VG Siddhartha: the man who made a made-in-India brand

Anant Rangaswami, July 31, 2019

A made-in-India youth brand that’s lasted 23 years. There are few Indian youth brands that can claim the same.

There are few Made-In-India brands as successful and ubiquitous as Café Coffee Day. As a shocked nation mourns the unfortunate passing of the inspired founder-entrepreneur VG Siddhartha, the focus is on the finances, the role of banks and VCs and issues with the Income Tax Department.

And forgotten is the amazing achievement of the late Siddhartha – the building of a powerful, made-in-India and made for India brand that is Café Coffee Day.

In 1996, riding on the new cool that we saw in India in the years immediately preceding with the launches of MTV and Channel [V], the arrival of Smirnoff and Bacardi, the return of Coca-Cola and the arrival of Pepsi, ‘youth’ as a market had arrived.

With the Internet yet to be omnipresent and all-pervasive, it was physical hangouts that were in demand. Youth flocked to concerts sponsored by combinations of brands listed above, wearing Levi’s and Lee jeans (both headquartered in Bangalore, the city where Café Coffee Day was born.

Bangalore, during this time, was a city of extraordinary energy for youth – UB (and Kingfisher) were housed here; Bangalore-based Weekender and Wearhouse were the value-for-money clothing brands that made young people cool and confident, BPL, the made-in-India electronics company sponsored BIG events in their home city, including Deep Purple and Michael Learns to Rock.

And kids stayed out of the house for as long as they could – and VG Siddhartha tapped in to a market of those who didn’t want to drink alcohol or hang out in the hundreds of pubs in Pub City.

Café Coffee Day was the legit, ‘wholesome’ hangout for young kids, their menu listing acceptable food and drink to the middle-class youth that would be, for decades, their core consumer base.

The CCD experience was so different from the coffee shops of the time; you could either visit the five-star hotel or go to the Irani or Udupi restaurants. One was expensive, the other was uncool.

CCD bridged this gap beautifully. It was launched with the beverages at non-premium (but not cheap) price-points. What made the outlets more seemingly affordabale was the fact that CCD did not hustle you out once you finished your coffee.

You could sit there forever.

And enjoy the air-conditioning and the music.

And, once upon a time, you could smoke there as well.

Siddhartha didn’t create a chain of coffee shops for young urban Indians; CCD was, and remains, an affordable refuge for youth, a place that made you ‘cool’.

The coffee was incidental.

CCD sold cool – that was the stock-in-trade, not the coffee.

And that’s why it is astonishing that VG Siddhartha, with his roots deeply steeped in coffee, created the CCD we know today.

A made-in-India youth brand that’s lasted 23 years. There are few Indian youth brands that can claim the same.

RIP, Siddhartha.

And thank you for the music, the coolth – and the coffee.

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