THE COOKIE THAT DID NOT CRUMBLE
NIKHIL SEN, MANAGING DIRECTOR, UNIBIC FOODS INDIA PVT LTD
Q] Earlier this year, Unibic launched a new mascot. What was the thought behind it?
Ours is a very competitive landscape where large companies are spending close to Rs100 crore on advertising. When we wanted to go national, we thought of doing things differently. We wanted to come up with something that had meaning and yet could relate to the consumer emotionally. That’s how we came up with ‘Ubu’ that stands for Unibic and you. We tried to give him the texture of a cookie and make him an affable character.
Our aim was to eventually bring the mascot to life over a period of time and use him on the retail level, at our on-ground events, and even at cricket matches, as we did at the recently held India-Australia series. The reception has been good at both the trade and consumer level.
Q] How has Shruti Hassan’s presence helped the brand?
In the South, Shruti as the face of the brand has worked well.
Last year, we felt that we should rope in someone who was relevant and would give us a boost to get to the numbers we wanted in the South. And to that extent, we have been successful.
Q] What are your plans for expanding to the rest of India?
Today, in the cookie space at the premium end of the market, we have a double digit market-share in the four Southern markets. We do have a presence in the North, East and West, albeit a small presence. Starting this year, we are expanding our footprint in the other regions too. So far, we have received good feedback from some of the markets. The North-east has responded well and so has New Delhi and
NCR. Hopefully, we will be able to build on that.
Q] Unibic came out with
special packs for the festive season. Is
India opening up to gifting cookies during festivals?
In India, we need an excuse to celebrate and cookies are slowly becoming a part of the celebration. There are many advantages to gifting cookies – they are hygienically packed and have lesser sugar content than say traditional sweets like rasmalai or even chocolates. We have had a fair amount of success with our festive packs during Rakhi and Diwali and have witnessed good traction.
Q] You have also just launched a few healthy products…
India is seeing an emerging market of healthconscious consumers who are open to trying options that are less indulgent and more healthy. As a result, we launched three products a month ago – 40% Oat Cookie, 30% Ragi Cookie and a Gluten-free cookie. We have test-marketed them in Bangalore, and some markets of Tamil Nadu and Kerala. We will put these products in through modern trade and our core outlets. As they are priced between Rs 30-50, we will observe the movement. If it sees good reception, we will decide on whether to introduce portion control or trial packs to drive awareness.
Q] Unibic launched in India in 2005. What kind of growth have you seen since then?
The 2005-10 period was the first phase in our journey, when we were struggling for capital. At that stage, we were trying to leverage our Australian heritage. We knew Indians were crazy about cricket, so we launched Bradman Chocolate Chip Cookies and Anzac Oatmeal Cookies, both of which did fairly well. We then looked at
the top-end of the market. Most companies at that stage were investing on marketing. We decided to invest in the back-end and bought an imported wire-cut technology line. It cost us 3-4 times more than an Indian line. Our growth for the first five years was close to 100%. However, like all start-ups, we eventually struggled for finance. Between 2010-12, we struggled to achieve our top-line and didn’t have money to fund the company. In 2012, we went looking for capital. Luckily, Peepul Capital came in and Srini Vudayagiri agreed to fund us. We decided to do things differently and invested a lot in talent. We also looked back at the values we had created in the five years, redid our logo, making it more modern and redesigned our packaging. We came out with the tagline ‘Delight in every bite’. That year, we grew at 80%. From 2013-14 to now, we have grown at a CAGR of 50%, and the company remains profitable.
Q] What is the potential of growth in the Indian cookie segment?
The Indian biscuit market is valued between Rs 25,00027,000 crore, of which cookie holds 30% or Rs 7,500 crore. Cookies will grow as a segment with the rise in disposable incomes. About 5-10 years back, close to 50% of the market, in terms of value, was dominated by Parle. In the last 10 years, there has been a dramatic shift. The glucose volumes have been upgraded to the Maries, the milk, the cream and the cookie segment. The cookie segment is today growing 2.5-3 times faster than the biscuit segment. As we go forward, the segment will keep growing. We see a fantastic opportunity for ourselves
because we have been growing four times faster than the cookie segment.
Q] In a price-competitive market like India, how difficult is it to market premium products?
For us, to have built what we have in the last decade has been challenging. We have only done it because our recipes are different and our products give you more. In comparison to other products that comprise around 4% cashew, we put in 8%. Our products taste better and the consumer understands that. It is a challenge to not operate in the Rs 5-10 price point, but we are very clear that we will never enter the mass market.
Q] What has been Unibic’s marketing strategy so far?
Initially, we had very little funds. Currently, biscuit packets are packed on edge and a 100 gram pack looks small. We packed our biscuits on pile which made the packs look substantially bigger and also ensured that they did not break. A lot of biscuits break because of the way they are packaged. Our first campaign was ‘Australia’s favourite cookie, too good to be served broken’. We didn’t have much money. We went to The Times of India and thought the easiest way to go would be to hit Britannia hard with a campaign that would make a go at them. We came out with, ‘Why have a Good Day when you can have a great day - Introducing Australia’s favourite cookie’. India had won the T20 World Cup in 2007 and that day we broke the masthead with the Unibic logo and the tagline. Our volumes during the three weeks that we ran the campaign went through the roof. Nusli Wadia sent me a legal notice. We signed a compromise saying we won’t use the line. The campaign helped spread awareness about us but then we ran out of money and most of our advertising shifted to below-the-line. That was when Peepul Capital came in. We then decided to communicate about how we use the best ingredients which make our products the best. We wanted to stand for something that could really relate to taste. We came up with ‘Delight in every bite’ which graduated to ‘Bicalicious’ which has now become ‘Wow, too much’ where we talk about how we put in much more ingredients into our products.
Q] What are the biggest challenges in the segment right now?
Ours is a highly competitive landscape which has three mature players who have immense ability to spend. When you are up against them, you need to decide on how to tackle them and at what level you should engage with them. If you try and get them head on, you are going to get hurt. We therefore decided to make sure that our products were relevant and would make consumers choose us and make us a part of their daily lives.