Over the years with tastes getting redefined in Kashmir, ice cream market has jumped from homemade delicacy to a branded business. Saima Bhat reports how the climatic change has given a huge legroom to the ice cream brands to takeover Kashmir’s summer taste buds
Not many years ago, women from Dhara and Harwan used to come to Bohri Kadal to sell ice slabs during peak summers. They used to hawk singing: ‘Wah Yakho Kamu Van Volmukh Yakho, Andri Golkho Yakho’ (Oh, ice from what forest did I fetch you? Are you melting from inside?).
Then, climatic change exhibited itself as the snow line went uphill. . This paved the room for various ice cream companies to fill the wide in the ice-cold space.Mir Mushtaq, 62, and his wife Kulsum Mir started their ice cream brand Dairy Food, first branded ice cream, in 2006 from industrial estate Shalteng, in city outskirts. With a turnover of Rs 1.5 crore till 2009, this ice cream under Melody Cones Company is in shambles post summer 2010 unrest. Whatwas left was drained down by September 2014 floods.
“Since 1980’s I was making ice blocks and candies (ice) from my Safa Kadal factory. Quite a few of u making orange and cola candies,” says Mir.
After studying Kashmir’s ice cream market, Mirs’ invested Rs 2.5 crore at Khonmoh but later shifted to Shalteng, in 2005. Within a year, they established Dairy Food with machines worth Rs 70 lakh. With raw material including mik sourced from outside Kashmir (because of non-availability), they added almost all the popular products to heir basket.
“Everything moved smoothly as we expanded gradually,” Mir said. “Then the unrests between 2008 and 2010 witnessed strikes and curfews and 25 of our frightened non-local workers fled. After this setback, I started crawling again by making custard but September 2014 floods devoured it.” Fighters, Mirs’ did not give up. They make cones, around 8000 boxes (each containing 500 cones), for Kashmir, Ladakh and Jammu markets. For him complete revival of Dairy Food can take his turnover to Rs 5 crore as he is adding baking and coco powder and chocolate paste so that he can remain in business throughout the year.
Ice cream in Kashmir is a cottage industry with around 500 small units. Chandra Mohan Sharma established Volga in Sonwar in 1970’s. It made candies, orange and cola, a brand quite common outside cinema halls, schools and colleges. Post 90’s, insurgency led Sharma shut his shop and shift to Jammu. From Sonawar, he started distribution of other ice creams, Kwality Walls.
“In 1998 Sharma revived his manufacturing but he choose Jammu,” Haji Abdul Majeed, Volga General Manager said. “The company produces Dairy Fresh and Kashmir is its main market besides Himachal.”
By 2015, Dairy Fresh is the largest selling brand in Kashmir, with a turnover exceeding Rs 16 crore in Kashmir. Rafiq Ahmad is one among the main distributor of Dairy Fresh in old city, with a yearly turnover of Rs 40 lakh, mostly during peak summers.
In business since 1987, Rafiq once owned a brand Emami. But he closed it down in 1996. Reason: he got non-local workers who were unhygienic. “They used to boil milk in the same container in which they cooked their food and they would sleep in the same room where they would manufacture ice-cream,” says Rafiq.
The officials know ice cream makers using rusted utensils and skipping established standards. But, somehow, the show goes on.
Rafiq jumped into cold drinks and softy from Barbarshah. For selling Dairy Fresh, he acquired least seven deep freezer trolleys, each costing Rs 42,000. Trolleys usually do a good business as they move around. Every one of them would make Rs 2000, a day.
“Every day was a challenge,” Rafiq said. “From getting a labour to push the trolley and then getting a space where state forces don’t interfere was very difficult.” He then started with the distribution of the same brand instead. With 16 deep freezers and 14 aides, he manages the best of it in Ganderbal and Barbarshah.
Polka is a different story. Even if its owner Khurshid Ahmad Khan, 72, was satisfied with his work of reaching the people with ‘quality’ ice cream at reasonable rates, between Rs 5 and 10, but his 2-room factory looked messy. Visibly, machines belong to World War II! It sourced water directly from the tap. But ice creams are hot cakes. Baskin Robbins, Kwality walls, London Dairy, Dairy Fresh, Cream Bell, Amul, Mark food, Mother Dairy, Vadilal, Fun Scoop, all brands sell. It is almost Rs 50 crore business, partly courtesy October, the peak of marriage season.
Ice cream is a frozen dairy-based product but insiders said many ice creams are actually frozen yogurt. The only difference between these two remains: the basic 16 per cent milk fat, present in ice creams.
Junaid Shahdad, who sells Baskin Robbins (BR) in Srinagar, says he does good business as there is less competition or no competition at all for his branded ice cream. “Baskin Robbins is only ice cream, produced by milk products, while as brands like London Dairy and Cream Bell are frozen yogurts,” Shahdad said. They are desserts, not ice creams.”
“BR is starting with the sticks and cups,” says Shahdad, who insists floods devoured 70 percent of his business.
But Kashmir is more familiar to homemade ice creams, Kulfi. Amma Budda from Bohri Kadal is usually a synonym of Matka Kulfi. Now
Mohammad Shafi Bhat sees himself as Budda’s successor. In business for last 40 years, Bhat says he learnt Kulfi making from Budda when he was 15-year-old. Matka Kulfi with steam noodles is famous summer peak treat in Shehr-e-Khas. Bhat says, the business is picking up more than expected during marriage season. “This is homemade ice cream and some people prefer this over the other branded ice creams present in market, for being special,” Bhat said. “People have shifted from deserts like firini and halwa to ice creams as the trend of marriage season has shifted from autumn to spring and summer.” The huge market thirst for matka kulfi has triggered a surge in dealers. Now almost 10 individuals make and sell this kulfi. The taste varies with the mutka you purchase from. None of them shares his recipes.
Bhat’s day starts at crack of the dawn, soon after Fajr is over. “I have a good demand. People come for bookings for special occasions at least a week earlier,” Bhat says. “We provide special kulfi’s with dry fruit for special functions and each order varies from 100 to 5000 cones, each costing at Rs 40 (on order) otherwise Rs 30.” Between mid April to October, he requires 120 liters of local cow milk, daily.
For Matka Kulfi ice slabs are required to keep the matka, with 200 cones, frozen for the day. These slabs come from ice- factories in Safakadal and Gulmarg in Lal Chowk.
Gulmarg owner Pritpal says the business is going down with the availability of deep freezers. “In 80’s I used to sell 400 slabs daily but now my only one tank is functional producing 180 slabs.”
These ice slabs, were needed by hotels and for preserving Wazwan for longer time. Kulfi makers who cannot afford a freezer, use these slabs, at Rs 120 apiece.
Dilbahaar Ice cream, is yet another variant of homemade kulfi. It is on sticks and not in cones. Located at Srinagar’s Sarai Bala, distinctly different tasting kulfi is so much in demand during peak summers that it needs an effort to get a seat. Its taste and low cost is key to its huge clientele.
A baker’s son, Haji Ghulam Nabi Khan, 65, started Dilbahaar when he was 15. His had a partner, Hari, a Jammu resident, who has died.
Khan terms Dilbahaar, a ‘God gift’ rather than his outcome of a baker’s son’s innovation who disliked baking lavasas and switched over. In last 59 years, he has never stopped his routine. Every day he enters his shop much before dawn at 4 am and starts making liquid kulfi preparations. Then his four workers take over and fill the tin cones with liquid to set them in a box of ice.
Khan requires 80 liters of milk daily during spring and summer. Reluctant to share his daily sales, Khan says conflict hardly prevented his customers from their summer routines Each kulfi, costs from Rs 10 and 20.
In Kashmir where even yoghurt makes an ice cream but locally produced ice creams are not holding much of the market. “Local ice creams are always taken as duplicate while as any ice cream from Jammu sells like divine thing,” says Bilal Ahmad Khan, owner Diplaz parlor at Residency Road.
With Kashmir’s snowline shifting to peaks, Harwan’s Yakh women have disappeared. They do occasionally come to the city for an ice candy now.