A conversation with growth and marketing head - Naresh Krishnaswamy on the marketing challenges that different verticals are facing in the lockdown.
Before the Coronavirus pandemic struck, gyms and fitness centres were largely offline businesses. Cure.Fit was one such brand that owned fitness centres in 15 cities in India. Gyms shut down on March 13 (with the imposition of lockdown). They continue to remain shut in many cities, and the company saw a disruption in its offline businesses.
The company recently diversified into the ready-to-eat food category under its food vertical Eat.Fit. Previously, Eat.Fit was a section of the app through which a user could order healthy meals. However, with the Coronavirus spreading, consumers are becoming more wary of what’s entering their homes.
The average Cure.Fit customer is between the age of 25-35 and the startup has seen an increased interest since lockdown began. Before the lockdown, they had a user base of 2.5 lakh customers and the company claims that it has 15 lakh users now. Some of these users also migrated home to be closer with their families in lockdown.
Naresh Krishnaswamy, growth and marketing head, Cure.Fit, reveals that food delivery, as an industry, has seen a 35-40 per cent drop in business, as compared to pre-COVID levels. He adds that as people are mostly working from their homes these days, the orders that his company received from office-goers in their workspaces, have dropped drastically.
Krishnaswamy has been working at Cure.Fit for the past two years, prior to which, he was working at Myntra. He spent 5 years at the fashion e-tailer handling revenue and growth. His last role at Myntra was as chief revenue officer. Before Myntra, he was working as a senior analyst at UBS Investments Bank.
He and his team are betting big on the ready-to-eat category. “The demand for cooked meals will continue to remain low. But, the demand for ready-to-cook meals and meal kits will increase, and we’re expecting it to become nearly 50 per cent of our (Eat.Fit) business in the medium to long term.”
Competing with MTR, ITC?
When it comes to ready-to-eat foods, consumers might typically turn to a brand like MTR, or ITC. Both have had a strong presence in this market for a while, but Krishnaswamy argues that these aren’t the brands his company is competing with.
“Brands like MTR and ITC sell a lot through modern trade and retail. We sell our products (primarily) online. We have a pretty healthy base of customers who were already ordering food from us. We’re not competing with these brands for shelf space, or on BigBasket. We’re selling through our app, our own delivery network,” he says.
According to him, the biggest marketing challenge in this category, and for Eat.Fit, is trust – both of the product and its delivery system.
He claims that they didn’t have to do too much research before introducing this product. “When we saw that the demand for food delivery is falling, we realised that we already have an active audience that used to order meals from Eat.Fit. We also have customers who’re attending our fitness classes - and we will bet on selling our products to them.”
Krishnaswamy says that through surveys and other listening tools, the company found that the consumers wanted help with cooking at home. But, they aren’t prepared to live the same kind of lifestyle that they used to live before – which included ordering both meals in a day (or in some cases, three meals a day) from outside. “It’s not just us, it’s the whole packaged food industry that’s seeing growth right now.”
Another of Cure.Fit’s verticals that’s seeing growth is its online diagnostics arm. Previously, the division, known as Care.Fit, had around 10 centres in Bengaluru, where people could walk in for a check-up, a medical test, or a prescription for medicines.
Care.Fit’s online avatar includes scheduling online appointments with doctors, and access to virtual prescriptions. With the spread of the Coronavirus, people became more wary of stepping into clinics and hospitals. Krishnaswamy adds that it’s not just his company, but online health apps and medicine e-tailers, such as Practo, 1MG, and PharmEasy, have all started offering diagnostic services.
Care.Fit also launched an online diagnostic service last month wherein a licensed medical professional can come to your house with the required equipment and conduct the tests (such as urine tests, or other diagnostic tests).
Krishnaswamy reminds us that the government has now changed guidelines on telemedicine and virtual consultancies because of COVID-19. “Doctors are also much more receptive to using an online platform for a consultancy now because they would previously see it as something that threatened their ‘in-person’ practice, or their private clinic business,” he says.
Demand for workout apparel, equipment
In 2019, Cure.Fit diversified into selling workout gear and since the lockdown began, it has also introduced equipment (such as dumbbells, yoga mats, etc.). Krishnaswamy claims that the products are flying off the shelves since the lockdown began.
“Anyone who has been working out seriously now knows that they need to have a home set up because over the next few months, they can’t expect to go to gyms. Even if they go to gyms, there will be concerns on things like the same weights being touched by multiple people, etc.,” he explains.
The next (immediate) goal in this division is to increase the supply, and range of products. “With regards to the apparel business, we have the advantage of multiple people working out using the Cult platform classes, personal training, etc., who might buy the products. We don’t need to compete with Myntra, Amazon, etc., because we don’t need to rely on that platform to drive our marketing efforts. A lot of people use our app and we can sell to the fitness audience that we already have on this platform,” Krishnaswamy says.
With apparel, he claims, his experience of working at Myntra has made him aware of the technical requirements of sportswear. He adds that at Cure.Fit, the goal is to create international brand quality goods which are reasonably priced.
He adds that while disposable income is, indeed, going down, in April-May, most businesses were shut and even Amazon wasn’t delivering. “This sector is going to rebound in a big way because people have missed shopping. The sales numbers have gone up to pre-COVID levels now,” he claims.
When the lockdown began, the company also launched online fitness classes, named Cure.Fit Live, as Cult.Fit’s audience didn’t have access to gyms or fitness centres.
Krishnaswamy explains that this was the time when several new customers also joined in as members because restricted living was new to a lot of people. “People began working out because it was likely they’d gain weight while staying home, or they thought they would suffer from physical problems from factors like sitting for too long. Our marketing shifted from promoting our offline fitness centres to promoting the digital classes and personal training sessions,” he says.
Cure.Fit has launched a large number of personalised sessions with therapists, nutritionists, etc., over the last few months. Krishnaswamy is confident that over the next 6-9 months, there will be similar demand because offline isn’t coming back. He claims that even when it does come back, people will be apprehensive of using those services.
“Bear in mind that an offline service like a gym subscription costs 5-6x more than registering for online classes. We’re fairly confident that demand will hold up, if not increase, despite the economy slowing down,” he concludes.