Verka, the brand name associated with dairy products and a prized product of Punjab, has completed 50 years of a highly successful run during which it became a household name not only in its home state but even in the neighbouring states.
From toned milk, sweetened milk, 'ghee' and 'lassi' (butter milk) to ice-cream of different flavours, including its popular 'kulfi', brand Verka is popular with every strata of society. In a state where liquor consumption is high, the Verka slogan at its milk booths along the highways, "If you must drink and drive, then drink milk and drive", did catch the eyes of all but not many adhered to this advice.
The brand name Verka got associated with the dairy products manufactured by the cooperative sector or government-owned milk plants in the state after the first such milk plant was set up in Verka, a suburb of Amritsar. This plant at Verka became functional on March 23, 1963.
Hence, the brand name is as old as the Verka milk plant, which celebrated its golden jubilee on its premises here on Saturday. A religious function marked the occasion followed by a blood donation camp.
Brain child of Kairon
Like Punjab Agricultural University (PAU), Ludhiana, the milk plant at Verka too was a brain child of former chief minister Partap Singh Kairon. Along with agriculture, Kairon, a visionary, saw in dairy farming an additional source of income for the farmers.
Verka was the first milk plant to be set up in north India. It was only the second one in the country after the one at Anand in Gujarat, which later became famous for the Amul brand of dairy products.
The machinery for this plant was gifted by a US firm and the finances came from the central government. Like the Bhakra Nangal Dam, PAU and Chandigarh, this was another of Kairon's ambitious ventures to bring about a white revolution on the lines of the green revolution.
The beginning was humble as the plant had a capacity of processing and treating just 60,000 litres of milk a day. This capacity was enhanced to 1 lakh litres in 1998 and its present capacity is 1.50 lakh litres per day.
Besides toned and pasteurised milk, 'ghee' and milk powder were the products that were initially manufactured at this plant and marketed under the Verka brand. Gradually sweetened milk in bottles was added and after this gained popularity came sweetened 'lassi', which too was highly sought after.
"As of now, around 25 products under the Verka brand are available in the market. We have different ice-cream flavours, then we have milk cake, curd, 'paneer', 'kheer' and of course the popular 'kesar-badam kulfi'. We have also added cheese and the mango drink "Raseela". Both sweetened and salted lassi in plastic packs are popular," said milk plant general manager Harminder Singh Sandhu.
The GM said Verka also makes 'panjeeri' for the anganwadis in the state, which is supplied through the social welfare department. Sweets are specially made and sold by Verka during the Diwali season through its privately owned outlets."At a time when customers have stopped buying 'mithai' from shops during Diwali, Verka 'mithai' is much sought after. Often we get complaints that we do not make enough 'mithai', but then we have to look at the quantity of milk supplied to us," said Sandhu.
Till 1988, the Verka plant remained under the Punjab Dairy Development Cooperation (PDDC), which was directly under the state government. However, now it was come under Milkfed (Milk Federation) like all other milk plants that have been set up by the government in the state.
Milkfed now has under its jurisdiction nine milk plants, including the one at Verka.
Prior to the merger, all milk plants under the PDDC were selling their products under the Verka brand name while those with Milkfed were marketing their products under the brand name "Amber". After the merger, the brand name Verka became an obvious choice as it was more popular in the market.
Milk is supplied to this 50-year-old milk plant by dairy owners through 640 registered cooperative societies in Amritsar, Tarn Taran and parts of Gurdaspur district. The plant has added to its list 300 large-scale dairy farm owners who have a daily milk output of 50 kg each.
The state government had announced sometime ago to expand the capacity of certain selected milk plants in the state, for which a sum of Rs 120 crore was earmarked. The Verka plant was chosen as a pilot project for the expansion.
Under this project, new machinery will be fitted at Verka for manufacturing milk powder from 4 lakh litres of milk per day. An ice-cream plant with a capacity of 10,000 litres per day will also be added. The overall capacity of the plant will also be enhanced under the pilot project.