Ashwini Gangal
Interviews

"I have never copied the marketing strategy of any MNC; they copy me": Piruz Khambatta, Rasna

Piruz Khambatta, chairman and managing director of Rasna, is clear in his thinking, and candid in his expression of it.

Through a quick interview, we get to know brand Rasna better.

Edited Excerpts.

Edited Excerpts

In your recent campaign featuring Akshay Kumar Rasna appears to be positioning itself as a fortified, health/energy drink. The association seems a bit forced...

I haven't shown Akshay Kumar playing football, saying, 'We won because I drank Rasna'. We're just saying it contains energy boosters.

I don't think health - or energy for that matter - is the major takeaway here; rather, the takeaways are - 'Here is Rasna, a party drink' and 'Akshay drinks it'.

For me, it is more important to say, 'Rasna is not like a synthetic cola', than to say it stands for health or energy.

But it is true that of all the soft drinks in the country we are the most fortified because we have 21 vitamins and minerals. This is part of our CSR - we put these vitamins in our Rs. 2 and Rs. 5 products too, not just in our premium products. I believe food companies should be looking at fortification. Like there's iodine in salt and Vitamin E in oil, we owe it to our consumers to help bring malnutrition levels down.

So theoretically, yes, Rasna does give more energy to the drinker than Glucon-D (Heinz) does. In fact, I know that many people drink Rasna after a workout at the gym.

That's interesting. Tell us more about your consumer research...

We do research across metros, mini-metros, small towns and villages, and cover classes A to E. At the pre-ad stage, two to three scripts are tested. In fact, we thoroughly research the celebrity angle too; six celebrities we tested before we picked Akshay. A lot of people think family run businesses operate on the hunch of the owner, but we run our marketing very professionally, just like Coke, Pepsi or Cadbury.

We do our own R&D in our own labs. We don't have typical, big multi-national creative agencies doing our stuff. We work with local Indian people who work with Indian themes. The Unilevers and Cadburys run copies of their international ads in India. But our work is original.

Summer is here. Which brand among the current lot of mango drinks threatens you most?

Honestly, the biggest threat for me is monsoon coming in summer!

I have never copied the marketing strategy of any MNC. And this shows in my style of advertising. In fact, others copy me. I was the first one to bring fruit into the powder category. As soon as I did, Tang did the same. I started showing the morphing of a fruit into a pack in my ad. The very next year, Tang did so too.

My biggest competition comes from water at home. And from squashes, syrups, powder-based drinks, and to an extent colas that come in PET bottles. We will counter the PET bottle by promoting our big jug; mothers can simply make a jug-full of Rasna and keep it in the fridge.

When I do consumer testing for my product, I don't compare Rasna with Maaza or Tropicana. I compare it with fresh juice.

Over the last 20 years, there has been a burst of competing products, for example Tang (Mondelez), Sunfill and Fanta powder (Coca-Cola) - which totally bombed - and Tropicana powder (PepsiCo). I don't think any Indian company has withstood such an onslaught from not one but five to six MNCs of this size.

Everyone's going on about modern India's evolving palate. How often do you change your ingredients to keep up?

I re-launch my product - that is, my formula - every year.

In fact, very three to four years we change our logo and packaging.

This year we have a promotional campaign for our sippers, which allow you to drink Rasna on-the-go. It works out cheaper too. A litre of my product, even the one with sugar, will cost around Rs 25-30. While if you were to buy a litre of a fruit drink in the market, it will cost you Rs.50-80. We're trying to increase out-of-house consumption of Rasna through our sippers.

You've gone on record in the past saying digital ads are irritating. But today, there's so much discussion around how powerful the medium is...

I have become a fan of Hotstar, the smartphone app, because women who fall short on time tend to watch TV serials on-the-go.

But I don't think any company in the FMCG space can switch over, entirely, to digital. I don't think a Dettol or a Colgate or a Nirma or a Rasna can ever afford to go fully digital... not in the next 10 years. Maybe travel sites, and e-commerce brands, can.

How differently do you treat your ready-to-drink (RTD) juice offering from your powder concentrate?

The biggest difference lies in the fact that the intention is not to become the leader in the RTD space. If it were, I'd be spending a lot more.

There are many 'Rasna households' that don't want to use the powder anymore because they have moved up in life. They are happy with the Rasna heritage but want the option of just opening a bottle and drinking. Our RTD option is for them.

As for our powder, we're available at Rs. 2 a glass. People who have a party budget of Rs. 100-200 will serve Rasna with samosas and namkeen. They can't afford to serve Tropicana or Pepsi.

What do you make of newer beverage brands that market fruit-based beverages? For example Paperboat, that markets aamras and aam panna...

Paperboat is not my competition at all. I think marketing people have given it more importance than it deserves. It is a very niche product. It is like those ready-to-eat curries. Hardly anyone eats those.