Abid Hussain Barlaskar

‘Jeera soda’ Jeeru’s quest for ‘aspiration’ in a 'cola' market

While Jeeru strives to organise the largely unorganised Rs 700 crore ‘jeera soda’ market, it is trying to build ‘aspirational’ quotient to appeal to the youth.

When consumers think of a carbonated soft drink (CSD) today, brands that automatically pop up are the ones from the Pepsi-Cola lineage. An Indian CSD company Xotik Frujus is busy trying to wedge its own ‘cold drink’ brand into the consumer memory now. And, it isn’t just another cola or orange fizz. The brand is called Jeeru, an apple-based jeera masala soda.

Rajeev Sehgal, founder and chairman of Xotik Frujus, tells afaqs! that Jeeru was born (in 2009) out of the need to create fodder for a fully functional modern beverage manufacturing factory in Andheri MIDC. Sehgal’s factory used to manufacture Orangina, a globally known orange soda for Schweppes.

Orangina failed to gain traction in the Indian market for various factors (like price, colour, texture, etc.). It was eventually sold off to Japanese brewer Suntory in 2009.

“We had a factory of international standards, but needed a product. And, we didn’t want to make the colas-mango drinks or drinking water, since the space was already cluttered,” says Sehgal.

Rajeev Sehgal
Rajeev Sehgal

The quest for a new beverage got Sehgal to consider jeera soda, a niche category where the volume of consumption and sales were high, but lacked established leadership.

“We studied the jeera masala soda market and found that the segment was very firm. But it was moving as an unorganised cottage industry. At that point, there were thousands of manufacturers in a market of over Rs 200 crore, but none of them were touching a turnover of even Rs 1 crore.”

While the product fit well with the spicy Indian palate, the presentation, quality assurance and an organised national brand was absent. Sehgal mentions that the small manufacturers prepared their product on open gas ovens and sold it in recycled Bacardi Breezer bottles. That’s where Jeeru found its opportunity, in organising.

Overall, the market size of organised and unorganised jeera masala category is around Rs 700 crore. Among organised brands, Jeeru competes with Bisleri’s Spyci (relaunched in 2020), Coke’s RimZim (2018), Parle Agro’s Dhishoom, and regional players such as Bindu Jeera and Kashmira.

‘Jeera soda’ Jeeru’s quest for ‘aspiration’ in a 'cola' market

Jeeru commands about 10 per cent share of the largely unorganised market. The brand has been growing at 40-50 per cent YoY.

From an initial production capacity of 120 BPM (bottles per minute), several bottling plants now run at 500-700 BPM. One of its upcoming new factories will have a capacity of 1,700 BPM.

Sehgal says that apart from the 17 Indian states Jeeru is available in, it is also gaining traction abroad, especially in countries like the US, the UK, Canada and South Africa, which have a sizeable Indian population. The company’s portfolio today also includes other flavours like lemon, litchi, etc.

‘Jeera soda’ Jeeru’s quest for ‘aspiration’ in a 'cola' market

While the issue of product quality was solved by making it in modern factories, the brand is now focusing on creating a TG beyond the consumer base, which uses it for is functional benefits. Jeera drinks have been traditionally consumed in Indian households post meals to help in digestion.

The functional factor currently influences most purchases. The brand witnesses high consumption in hotspots like BPOs (which work in international shifts) and railway stations.

“The consumption there is really high... It is consumed as a solution to indigestion caused by unhealthy and erratic eating habits. It’s the same case with railway stations,” Sehgal says.

The available SKUs vary from 150 ml to 2L bottles. The 2L bottles move faster in modern trade outlets. Xotik Frujus recently started its D2C e-commerce shop, while also expanding its base in other Southeast Asian countries.

“We were doing nine per cent of Big Bazaar’s whole beverage category sales, pre-COVID. On a good day with a small discount, sales would spike by 200 per cent. The large bottles, which are mostly consumed in homes, drive a lot of fresh trials among family members.”

Sehgal realises that beyond the niche jeera drink category, a major opportunity lies in finding ground among the regular CSDs like Coke, Pepsi and Thums Up. And, these major brands primarily cater to the youth.

“We developed Jeeru as a healthy and digestive product, but never positioned it as a health solution. Youngsters like products in a fun space. Our consumer surveys revealed that people like to drink Jeeru at home, but go for Thums Up when outside because of its aspirational value,” Sehgal says.

‘Jeera soda’ Jeeru’s quest for ‘aspiration’ in a 'cola' market

Jeeru has to become an ‘aspirational’ brand. Last month (November), it underwent a major rebranding exercise, tweaking its packaging, etc., to highlight the drink’s ‘fun’ and ‘fizz’ elements. The new packaging and branding will further help the brand differentiate itself. The exercise was conducted by 82.5 Communications. While the new packaging is being rolled out across India, the brand is also revamping its national distribution network.

Sehgal says that while the brand missed out on its peak growth months (March to June) due to COVID, it will still grow by 10 per cent over last year (2019). “We need to create the aspirational value,” he signs off.

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