"Products with local flavor, ingredients are gaining ground": Ali Harris Shere, Britannia

An interview with Ali Harris Shere, VP, Marketing, Britannia Industries.

What are the latest consumption trends in the segment that FMCG player Britannia operates in? Over to the company's VP, Marketing - Ali Harris Shere.

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

Edited Excerpts

Look back and ahead - what characterised the last 12 months and what's the big challenge hereon?

Less-than-forecasted consumer demand was our biggest challenge in the past year. The headwinds came largely due to price increases necessitated by input cost inflation and more recently, demonetisation, which took a toll on demand across a range of consumer product categories.

In this sort of an environment, marketers have a tough choice to make between providing a bunch of value incentives to consumers Vs. investing in building brand equity.

Price increases have become the order of the day to tide over sluggish demand and inflationary situations. But the ability to charge a premium requires the brand to have strong equity so that people are willing to put down that little extra money for it.

Food companies that are stronger in other categories are expanding into our category... competition is welcome; it requires us to be extremely vigilant, agile and sharp.

In what ways are changing urban lifestyles affecting your segment?

Desire for convenience (is a trend); the evidence of that being the many online food delivery platforms that you can order a quick, tailor-made, suitably portioned meal from.

Bakery as a category, and particularly biscuits, given its inherent form, is well poised to innovate and occupy a larger mind-share with the convenience-seeking consumer.

On-the-go consumption of food is on the rise; hence our low unit price packs (Rs.5 and Rs.10) have become dominant.

Younger, health-seekers are taking proactive steps to stay fit; they are eager for food solutions that partner them in this.

Products that provide local flavor (like Britannia's 50-50 Matthri Masti) or have local ingredients (essentially Indian) are gaining ground.

Indian consumers today are well-travelled and better informed than ever before and hence are seeking premium taste experiences, at affordable prices.

Have there been any geographical or demographical shifts- in the demand for and consumption of your product?

The rural consumer has changed dramatically. Rural India today seeks more choices than ever before. Mobile data usage and the (growth of) e-commerce companies in the hinterlands are testimony to that.

FMCGs as a whole, and biscuits too, find rural India taking to a wider range of products. A fair degree of upgradation to larger -albeit not yet, large- packs has been evident across the length and breadth of the country. Our rural growth has been higher than our urban growth in the last two years.

The shift to premiumisation has been strong. We see some clusters of cities, particularly in Tamil Nadu, behaving like developed countries in their consumption patterns, whereas large portions of the Hindi (speaking) belt, which have been consuming mostly low priced products, behave like developing countries.

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

From clusters where current penetration is low - Rural/lower town classes is one cluster and the youth cluster as a demographic is another.

Our brands that are focused on grabbing a bigger chunk of the rural pie, will focus on introducing attractive prices points, providing value incentives and ensuring optimum distribution in rural outlets.

How has the role of the marketing head changed?

Traditionally, CMOs used to broadcast their messages. Campaign cycles used to be measured in months and quarters. Consumer feedback used to be sample-based and sporadic.

With digital media, communication is bi-directional and feedback is available in real time.

Campaigns have short lifecycles, content has to keep up with short consumer attention spans and response to feedback and follow-through action often goes beyond just marketing.

The CMO sets the tone for how businesses engage with consumers.

In what way has the information you receive about your consumers changed over the past 12 months?

Social media monitoring has become an indispensable mode of consumer understanding.

For our brand Milk Bikis Milk Cream, the front face of the product was changed from a smiley face to a waffle design. Many consumers began to express their unhappiness over this change and the brand team, taking cognizance of this, changed the product design right back to the much loved smiley face.

What is your lead medium of communication today?

TV remains our lead medium as it provides the largest reach in the most cost-efficient manner.

However, our spends on digital are on the rise and we will continue to grow investments in this medium disproportionately. Digital generates consumer response faster than TV does.

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

That is true.

But a tightly defined brand lighthouse helps ensure all custodians are on the same page.

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

The exponential increase in the number of media channels, both traditional and digital, has thrown a challenge at marketers.

Measurement metrics have moved from reach to impact of reach. We encourage our agency partners to think beyond just TV and share ideas that can manifest across multiple mediums.