Shreyas Kulkarni

Lessons from building Parle Products for 23 years – Krishnarao Buddha’s career in marketing

He joined Parle when its turnover was Rs 1,000 crore, today it is over Rs 17,000 crore.

“I am coming here only for stability,” quipped Krishnarao Buddha in 2001 when his interviewer at Parle Products pointed to his career instability; he had changed four jobs in six years – a shocking career graph in those times.

And when asked how many years he intends to spend at Parle Products, “three years,” remarked Buddha. Cut to June 2024 and he is completing 23 years in the multinational food corporation behind brands like Parle-G, Mango Bite, Monaco, and Hide & Seek, and serves as its senior category head for marketing.

These are emarkable brands, but the company’s latest campaign that hit screens during the 2024 Indian Premier League (IPL), wants people to recognise Parle as a branded house, not as a house of brands.

Together, these brands are responsible for Parle Products’ revenue which exceeds Rs 17,000 crore. Back in 2001, six months into his joining, Buddha asked a colleague about the company’s turnover and to his surprise, he was told it was one thousand crore.

Revenue was one of the factors that made him stay at the company. “If you look at the kind of companies that I had worked with, the maximum was Rs 60 crore,” states the senior marketer.

Maxwell Apparel (his first job after graduating with a business degree) had a turnover of around Rs 60 crore. Uncle Chipps, his next employer enjoyed a turnover of Rs 45 crore and when he moved out of the company a year into joining, it was at Rs 60 crore. Then came Excelcia Foods (a collaboration between Dabur and Nestle) which boasted a revenue of around Rs 15-20 crore, and Gold Coin, an OTC pharma company, which was a startup.

“I will not get redundant is what I will say. I want to stay current with the times. No, I want to be a lead, not just stay current, I want to be the lead initiative taker so that I can keep my brand at the fore."
Buddha on staying relevant

Buddha was interviewed at Parle Products in March or April 2001. In December 2000, he’d tied the knot, and so the search for stability post-marriage matched wonderfully with the company’s strong numbers prompting an optimistic start to his new work relationship.

“The first two years at Parle Products were a rollercoaster,” he confesses and says it was only around the end of his second year that he started to get a hang of things. The third and fourth years went by and, “I really started enjoying the work. I got fantastic job satisfaction, and I place a very high importance on job satisfaction.”

One of, if not the main factor for Buddha staying at the food company was the freedom it gave its employees. It broke his mindset of "you keep jumping, and you keep growing."

The big launches

Four years into Parle Products, the chairman asked Buddha about the state of Marie biscuits. It was a tough category with many challenges, he explained to the top boss, who then replied, “Okay, I am developing something, and we will work together on it.”

"In 2006, we launched a new Marie biscuit called Digestive Marie," says Gupta.

They cast actress Kajol to promote the new biscuit and it was a “very high-profile launch”, the first big win for Buddha at Parle Products.

The second big launch was Kaccha Mango Bite. “We felt Mango Bite was stagnating, and wanted to do something unique. And one such idea was, ‘We already have a ripe mango, how about having a raw mango?’”

It was, in his words, a “runaway success” because it took consumers down memory lane and allowed them to relish raw mango even during the off-season.

Buddha considers Magix Crème (called Magix today) biscuits the third most memorable launch he has worked on at Parle Products. There was competition in the cream biscuits category and Britannia, he says, was the market leader.

Parle Products was trying its bit but “things had not worked out.” So, the company went to the bottom of the pyramid and decided, “If our competition is available for Rs 10 and Rs 12 for a 100-gram packet, can we offer for half the price? We launched a 100-gram pack for Rs 5.”

“We surpassed the sales of our competition and went on to become the market leader,” he smiles.

Seeing ad land and media change

It is quite humorous when one realises Facebook and YouTube did not exist when Buddha joined Parle Products. The Meta-owned social networking site launched in 2004 and YouTube launched independently in 2005 – Google bought it in 2006.

He remembers seeing only black-and-white computers in his office barring one colour version, and using the fax machine to communicate with advertising agencies.

“During those times, we used bromide for artwork, and whenever there were changes, they were to be written on the butter paper,” he recalls.

It was also the era of the generalist advertising agency where all services – creative, media buying and selling, planning, strategy – were offered under one roof.

He also points to the significant change in media which ballooned from one Doordarshan to 800 television channels.

“Earlier, it was much simpler. You take a Friday movie on Doordarshan, you take a Ramayana or a Mahabharata, you take Chhaya Geet or Chitrahaar and you are sorted. Today, it has become very, very challenging for a brand to ensure that your availability, your visibility levels are maintained.”

Digital may have started laying down its roots a couple of decades ago, but Buddha believes its velocity accelerated with the launch of 4G in India because it helped India move from a land of buffering to one of live streaming. GST eased a lot of things for Parle Products, and UPI “has played a huge role in enhancing the commerce in the country.”

Buddha says, “… as a philosophy, Parle Products believes in having a presence wherever there are eyeballs.”

Managing Gen Zs and staying employable

It is the story of every generation. It believes it is doing the right thing, while the other generations stare at it in disbelief. Gen Z is having its time under the sun right now.

When asked about this cohort, the senior marketer was clear: “My way of luring the candidate is to ensure that they get a lot from Parle Products. They can be part of initiatives and aspects of marketing they may not have had the experience to learn in their current organization.

Despite spending over two decades at Parle Products, Buddha may well be facing the biggest challenge of his career right now – staying in demand when technology threatens to think quicker and sharper than you.

And ageism is one of the biggest fallouts in the technological era. “Digital is the new name of the game in marketing. What is important for me is to keep myself current with the entire digital landscape which includes AI and ChatGPT and all that.”

One way he goes about it is to “get into the depths of it while I'm dealing with various publishers, or platforms or OTT players.”

“I will not get redundant is what I will say. I want to stay current with the times. No, I want to be a lead, not just stay current, I want to be the lead initiative taker so that I can keep my brand at the fore,” states Buddha.

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