It was all about Mimi what children and teens did understand about chocolates and chewing gums back in the 1970s and '80s.
Even in the early '90s, this prominent name reigned supreme with its chocolates and chewing gums wrapped in papers with illustrations of a cow and orange slices. Back then, the presence of foreign brands of chocolates was very thin in Bangladesh.
Amusing TV commercials of Mimi Chocolate broadcasted on BTV, the country's only television channel at that time, played a starring role in making Mimi an object of childhood desire.
But Mimi – the childhood love of many – no longer exists; it is now just a sweet memory of a lost past.
The aura of Mimi Chocolate began to fade away in the late '90s as the company was struggling to survive the competition with private sector and foreign brands with its backdated machines. Gradually, its products started disappearing from the market.
Finally, in 2018, the government shut the factory formally after years of losses. The space is now rented to a motorcycle company for using it as a showroom.
The machines of the factory were sold as scraps.
Earlier, in 2006, there was an attempt to shut the company, but somehow it survived.
The Freedom Fighter Welfare Trust was responsible for running the Mimi Chocolate Factory in the capital's Tejgaon after independence.
Iftekharul Islam, managing director of the trust, told The Business Standard, "Mimi was the first company in Bangladesh to manufacture chocolate bars. The company was shut down despite having a demand for its products."
He said, "It was very difficult to run the business with old machines – without modernising the factory. The authorities had no choice but to shut it down as it was constantly counting losses."
Ahsan H Mansur, executive director of the Policy Research Institute, said, "No company can survive without competent business leadership. Government companies do not have the skilled leadership to run a business. There are no permanent appointments in the top posts of these organisations. There is no continuity of work and no one works with responsibility."
According to chocolate manufacturing and marketing companies, the chocolate-candy market is growing at 12-15% per year. At present, the market size amounts to around Tk2,000 crore. About 60% of it depends on imports.
A journey of 53 years
Mimi's journey began in 1965 with a factory on 1 acre of land in Tejgaon of the then East Pakistan. The machines were imported from Germany.
After independence, in 1972, the Freedom Fighter Welfare Trust took over the management of the company.
Seeking to be unnamed, a director of the Freedom Fighter Welfare Trust said, "In the beginning, the chocolate market was small. There were no private companies in this sector. Foreign chocolates were beyond the reach of the people. That is why Mimi Chocolate became popular."
Mimi Chocolate had done very well in the 18 years following independence. Even in the 1990s, the company sold chocolates and chewing gums worth Tk50-60 lakh per month.
But the decline began then. According to people concerned, the company perished due to backdated machines, inefficiency of the management, and a lack of leadership.
Officials at the Freedom Fighter Welfare Trust said the cost of producing chocolates using old machines rose sharply after 2000. Those machines could not be run smoothly even after repairing.
At one stage, Mimi Chocolate became a loan defaulter. Consequently, imports of raw materials became irregular. In this situation, the authorities decided to close the company in 2006.
In 2009, the government waived Tk126 crore bank loans of a few organisations of the Freedom Fighter Welfare Trust, including Mimi Chocolate. Even then, the company could not survive because of its backdated machines.
In 2014, the annual sales of Mimi Chocolate dropped to only Tk15-20 lakh. Finally, the factory was completely shut down in 2018.
Former workers of the factory said they even started a movement to change the machines to keep the company running. But the management did not pay any heed.
It's now a motorcycle showroom
Abdul Aziz, who used to work in Mimi's factory, now works in another department of the Freedom Fighter Welfare Trust. He said, "At the beginning of 2019, the factory machines were sold as scraps. With this, all the remains of Mimi Chocolate were removed."
Jamil Ahmed, a trust official and caretaker of the property, said, "The factory site has been leased to a motorcycle company. The rent is higher than what they would earn from selling chocolates and chewing gums."
Trust Director Md Abu Sayeed Fakir said, "Mimi Chocolate is proof that it is not the government's job to do business in a competitive market."
It is necessary to replace old machines, diversify products and go for competitive marketing to survive in a business, he added.
He said, "The private sector has started producing chocolates using modern machinery. Imports of foreign chocolates have also increased. Being a government company, Mimi Chocolate could not be modernised. So, the company could not survive."