Ashwini Gangal

"The energy drinks market is too small; the segment is trapped": Ramesh Chauhan, Bisleri

Recently, the Prakash Chauhan-led Parle Agro launched a carbonated coffee beverage called Café Cuba, that took on colas through an aggressive mass media campaign.

Now, his brother Ramesh Chauhan, chairman of Bisleri International, has launched Urzza, latest entrant in the energy drinks market.

Interestingly, Chauhan is banking on trials, and eventually conversions, from cola-drinkers. In India, the energy drinks market is pegged at around Rs. 700 crore, which is roughly five per cent of the soft drinks market.

For Urzza's upcoming marketing campaign, Chauhan has ear-marked over Rs. 100 crore.

Last week, we caught up with him in his Mumbai office. Which is when he told us that Urzza, though categorised as an 'energy drink', is actually set to create a sub-segment of its own. How so? Well, for one, it doesn't contain caffeine, one of the key ingredients in a typical energy drink.

So, what is it exactly? Over to Chauhan.

Edited Excerpts.

Edited Excerpts

First, tell us about the naming process. Was 'Urzza' born on a whim, after few brainstorming sessions or through formal research?

No research. And strangely enough, no brainstorming. Our South India manager, stationed in Goa, suggested the word Urzza. Basically, for any brand, you've got to be able to actually 'hear' it... when you hear it, it has to have an impact on you. It has to sound good. A name like Alpenliebe is a tongue-twister; I have a great deal of difficulty trying to remember it. When Urzza was suggested, I said, 'This sounds damn good, it's a simple name and is easy to pronounce...'

Of course, like all names, it will be mis-pronounced in certain parts of India. In Gujarati and Hindi there is no 'Z' sound. In Maharashtra, there's this 'Zha' thing. But one shouldn't get too disturbed by these things. Point is - are you able to get something into somebody's head, onto the tip of their tongue, and make sure the recall for it is fast?

Urzza happens to mean 'energy' in Hindi. But the fact that it means energy will not help us sell it. What will cut ice is the distribution, packaging, and how we project it in terms of its imagery onTV and electronic media.

When it comes to naming a brand, you've got to ensure the name is not Anglo-Saxon as it's not easy to get such names registered abroad. If the name is 'ethnic', then chances are, it is not registered by anybody, anywhere.

You consciously stayed away from the carbonated soft drinks category all these years. Why did you decide to re-enter it now? What changed?

Few things. First, the fact that we now have a strong distribution system for Bisleri, which can carry the new product. Second, there is tremendous need for premium products, across segments. In the automobile sector too, people want premium cars; they don't want Nano and Maruti anymore. Indians have, sort of, passed that stage. People look for designer things. Premium pricing doesn't deter us if we are getting value for money. That is where the trick is.

We stayed away from soft drinks because these guys (existing cola giants) have got big distribution networks. But Bisleri's distribution network is now big enough to be able to cover all of India.

Urzza, you say, is targeted at almost everyone - urbanites, rural folk, people of all ages... how can such a specialised product have such a broad TG?

Don't think of Urzza as a specialised product. We are looking at this product as one for... I wouldn't say mass consumption... but not for restricted consumption either. So we're not saying 'it is supposed to be a mixer', or 'it is not for ladies', or 'it is not for children'... Such things are out.

'Target audience' is a very difficult term. From the point of view of advertising/media selection we ask - which are the media channels that people between 12 and 30 years would be looking at?

But from the point of view of actual consumption, our TG includes everyone. When a young lady drinks it, her mother, who is outside the TG, will also want to try it.

It's like asking - What's the TG for Coke? Well, it is universal.

So you're looking for cola-like consumption for Urzza but claim it is not a cola. And energy drinks don't have the kind of universal appeal that colas enjoy...

Yes, but that is what we want to bust. The energy drinks market is too small; the segment is trapped.

"The energy drinks market is too small; the segment is trapped": Ramesh Chauhan, Bisleri
"The energy drinks market is too small; the segment is trapped": Ramesh Chauhan, Bisleri
The segment is dominated by Red Bull with 1.5 million cases. And other players contribute with 0.2 or 0.3 million cases. Overall, the segment is sized at less than two million cases. Which is nothing. We are looking forward to hitting 10 million. You'll say, 'You are crazy', but well...

I can't understand why products like Red Bull or Monster have such limited sales. The perception, knowledge and awareness about these products is high. Then how come the sales are so low? It doesn't fit.

This is because of the existing misconceptions about energy drinks. The brands in the segment associate themselves with a very specific purpose. If a brand is positioned as a good 'mixer'... well, how many times are you going to drink alcohol unless you're a really big boozer? Your sales will be very limited. So we consciously want to avoid being slotted as a mixer. Energy drinks are too specifically aimed - at bars and parties. How much can you party? And in the wee hours, you barely know what you are drinking anymore!

I don't want you to have Urzza only when you have to study or struggle or have a head ache; I want you to have it like tea or coffee.. at any time and for no reason.

Why should Urzza not be like any other soft drink? A premium soft drink for all occasions and ages.

Why not just say Urzza is a cola, then?

A cola is a cola. Colas have a specific colour - dark brown/blackish - and taste. Café Cuba has failed on taste and because of this confusion about whether it is a cola or a non-cola.

There's no way you can call Urzza a cola, but it fits in with the general outlook of colas.

And a cola is a bit of a no-no; the cola market is declining. Any new guy wanting to enter into a declining market is kind of stupid.

Colas have caffeine and phosphoric acid - two unhealthy ingredients. Urzza has neither. People have become conscious; there are too many articles today on the net about colas not being good.

Our market for Urzza will come from cola drinkers... and from tea-coffee drinkers.

It doesn't have caffeine but is still slotted as an energy drink. Why defy the norm and yet be in that space?

(smiles) If not an energy drink, what else would I call it?

Somewhere, something has gone wrong. That an energy drink must have caffeine is a wrong notion. Ask any doctor/nutritionist whether caffeine has anything to do with energy. That's why we are contradicting the norm and saying, 'Here's an energy drink without caffeine'.

Urzza contains a stimulant which wakes you up and, makes you more alert, just like caffeine does.

Okay. What then, is competition?

Our competition is our own people - staff, distributors, salesmen. Have you been to our manufacturing plant, our warehouse? It's a mess! There are cartons and cartons of Bisleri. The top management, sales force, warehouse, trucks - all have to give Urzza attention.

You did five years of pre-launch research. Tell us about that...

Define research. Yes, we did years of brainstorming, trying to understand what an 'energy drink' is, what 'flavoured water' is, what 'vitaminised water' is, what a 'sports drink' is... Sports drinks have not done well in India; how many people in this market are sporty?

So we did research to understand how and when energy drinks are consumed. It was during the last two years ago that we really got down to it. The process was triggered by a Singapore company that had come down to make a presentation for us. That woke us up. Everyone said, 'Bisleri has to go into flavoured water.' But what the hell is flavoured water? Just water with flavor is nonsense. You need to put in sugar/sweetener to support that flavor.

Market testing for taste is very difficult. You always get weird, flippant answers from people. If I pay you Rs. 500 to come and spend two hours tasting my product, how serious will you be?

Everyone's got something to say - "It's too sweet", "It's too sour", "Not enough gas"... you have to listen to it with a filter.

I've sat through some focus group studies; invariably one strong person dominates the group discussion.

(A 250 ml can of Urzza is priced at Rs. 50)

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