Homegrown Parsi company Duke and Sons gave Mumbai its first mango-based drink, but couldn’t survive in the post-liberalisation heat.
Indians love their mangoes. From week-long culinary festivals to memorable family traditions, the king of fruit has remained an integral part of the smells and tastes of many Indian lives.
This is why it isn’t surprising that the novel idea to turn the fruit into something one can drink was met with significant joy and market success in the 1950s Mumbai (then Bombay) when Duke and Sons brought Mangola into the market.
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“I grew up in a building that had a huge lawn, which is quite a rarity in Bombay so we’d do picnics every weekend. My friends and I would divide up the snacks and plan, someone to bring the sandwiches, someone for chips and always someone to bring Mangola because that was around which most of the events were organised anyway,” recalls Mumbai-based food editor Smitha Menon.
“Even now when I drink a mango-flavoured drink or think Sunday evening vibes, that memory gets triggered. It was thicker than most other drinks and it wasn’t fizzy like a soft drink. It was very sweet, so it really hit that sweet spot for any kid. I know they talk about Pepsi and chips, but Mangola and potato wafers was a great combination,” she says happily.
Mangola — a golden, almost viscous concoction of mango pulp, and the brainchild of Feroze Pundole — was one of the star products of Duke and Sons that was established in 1889 by an Indian cricketer of Parsi origin named Dinshawji Cooverji Pandole.
Turning mango into Mangola
The idea of Mangola first came to the Pandoles when they realised diversifying their product range was the best way to protect themselves from competition. Naval Pandole vividly remembers how his father, Feroze, got to work to create Mumbai’s first-ever mango-based drink.
“He went to a food canning factory and asked them to make 3,000 cans of mango pulp. He then prepared his own formulation. What he also did was sell it at the price of an aerated drink. So people were getting a 100 per cent fruit-based drink for the price of a lemonade. It was a blitzkrieg,” he said in an interview last year.
Kurush Dalal, a Mumbai-based archaeologist and culinary anthropologist, knew the Pandoles personally and remembers how proud the latter were of the fact that they just couldn’t make enough of the drink. “They always had more demand than they could produce,” he tells ThePrint.
The drink was sold in practically every nook of the city, from cold drink shops, Parsi Irani cafes, paan shops, clubs, Udupi restaurants, and even the railways. “Basically, every place where there was a refrigerator or a cooler,” says Dalal.
The first non-aerated drink manufactured by the Duke’s brand, Mangola was more like juice than a cold drink. “It was a thick, slurpy, slimy, happy feeling,” Dalal reminisces, explaining how it was miles ahead of Maaza and Frooti that would later hit the markets.
Duke’s was a homegrown Parsi brand and so was naturally embraced by the Parsi community. No Parsi wedding was ever complete without lemon, mango, raspberry and ginger-flavoured Duke’s drinks. And having a Mangola with one’s dhansak was a staple at all Irani cafes strewn across South Bombay.
Duke’s old Chembur Factory in Mumbai | Wikimedia Commons
But the 300ml bottle of the psychedelic-coloured drink was also a favourite of many others in Mumbai and Pune. A hot favourite in school canteens, kids would regularly save up their pocket money or pool to buy these bottles.
“We drank Mangola because it was around, it was cheap, it was sweet and a little more fancy than your kala-khatta,” says Menon.
The cut-throat world of sweet drinks
Duke’s, says Dalal, became an iconic company and was behind some memorable tag lines like ‘Duke’s ka dada, lemonade zyada‘. But according to him, they never needed to market Mangola because it was a natural hit since mango-loving Mumbaikars took to the drink instantly.
Shabnam Sirur, a creative consultant for leading ad agencies in the 1990s, confirms this. “Duke and Sons were not big spenders, so Mangola remained largely a word-of-mouth brand,” she says, adding that “their marketing campaigns were obscure, comics published at the back of children’s books, a cowboy mascot, and more visible in smaller towns like Alibag, because advertising material was cheaper there”.
In 1985, less than a decade before Mangola was to be sold to PepsiCo, it was faced with an unpredictable adversary – the tetra pack and straw. Frooti, the Mangola of the millennial generation, found among stacks of white lunch boxes or nestled sideways between a samosa and a cucumber sandwich “basically appropriated the idea and took out the carpet from under them,” Sirur tells ThePrint.
“First, by claiming that they were the original Alphonso drink, and then by utilising the substantial reach and scale at their disposal. The original big, wholesome, heavy, pulpy drink was essentially beaten by its younger, sleeker, smaller and more stylish counterpart,” she says, explaining how the mini-carton spelt doom for the fruit-juice-in-a-bottle formula.
The final straw
In 1994, Duke and Sons was sold to PepsiCo, which phased out a majority of its drinks, with the exception of Mangola and Lemonade. Eventually, even the beloved mango drink was merged with Slice, becoming Slice Mangola, until it disappeared completely under the shadow of its conjoined brand.
“They had this and their mango-based drink, and according to US standards you can’t have two similar drinks from the same brand. So they phased it out. It still hurts,” Pandole said.
“When Mangola was discontinued, most of Bombay was depressed,” remembers Dalal, adding that the Thums Up group’s Maaza did come into the market but was only consumed to mourn the loss of Mangola.
Last year, Duke and Sons’ Chembur factory, with its iconic (and gigantic) soda bottle structure, was demolished to give way to a swanky residential project. But it is not the only establishment that couldn’t keep up with changing times. Since the economic liberalisation of 1991, the city became vulnerable to a certain kind of gentrification that continues till date.
“The Irani restaurants were under severe competition in the 2000s, because McDonalds decided to buy all the corner restaurants in Bombay,” Sirur says and adds “so Mangola was hit once again because the main carriers of their drink had no option but to sell out. As generations became older and older, younger generations forgot about Mangola — I don’t think children today will even know what it is.”