Wibs Bread: Mumbai sandwich loses its slice of life


September 25, 2019

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Western India Bakers (Wibs) commanded 46% share of the city’s sliced bread market and 90% of it came from sandwich makers.

Wibs, Mumbai’s favourite sliced bread, has been off bakery shelves and sandwich stalls since September 19 because of a dispute in the Irani family, which owns Western India Bakers Pvt Ltd. Three brothers are partners in the firm, but its factories have been shut since Khodadad Irani, the eldest of the three, moved the Bombay High Court seeking to terminate the partnership after the death of his brother and partner Hoshang Irani earlier this month.

Article By Chaitanya Marpakwar and Sunil Baghel | Mumbai Mirror

According to a lawyer associated with the dispute, Khodadad Irani, who handles Wibs’s finances, moved the petition to dissolve the partnership after a dispute between him and the third brother-partner, Sheriar Irani. The lawyer, who did not wish to be named, said, “[The closure] has nothing to do with the business but has arisen out of a family dispute. The petitioner claims that he was ill-treated by the other partners and their families.

So under the arbitration clause of the partnership deed, Khodadad Irani has sought to dissolve the partnership. The high court has appointed a mediation panel to see if the dispute can be resolved amicably.” Sheriar Irani refused to comment and Khodadad Irani didn’t respond to calls and text messages.


The shuttered Mazgaon unit of Wibs

Wibs, which is headquartered at Dockyard Road, makes the sliced bread that is synonymous with the city’s iconic vegetable sandwich. According to bread distributors, it has a 46% market share of the city’s sliced bread market, and 90% of its sliced white bread is sold to sandwichwalas. The company has several factories in the city and in Navi Mumbai, and employs around 3,000 people. Its wares are distributed to bakeries and other establishments by 68 distributors, which employ a handful of delivery boys each.

PS Pandian, one of Wibs’s oldest distributors, said, “The factories have been shut and there has been no supply since September 19. We thought manufacturing would resume but it’s been three days now. All our distributors are facing losses since we don’t distribute any other bread under our agreement with Wibs. There are 70-odd distributors and each distributor has around 8 to 18 delivery boys. They have not been paid since last week.” According to Pandian, the company has four plants in the city, which produce around 3,000 loaves an hour. He said Wibs makes nine items in all, including white bread, brown bread, Honeybell cake, tutti frutti buns and, of course, pav.

While hearing the arbitration petition last Wednesday, Justice Girish Kulkarni had directed the parties to behave in a civil manner. “The parties undertake to conduct themselves in a civil and orderly manner as amongst themselves, and recognise that any breach of this order shall be tantamount to contempt,” his order read. The court also directed the parties to go in for mediation. The mediation panel is headed by retired chief justice of the Bombay High Court Mohit Shah, who will be supported by senior advocate Fredun D’Vitre and chartered accountant Yezdi Bhagwagar. The court directed that for the time being, there should be no new purchases of raw materials.


Wibs distributor PS Pandian said delivery boys have not been paid since last week

“No payments (except utility bills and payment of khuraki to the workers, if any) shall be made by the firms, and there shall be no taking of delivery of any stock/raw material etc,” the order read.

The court also appointed an advocate as an observer to the business and directed him to remain present in the office premises, allowing the parties to conduct “limited business operations” – that is, selling bread made from existing stocks of raw materials.

Wibs was established in 1973 and since then its ubiquitous red, white and blue packaging has become Mumbai icon – albeit a low-key, underrated one. This is largely due to the act that sandwichwalas swear by it. But now they are struggling to find a replacement. “I have been using Wibs bread for close to 20 years as its taste is best suited to the veg sandwich. Be it toasted or plain, this is the best bread because it is not too soft and not too hard. We are now using other breads but there is shortage in the market,” said Santosh Rai, who runs a sandwich stall near Bombay Hospital.

According to old-timers, sliced bread was called ‘services bread’ back in the day because it was an English influence and popular with people in the armed forces. Before that, Indians ate only pav. According to local historians, the now-defunct Aryan Bakery at Bhendi Bazaar was the first to sell sliced bread in Mumbai.


Sandwichwalas swear by Wibs sliced bread, but have been forced to switch to other brands now