I am in love with the aroma of yeast mixed in flour. It gives me immense pleasure to see a bread loaf baked perfectly," says Manjit Singh, the man behind the Ludhiana-based Bonn Nutrients, the largest bread maker in North India. It holds 67 per cent market share in the region, producing nearly 600,000 loaves daily. Apart from a range of breads, Bonn Nutrients makes an assortment of buns, cakes, cookies, rusk, and biscuits in its bakeries at Ludhiana and Kapurthala in Punjab, as well as at its franchise and contract manufacturing units in several other states in the north. From just Rs 65 crore in 2004/05, its turnover has shot up to Rs 400 crore today.
Singh's love affair with flour and yeast goes back almost 30 years. It started at a small bakery-cum-shop owned by his brother-in-law in the busy lanes of Braun Road in the old quarter of Ludhiana. "At my sister's insistence, my father sent me to Ludhiana to study. I stayed with her, and helped her husband in the bakery after school hours," says Singh, "By the time I reached my final graduation year, I realised my love for baking and wanted to be in that business. So I dropped out."
Started a bakery in 1985 with a secondhand earthen oven
Owns Bonn Nutrients, a 400-crore company employing 3,000 people
Singh's family, hailing from Sahiwal - then Montgomery - a small town now in Pakistan, relocated to Patiala during the Partition in 1947. While still in college, Singh tried his hand at trading in coal, but failed. Thus there was scepticism all around when he started his bakery in Ludhiana's Madhopuri locality with a secondhand earthen oven and four sacks of flour in 1985, four months after his wedding. "I took loans from my friends and relatives to start the bakery," he says, adding he was clear from the beginning that he wanted to cater to not just the neighbourhood, but well beyond. "Everyone thought that I was taking a big risk. I had no option but to succeed."
There were lessons and challenges for Singh along the way. In the initial months, he used to deliver his products to shopkeepers in nearby towns on his scooter. "During this time, I realised that in order to survive in this business, I had to be punctual and faster than my rivals. For that I needed to scale up fast," he says. Today, Bonn Nutrients has a fullfledged transport department with 400 vehicles to deliver its products.
The Punjab insurgency was at its peak through most of the 1980s, and at one point almost halted Singh's business, after a salesman and driver of his company were killed in terrorist attacks. "No one was willing to deliver the products. But somehow I managed to convince them and get my business back on track," he says.
"I have set a goal now," says Singh, with a glint in his eye. "I want to become a national player and be the leader in my field." Singh's younger brother Jatinder has joined him in the business. He is waiting for his son Suvin, studying business management in London, to return and join him too.