Ashwini Gangal

"Fastest growing segment in tea category is green tea bags": Shiva Krishnamurthy, Hindustan Unilever

An interview with Shiva Krishnamurthy, General Manager, Beverages, Hindustan Unilever.

HUL's Shiva Krishnamurthy spoke to us about his segment.

The original version of this interview was published in our Marketers' Special Issue - afaqs!Reporter magazine, June 15, 2017.

Edited Excerpts

How has the year gone by been? And what challenges do you foresee?

While there are several topical, contextual aspects to the environment that categories operate in, the fundamental challenges remain the same - maximising the value that we offer to consumers.

For the next 12 months, consumers will continue to hold brands accountable not only for the products they sell but also to the ideas they stand for.

In what ways are changing urban lifestyles affecting your category? Have there been any geographical or demographical shifts in the demand for your product/s of late?

The biggest consumer mega-trend, as a consequence of changing urban lifestyles, is health and wellness, and convenience. Little wonder then, that green tea bags is the fastest growing segment in the tea category.

Affluent urban Indians are into health and wellness and we have been driving up consumption of our relevant offerings like green tea and teas with the goodness of Ayurveda.

We also have a conscious approach of 'Winning In Many Indias' which recognises the differences between the kind of tea that consumers want in different parts of India.

Where will your next million/5 million/10 million consumers come from?

In a universally penetrated category like tea, our next set of consumers will come from 'upgradation'. Our strategy is to be the preferred 'upgradation destination' for every tea drinker.

How is the role of the marketing head changing?

Our CMO/marketing head is also the business head.

As such, the marketing head's role is to deliver the business P&L. If you look at the CMO's role in the more narrow sense of building brand love, I think the key task is to be salient in an increasingly cluttered and connected world.

We at Unilever believe that the best way to achieve this is through purpose-driven brands. People buy into brands that have a point of view about the world.

While Ben & Jerry's (activist liberal), Dove (reducing anxiety around beauty) and Lifebuoy (helping every child reach the age of 5) are some global examples, Surf Excel (child development by getting 'dirty') and Brooke Bond Red Label (inclusiveness) are walking the talk in India.

Name one recent professional challenge you faced...

Brands are quite vulnerable to social media (over) reactions.

We faced a crisis last year when one of our brands was rumoured to have foreign matter. We dealt with it effectively and with lightning speed to make it a 'lesson in rumour management'.

My big learning from it has been - Knowing that we are in the right, we should communicate clearly, swiftly and decisively. Silence is not always golden!

In what way has the information you receive about your consumers changed of late?

The quality of information that we get today is better. Most notably, we have the 'People Data Centre' which does real-time, multimedia tracking of pretty much everything that people are interested in. It is both quick and easy to get a sense of, say, the conversations that people are having today on Indian Classical Music, for instance... (relevant for our premium brand Taj Mahal).

What is your lead medium of communication today?

Given how universal our category is, the lead medium of communication continues to be TV.

Having said that, the share of digital is the fastest growing.

Marketers today deal with way too many external brand custodians - agree?

This is not the case for the brands that I work on. While global matrix organisations are a reality, moving decision making closer to the consumer and to the market is key to success. We at Unilever recognise this and are now organised accordingly.

In what way has your expectation from your agency partners changed of late?

The biggest change in expectation is to live up to breaking clutter in a connected world. Our agency partners are fully on board and with us. There hasn't been a better time to be in marketing!

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