Shreyas Kulkarni

"45-50% namkeen sales come during festival season": Krishnarao Buddha, senior category head, Parle Products

Buddha talks about the company's newly launched namkeen flavours, cross-category rivalry - including the unorganised namkeen segment.

If you find yourself opening your refrigerator at 2 a.m. and searching for a snack then, as Bollywood actor/director Farhan Akhtar recited towards the end of the movie ‘Zindagi Na Milegi Na Dobara’, “Toh zinda ho tum.”

Does the COVID pandemic have a role here? Post-midnight snack cravings were not that common earlier. It is clearly not the case anymore. What was once considered hara-kiri is today a normalised act.

Our lust for snacking is not just restricted to late nights, but it extends to all parts of the day. Yes, we eat breakfast, lunch and dinner, but our mind is clearly focused on snacks, like those namkeens, biscuits, fries and tikkas.

We all desire some form of comfort and freedom from stress after working all those long hours from home. And, this is when snacks come in handy.

“The pandemic has triggered a lot of snacking and people are awake till 12-1 a.m., after eating dinner at 8-9 p.m…,” remarks Krishnarao Buddha, senior category head, Parle Products. An accidental nod to revenge procrastination, is it? Folks tend to sacrifice sleep to spend time doing things they like (usually streaming) after wrapping up their work.

Krishnarao Buddha
Krishnarao Buddha

Brands too are privy to our desires. In the last 18 months, we’ve observed various brands, from ready-to-cook kebabs to two-minute noodles to premium biscuits and even momos, do their best to satiate our hunger.

And as India’s festive season, that will run its course till the end of the year, starts soon, Parle Products has just introduced three new namkeen flavours, under its ‘Chatkeens’ brand (known as Parle Namkeen until 2017).

"45-50% namkeen sales come during festival season": Krishnarao Buddha, senior category head, Parle Products
"45-50% namkeen sales come during festival season": Krishnarao Buddha, senior category head, Parle Products
"45-50% namkeen sales come during festival season": Krishnarao Buddha, senior category head, Parle Products

Lite Chiwda, Gujarati Mixture and Farali Chiwda are the new flavours. Chatkeens has announced a nationwide rollout of Farali Chiwda, while Lite Chiwda and Gujarati Mixture will only be available in India’s northern, western and central markets.

These three take the total number of flavours under Chatkeens to 19.

Last year (in 2020), Chatkeens had launched two flavours: Butter Murukku and South Mixture.

“About 45-50 per cent traditional namkeen sales come during the festive season,” reveals Buddha, talking about the main reason behind the launch of the new flavours.

He goes on to remark about the popularity of the Farali Chiwda flavour during these times, especially in Gujarat and Maharashtra, where people tend to ‘fast’.

Staying on the topic of keeping it superlight, Buddha tells us that the brand wanted to offer consumers a light snacking option, unlike an Aloo Bhujiya or Moong Dal and, hence, the launch of Lite Chiwda. Adding to this is the Gujarati Mixture which, he says, was a winner when taste-tested across geographies in the north and the south. It is a unique offering.

As these flavours are new, Parle Products will introduce them at a Rs 5 price point to encourage trials. Once they do well, other SKUs will hit the market. As of now, Chatkeens’ existing flavours are available across offline and online channels, and 400 gm-1 kg units are doing extremely well online, reveals Buddha.

As we discuss namkeens and their relevance during festivals, Buddha talks about how the flavours used to be “homemade by our grandmothers” and how today, it is quite different. Consumers don’t want to put in all that effort and “convenience is what they’re seeking.”

Today, Chatkeens competes with not only the likes of, say, Haldiram’s, but also the gigantic unorganised namkeen market. These folks have decades or generations-long relationships with the customers.

Buddha reveals that the turnover of organised salted snacks (namkeen is a part of it) category is Rs 30,000 crore per annum, while the unorganised segment is valued at Rs 20,000-25,000 crore. And while the latter will have its loyalists, there is bound to be a “greater move towards higher and aspirational namkeens and farsans as awareness spreads about their quality and preparation method.”

Consumers now have a greater awareness of how the items are cooked and the possible storage conditions, he says, and will choose “packaged and branded” items in future.

However, Chatkeens is competing against not just players (organised and unorganised) from its segment, but also brands from different categories.

For instance, it competes against Nestle Maggi, Sunfeast Dark Fantasy, ITC Master Chef ready-to-cook items, and several other brands and food items.

“Yes, there is more competition from cross-category players. It is now the survival of the fittest… and I will need a compelling story,” says Buddha.

He and his team are planning festival campaigns, where they’ll target youngsters across rural and urban regions because the aim is to make Chatkeens an “aspirational brand.” The brand plans to increase its spends by “15-20 per cent” this quarter.

Buddha takes the example of Parle Hide & Seek. When teenagers eat this chocolate-chip biscuit, their school-going siblings will then pester their parents for it. Even the adults will enjoy it as they’ve tasted it during their teenage years, or with their children.

Speaking about the consumers, have they, since last year, started to let the ingredients section of the packaged food item influence their buying decision, than just the taste?

Buddha categorically states, “In my 26 years of experience, what matters first is taste, then ingredients, followed by health”.

He explains that if India had a 130 crore populace, those choosing taste would form the major chunk. Those who’d see the ingredients would be in the 20-25 crore range, followed by the health fanatics, whose tally would go up to one crore (it was around 25 lakh in the past). Yes, there is a higher level of awareness among the consumers on what’s inside the pack, but the “taste comes first and foremost.”

While Chatkeens has 19 flavours now, its market share, as of now, is below five per cent. But Buddha is confident of its growth, considering the category’s “fast-track growth.”

Have news to share? Write to us