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Distribution Diaries

"It's not just about the brand anymore; it's about winning the supply chain game": Rasna's Piruz Khambatta

The brand's CMD talks about distribution learnings, supply chain hassles, and how 2020 will achieve 'that year in history' status.

The word Rasna immediately makes us think of the summer season. That's how strong is the connection between this drinks company and the season.

But, 2020 is unlike any other year. With the national lockdown in place and distribution going haywire, what does it mean for one of India's most loved drinks brands?

We spoke with Rasna's chairman and MD Piruz Khambatta about this, and the learnings and challenges during these tough times.

Edited Excerpts (responses):

What is the biggest distribution-related learning that has emerged from these trying times?

One, I think people who had access to software and things like SFA (sales force automation), ERP, SAP have fared well. FMCGs are not IT-driven companies. We were always brick and mortar-driven companies. So, companies which have these IT infrastructures gained, and fortunately, we (Rasna) had a good infrastructure as far as ERP and SAP are concerned. So, to that extent, we've gained.

A company for which the 3-4 months of summer sales are paramount, every single day is important.

Two, if we had listings on B2C sites, like Amazon and BigBasket (we're not doing fresh listings, but have a few), it would've helped us. These two are the biggest learnings as far as distribution is concerned.

What are the top 3 changes that you have made to your supply chain over the last few weeks?

Of all the different types of challenges, the main one we're learning about is the supply chains.

There is a vehicle, but no driver. There is a vehicle, but it's stuck somewhere. The depot is slotted into a red zone, or Coronavirus infects someone, and the entire depot is sealed. There are a lot of disruptors.

So, the demand is there. The consumers want Rasna, but it is very difficult to reach them in time. A company for which the 3-4 months of summer sales are paramount, every single day is important.

I'm on BigBasket, which has Rasna, but for any other product, I am not getting a slot because they aren't supplying. The goods which I've sent, from, say, Ahmedabad to Mumbai on April 24, have still not reached the destination. During regular times, it takes three days.

Forget Rasna, local companies are gaining. For instance, branded 'namkeen' isn't available, but you'll find local firms selling them in open quantities.

I'll be honest and blunt: Most FMCG firms are paying their workers, regardless of them being able to work, or not. But, small firms can't afford to do that. They'll tell workers that they won't pay them if no work happens.

It's all about incentive. They (big company workers) realise that their salaries will come (full or with a cut), and so, it makes no sense to risk your life. Unfortunately, small firm workers don't have this luxury and that's why they work. This is the reason why small-scale cottage-level firms are gaining.

In my home, we've bought 'namkeen' and snacks, and even noodles, from random brands (small and/or unknown). Earlier, we'd be careful about the brand, but now it's not just about the brand anymore; it's about winning the supply chain game.

Earlier, we used a regular transport service to supply our goods. Now, we're using a more professional service, but unfortunately, delays are still happening.

I'm on BigBasket, which has Rasna, but for any other product, I am not getting a slot because they aren't supplying. The goods which I've sent, from, say, Ahmedabad to Mumbai on April 24, have still not reached the destination. During regular times, it takes three days.

Post lockdown, will distribution prowess be more important than advertising? Do you see ad budgets being redirected to distribution in any way?

I am doing an hour-long presentation today with my friends, (adman) Prahlad Kakkar and a professor from IIM Ahmedabad, where I'll speak on the same topic...

Also Read: "The ad was not created for winning creative awards": Rasna's Piruz Khambatta

Last, 2020 has changed everything, from the way we consume, purchase and think. Has the very definition of marketing changed for you in any way?

There are some years which are marked in history, like post-depression, the World Wars, the Wall Street crash... Luckily or unluckily, we'll remember 2020 as a year of new learning. From the US President to the peon in my office, everybody is thinking that now we've to be prepared.

The way people think, the way people think of consumer behaviour, their investment, their money, their clothing... everything will change. This is my belief.

As told to Shreyas Kulkarni