to-perfection with no artificial colours or preservatives.
For a man who traded in multiple sectors, lived through the trauma of partition, and experienced severe financial crises, relevance in the market and staying ahead of competitors came naturally. After gaining prominence in India and abroad, most companies would set a higher value for their products, but not this spice giant. It has still not budged away from its core principle of affordable pricing.
That said, MDH has also not shied away from accepting change and coming up with distinct flavours like MDH Chunky Chat, Biryani Masala, Amchoor Powder, Dahivada Masala, MDH Meat Masala, Rava Fry Bharwan Sabzi Masala and so on.
This swadeshi brand has penetrated all Indian households over the years and continues to dominate our kitchen shelves.
Furthermore, MDH has also been committed to corporate social responsibility through the Mahashay Chuni Lal Charitable Trust. It has established a 300-bed hospital in West Delhi that treats the needy for free. Further, as per the website, the Trust also runs 20 free schools for underprivileged kids.
As for Gulati ji, his remarkable rags-to-riches story will forever remain etched in our memories.