We know them as
appalams in the South and papads in the North. They are poppadums in the UK and are served in every single Indian restaurant in the country. You buy them readymade in supermarkets. Poppadums are available everywhere in the UK and are as familiar as fish-and-chips to the natives. Almost all the poppadums sold in the UK are sent from Tamil Nadu. The man behind the poppadum’s success story in the West is M Lankalingam, chairman and innovation head of the Chennai-based Lanson group. The Lanson group of companies is a $100 million conglomerate with key interests in food manufacturing and exports, automobile dealership and biotechnology. Lanson Ventures is the division which exports papads.
Lankalingam’s father, S Murugesu, decided to put up factories to roll out appalams to help rural women almost 40 years ago. He was inspired by the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s 20-point programme that put a lot of emphasis on empowering women and rural development. Lanson Ventures now supports several villages in and around Tuticorin, the family’s home town. About 4,000 women get direct and indirect employment. “We found that on Saturdays, when we paid salaries, the husbands just came and grabbed the money. We opened bank accounts for the women and paid them directly. We find that the women spend money more sensibly. However, with increasing prosperity, they are putting their earnings in gold. They pledge it with moneylenders at times of need and pay 36% interest. We have to do something about this,” says Lankalingam.
Originally, these papads were meant only for the domestic market and to help rural women. Murugesu was an exporter of handicrafts and wood products to the UK. During one of his trips abroad, he found the quality of papads served in a London pub left much to be desired. “A number of these papads were sun-dried on the side of the road and one could spot bicycle tread marks on them. My father was totally committed to quality. He believed that if you had a quality product, the world will be at your doorstep.”
Having decided to export, Murugesu decided to centralise the manufacture of papads. The women have to come to the factories. Everything is controlled from grinding the urad dal, mixing it with precise quantity of water, the flour and the spices for manufacture. Input specifications are very important for the buyers. Then the papads are cleaned,