Abid Hussain Barlaskar & Shreyas Kulkarni
Marketing

Amul blends dairy, fruits and fizz; is India ready for 'Tru Seltzer'?

'The company’s CMO Jayen Mehta talks about the new beverage, a daring carbonated cocktail of dairy products and fruit juice.

When life gives you lemons, (you) make lemonade. Simple theory. But if the lemons come in contact with milk by accident, then it will cause an uproar in most Indian households, simply because “doodh phat jayega”. Citrus fruits and milk just don’t mix.

Amul, however, doesn’t think so. Its latest offering 'Tru Seltzer' is India’s first carbonated dairy drink made up of milk solids, fruit juice and fizz.

But, Seltzer isn't a new concoction. It dates back to the 1700s when medicine wasn't advanced enough, naturally carbonated water found in springs was considered a cure-all. A spa in Germany bottled the water in clay jugs and sent it to various countries, the name seltzer in English stuck.

After hard riding sessions, cyclists would opt for milk seltzer... while milk has a lot of vitamins and electrolytes, and athletes needed to replenish lost electrolytes. But on its own, it was a little too thick.

Seltzer is an extension of Amul’s Tru range of fruit juices that hit the Indian market in February 2019. It marked the Gujarat-based leading diary cooperative’s entry into the country’s fruit juice market, which is worth around Rs 1,100 crore.

Available in four flavours – apple, litchi, mango and orange, you can buy the fruit juices in either a PET bottle or a tetra pack for Rs 10 (180 ml). As per Amul, Tru’s market share in the fruit juice market in the first quarter of its launch stood at 10 per cent.

Amul blends dairy, fruits and fizz; is India ready for 'Tru Seltzer'?

Amul Tru Seltzer, however, is available in just two flavours, as of now – lemon and orange, and is priced at Rs 15 for a 200 ml PET bottle (a can version will be available soon). There are three more flavours in the pipeline – jeera, apple and cola.

Amul blends dairy, fruits and fizz; is India ready for 'Tru Seltzer'?

With Tru Seltzer, Amul makes its foray into the carbonated beverages category. But, this category is facing a tough time, as more and more consumers look for healthier alternatives (less sugar and additives) in the wake of the COVID pandemic.

Jayen Mehta, senior general manager, planning and marketing, GCMMF (Amul), tells afaqs! that they’ve made a carbonated drink that’s healthier and tastier.

Jayen Mehta
Jayen Mehta

He illustrated this point with Tru Seltzer’s upcoming cola flavour that “… will be without phosphoric acid and caffeine. You will get the taste of a good cola, but with real fruit juice, the goodness of milk solids and reduced amounts of sugar.”

A press note from Amul reiterated this point when it revealed that the lemon Seltzer contains five per cent real lime juice, no artificial colour and flavour, and just nine per cent added sugar. As compared to this, a leading (lemon) competitor has 12 per cent added sugar.

In the carbonated soft drinks market, Tru Seltzer will take on established giants, such as PepsiCo and Coca-Cola. Mehta says that while this is one part of the positioning, the other aim was to bring out the taste and goodness of the product and make it more appealing to the masses.

On Tru Seltzer’s price (Rs 15 for 200 ml PET bottle), and considering that many brands are veering away from this price point, Mehta says, “Amul is value for money. So, we’ve tried to put together the best quality at an affordable price.”

Amul has launched its newest offering first in Gujarat. Mehta tells us that there was a “virtual launch conference with all our distributors (more than 350).” A teaser was released in more than 30 websites across major cities of Gujarat a week before Tru Seltzer’s launch.

Amul says it has created an attractive communication and point of sale promotion strategy for Tru Seltzer. The advertising campaign, highlighting the product’s proposition 'Dairy, Fruity, Fizzy', will also be aired on TV and social media. The company has also rolled out an OOH campaign aimed to pique consumers' interest in Gujarat.

Amul blends dairy, fruits and fizz; is India ready for 'Tru Seltzer'?

One day, a hoarding came up, which asked, “Is it a juice?”

Amul blends dairy, fruits and fizz; is India ready for 'Tru Seltzer'?

The next day, it asked, “Is it a shake?”

Amul blends dairy, fruits and fizz; is India ready for 'Tru Seltzer'?

Then, "Is it a cola?"

Amul blends dairy, fruits and fizz; is India ready for 'Tru Seltzer'?

Finally, the reveal.

Amul blends dairy, fruits and fizz; is India ready for 'Tru Seltzer'?

On the neon LED lights, Mehta says that they’d “put up 20-30 signs at various Amul parlours and other locations…”

On the launch of Tru Seltzer in the rest of India, Mehta says, “These products are more intensive in distribution, so a state-wise launch is better.”

And, did COVID have an impact on the launch of Tru Seltzer? Says Mehta, “COVID, or no COVID, this was in the pipeline. In the last seven months, this will be our 40th launch… our innovation pipeline is on all the time.”

Expert Panel

We spoke to two experts to get a third-party view on this diversification from Amul.

Edited excerpts:

Lopamudra Roy, founder-CEO at Road Not Taken (a consumer research consultancy)

Lopamudra Roy
Lopamudra Roy

A fruit flavoured soda that has milk solids is brave, but it triggers the fundamental issue of perception. Citrus fruits (orange, lemon, etc.) and milk are not seen as complementary. The acidic nature of citrus fruits causes milk to curdle. This perception is largely validated by research in the Indian consumers’ minds.

While the younger generation may welcome this move, the brand, on the whole, doesn’t fit the Seltzer groove, which is often seen as a ‘hard’ drink in the US.

In this particular extension, how it is pegged will be important. Is it fruit-based milk? A milk-based frizzy fruit drink? A fruity and milky cola? Or is the fruit/ jeera/cola chosen as non-interfering flavours, only meant to add some fun to the fizz? Seltzer is not a category (yet) in India. So, the onus of defining that is also on the brand.

Amul has always leveraged the ‘traditional’ approach. Consumers’ minds are straight, and a cocktail of perceptions could make them spin. Remember, every strong brand comes with a constraint of fixing – what it is and, more importantly, what it is not!

… If Amul had departed from milk as one of the ingredients completely, and made a hero of the fruit, it may have been a more seamless and a natural extension, since it solidifies the brand’s health space. The fusion space is, perhaps, a more non-serious zone, and adding the milk solids may be seen as more ‘artificial’, than ‘natural’.

When you press the ‘Amul’ button, specific neurons light up in the consumers’ brain (the subtle sub-conscious associations that are formed). If these are used to craft both the product story and the proposition, the brand extends and flows, not drags.

Perhaps now, the challenge lies in writing a good product and communication brief that can spell out what to leverage and, more importantly, what to leave out, to optimise the potential of an innovative offering.

N Chandramouli, CEO, Trust Research Advisory (a brand intelligence and data insights company)

N Chandramouli
N Chandramouli

Adding milk solids to a fizzy beverage is a way of utilising a by-product, like whey. Amul, anyway, has a product in the whey protein space and now needs value-added propositions around milk solids.

Amul Tru Seltzer is one such example. That way, the soda also becomes a healthy drink. Amul will want to innovate all available options to expand the top line.

But it does not mean that everything will succeed, and everything does not have to. Amul already has its wide logistics and cold distribution in place. It can pick and choose from the wide network and decide where to put the products.

Even if it fails, it will not damage the Amul brand much. Extensions usually have the disadvantage of affecting the mother brand in case of failure. Amul may be trying to create a line of beverages with ‘Tru’, like Dabur did with Real. The pre-festive season launch will help Amul to test out the markets with trials, and eventually prepare for next summer.