Abid Hussain Barlaskar

"Rs.5 is a mass acceptable price point for gum": Perfetti's Rohit Kapoor

Perfetti Van Melle India (PVMI) started operations in India in 1992 and Center Fresh chewing gum was the confectionery giant's first brand launched in the Indian market. The gel-filled gum was introduced in India in 1994 and has been a core part of the company's 25 years of presence in the country ever since. PVMI's experiments with the brand over the years diversified it to formats, even creating off-shoot brands.

The latest addition under the Center Fresh name is 'Center Fresh 3 Layer Gum', a combination of a cooling fondant layer sandwiched between two layers of gum. It will be available in Peppermint and Strawberry flavours at a price of Rs. 5 (for four gums). The product will also be available in a sugar-free variant, priced at Rs. 25 (pack of seven gums), exclusively available in modern trade stores and on e-commerce sites.

Reports peg PVMI India's share in the country's Rs. 12,000 crore confectionery market (which has been growing at a rate of 10-12 per cent) at over 20 per cent. PVMI competes with players like Wrigley Joyco, Candico, Parle, Godrej Nutrine, Lotte Parry, ITC and Cadbury.

However, there are a few things worth mentioning - Center Fresh's diversification, the three-layered format, the price-point and the ad communication.

Over the years, the Center Fresh name has spread out into off-shoot brands like Center Shock (extremely tangy) and Center Fruit (fruity variants). Launched in 2002, 'Shock' faded away by 2006, making way for 'Center Fruit'. Center Shock even had a 'Mirchi' (extremely spicy) variant around 2004. Both 'Shock' and 'Fruit' gums maintained the original gel-filled format until the recent addition of Center Fruit, Chatpata Sparkiez (priced at Rs. 5) earlier this year. Chatpata Sparkiez ditched the gel and was filled with jelly. Also, while PVMI has so far kept away from the traditional strip format of chewing gums, the 'fondant' centre is new.

For the first time, Center Fresh diverted from gel-filled gum with its 3-layer mints (offered in Rs. 10 cases) in late 2018. This was followed by the latest 3-layer gum variant. The challenge of maintaining the legacy brand name 'Center' while introducing new innovations probably gave rise to the '3-layer' format – two, with one in the 'centre'.

However, Rohit Kapoor, director - marketing, Perfetti Van Melle India, explains, "The '3-layer' gives us a fine balance – the layer in the 'centre' delivers the burst of freshness while the gum on either side gives the chewing experience." Also, the '3-layer' is a product descriptor to differentiate the product from other offerings.

Rohit Kapoor - Director Marketing, Perfetti Van Melle India
Rohit Kapoor - Director Marketing, Perfetti Van Melle India

PVMI has been introducing and pushing the Rs. 5 plus price point with newer variants being sold as multiple units in single packs. Both Chatpata Sparkiez (three unit pack) and the 3-Layer Gum (four unit pack) are priced at Rs. 5. This probably reduces the cost/unit and relieves the pressure of altering the price or size of single units. Altering the shape/size/content of a Center Fresh gum would affect the brand identity and the Rs. 2/unit price point would be too expensive for now.

To our query, Kapoor responds, "We pride ourselves as market creators and strive to upgrade consumers to higher price points. We were one of the first major players in the candies segment to move from 50 paise to one rupee across all offerings. Similarly, we plan to upgrade gum consumers to the next price point of Rs. 5 and Rs. 10 on the back of superior product experience. To build the gum market at higher price points, it is imperative to bring in innovations."

"The offering is priced at a mass acceptable price point of Rs. 5 and is targeted at both urban and rural markets," he adds.

The recent freshness based ads (for 3-layer mints/3-layer gum) are kind of Close Up-ish with a fresh breath peg and opposite-sexes-coming-closer angles. Center Fresh as a brand has had deep association with cricket and was once marketed as the ‘official chewing gum’ of the Indian cricket team. This was followed by the extremely funny and memorable “Zubaan pe rakhe lagaam” ads. The commercial that marked Center Fresh's shift to fresh breath (2015) was also on the funnier side. Why this almost sudden shift?

Kapoor says, “In 2016, Center Fresh was re-positioned to deliver 'fresh breath confidence' and the shift in our communication strategy is in line with our new positioning. The role of the brand manifests beautifully in 'boy-meets-girl' situations and we have seen healthy value growth and market share gains since we have moved to the new approach. Having said that, we have endeavoured to bring in new occasions of consumption in all our TV ads."

Experts speak:

Lloyd Mathias, angel investor, business and marketing strategist, says, "As fresh breath is emerging as a key need space within the confectionery category, thanks to the growing consciousness on personal hygiene, a three-layered gum is a great format to ensure long lasting freshness. In terms of pricing, Perfetti has got it spot on as Rs. 5 is a great price point for consumers."

Lloyd Mathias
Lloyd Mathias

"With the product benefit shifting to fresh breath, highlighting the close proximity between a young couple is the obvious way to go. So while this may seem to be in the ‘Close Up’ space, I think it brings out the proposition strongly," Mathias adds.

MG Parameswaran (Ambi)
MG Parameswaran (Ambi)

MG Parameswaran (Ambi), brand consultant and founder, Brand-Building.com says, "The new ad for Center Fresh plays out the tried and tested tune of ‘Boy-Meets-Girl’. Something that has been done many times by all kinds of products including candy, deo, soft drinks, tooth paste, mouth fresheners, etc. If the product is indeed a breakthrough as they claim it to be, and is premium priced at Rs. 5, the brand has lost a great opportunity to stand apart and tell the same ‘mouth freshening’ story differently."

"It is surprising that the company that delighted us with films like the one for HappyDent and its human chandeliers has dropped a few rungs to do a cliche-ridden film. They seemed to have played it safe, which is fine for an established middle-of-the-road product. But when you have a revolutionary new product (in a sense) at a high price, you need to try and do something different. While this ad may indeed work (boy-meets-girl works all the time), I see it as a big, lost opportunity. I wonder if the agency tried presenting interesting stuff and was told to go back a bit. Or did the agency play it safe as well," Parameswaran wonders.