THE COOKIE THAT DID NOT CRUM­BLE

NIKHIL SEN, MAN­AG­ING DI­REC­TOR, UNIBIC FOODS IN­DIA PVT LTD

Impact - - CONTENTS - NIKHIL SEN | BY SAMARPITA BANERJEE

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.

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