Paan, known for the spit stains covering the walls of our cities, has never been considered anything but a mouth freshner that you get at cigarette stalls anywhere. Now, its changing the way the world sees it and is becoming an FMCG product. This modern no-spit paan has the approval of the food regulator and is being assembled and packed at factories, plus it comes with a shelf life of more than 6 months!
Pankaj Shah, entrepreneur of Chandan Mukhwas, a Mumbai-based supplier of mouth fresheners said, “We sell about a lakh paan pieces a month. Consumers want convenience and hygiene and paan is no longer frowned upon.” Mukhwas sells a dozen variants from about 3,000 stores. Paan also exports to almost 30 countries, catering mainly to the Indian diaspora.
Mouth fresheners are one of the largest categories within food, but mostly unorganised. Retailers say that they expect sweet paan to outpace western desserts if marketed well. Devendra Chawala, president of FMCG and brands at Future Group said, “Add shelf life, remove harmful ingredients, brand it and you have an Indian equivalent of After Eight mints. This is category creation that can give chocolates a run for their money if positioned well. Indian consumers embrace traditional food products that are packaged well.”
Traditional recipes from aam panna to jaljeera are now branded for organised trade and even the all male paan has left the streets and is sold in supermarkets and online stores. “It reaches us mostly as a friend of tobacco and men. We’re missing a trick there. Paan is quintessentially an Indian food and if placed on the food shelves and not near tobacco, would find its rightful appeal amongst families,” said Damodar Mall, chief executive at Reliance Retail, which is doing a pilot study in the National Capital Region to present fresh chilled paan next to yoghurts.
Paan companies are also looking into the herbal effects of the product. BK Shaw, general manager at New Delhi’s Yamu’s Panchayat said, “Paan has medicinal quality and is used as digestives for centuries. We are just adding a cool quotient to it by packing it attractively.” The company runs 56 paan outlets mostly run by women and the sweet paan – which lacks cured tobacco – is priced between Rs. 15 – 35 with a host of options from chocolate coated and strawberry paan to saffron and kiwi.