The Gujarat-based brand has a strong market in the North West. The brand recently roped in Ayushmann Khuranna as its first-ever brand ambassador and after a gap of almost 14 years released a set of three TVCs earlier this year. We spoke to Jay Sachdev, manager, marketing, Balaji Wafers, to understand the brand's marketing strategy as it plans to grow from its image of a local brand to a national brand.
It was about a fortnight ago that the Gujarat-based manufacturer and distributor of potato chips and other grain-based bagged snacks — Balaji Wafers — appeared on our radar after it roped in Bollywood actor Ayushmann Khuranna as its first-ever endorser. Until lately, the 45-year-old brand, unlike its competitors, which includes PepsiCo, Haldiram's, ITC, has stayed low key on the marketing front and did not engage in paid promotions or hire brand ambassadors. After it’s last marketing outing in 2005, the brand has now launched a set of three 30-second-long TVCs, conceptualised by Publicis Beehive, a Mumbai-based advertising agency.
What started in 1974 from the canteen of a cinema hall in Gujarat, has expanded to markets in Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and parts of Rajasthan. Jay Sachdev, manager, marketing, Balaji Wafers, tells us that the Virani Group own brand is looking to expand its market in Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Telangana and Karnataka in the near future.
“We have a strong foot in the West zone. In these markets, we have a good presence in both tier 2 and tier 3 cities. Until now we did not feel the need to engage in marketing activities. However, we are now looking to expand into the other markets. We want to establish ourselves as a national brand. The TVC and getting Ayushmann on-board are both steps in this direction,” states Sachdev.
He confesses the 60-second-long film that released in 2005 did not do very well.
Our main market is in the north.Jay Sachdev
Commenting on the choice of the endorser, Sachdev says, “Ayushmann is well appreciated in tier 2 and 3 cities. People see a connection with him given his roles as a small-town guy in many of his movies. Our main market is in the north – Rajasthan, Gujarat, UP, Bihar, Haryana, and most of Ayushmann's movies are based out of these cities. He resonates well with our target audience.”
Making his film debut in 2012 with Vicky Donor, Khuranna has essayed the role of an ordinary man in over a dozen films including, Vicky Arora (Vicky Donor), Prem Tiwari (Dum Laga Ke Haisha), Akash (Andhadhun), Nakul Kaushik (Badhaai Ho), Ayan Ranjan (Article 15), Karamveer Singh (Dream Girl). This, Sachdev shares, is one of the major reasons for signing him on.
Balaji considers millennials as the major target group. Specifying the demographics of the brand's core TG, Sachdev informs that the brand targets everyone from school goers to collegians and first-time jobbers. “Chips consumption has changed over the years. 20 years ago, chips were mainly consumed during fasts. Today it has become a snacking option. Millennials between the ages of 13-35 years consume it the most. We have a variety of products that targets the entire TG,” adds Sachdev.
We target everyone between 13- 35 years.Jay Sachdev
Today, the brand broadly categorises its 40+ products as 'Wafers' (Simply Salted Wafers, Masala Masti, Tomato Twist, Chaat Chaska, Cream & Onion), 'Namkeen' (Yumstix, Khatta Mitha Mix, Rajwadi Chevdo, Chana Jor Garam, Gathiya) and 'Western Snacks' (Gippi Noodles, Funne - Spicy Punch, Hoopers – Masala Corn Curls, Scoopitos, Moon Crunchies - Masala).
The products are priced starting at Rs 5 and go up to Rs 30 for wafers and Rs 60 for Namkeen (400gm - family pack). Over the years, the brand underwent packaging changes a couple of times with the support of Three Bags Full, a Mumbai-based creative agency, now a part of Famous Innovations. Earlier this year, the Namkeen category of the brand underwent a packaging changing. Two years back the packaging for the Wafers category was changed.
Apart from retail shops, the products are available at D-Mart, Bigbasket, Reliance Fresh and Big Bazaar.
Commenting on the brand's e-commerce presence, Sachdev shares that the brand's main focus is to target consumers through retailers, “We have a strong presence offline. Our brand aims to provide good quality at a good price — value for money. We believe in selling a product worth Rs 15 at Rs 10. This was also one of the reasons we did not sell our stakes when the likes of PepsiCo and General Mills approached us in the past.”
E-commerce is second priority for us. We want to establish a strong on ground base first.Jay Sachdev
He adds, “We are diverging into e-commerce. We plan to launch our products soon on Amazon too. But that's our second priority. We first want to clear the base on-ground.”
Lloyd Mathias, angel investor and business strategist, feels that for Balaji, Ayushmann Khurrana will be a recognisable face as they expand from their core markets in Gujarat and the North to a national presence. “Ayushmann’s broad appeal as an earnest, down to earth, no-nonsense actor will help Balaji drive home their ‘better value’ proposition as evidenced by their tag line: Kam hawa, Wafers zyaada and flavours wah-wah. However, how they use him in their campaigns, will be the real test of the impact.”
Mathias is of the opinion that brand ambassadors are an easier way to get advertising noticed. Irrespective of the ambassador’s star power, the communication needs to be relevant, memorable and bring out the brands core proposition. Also, in the snack food category, having a celebrity endorser seems to have become the norm – Alia Bhatt and Ranbir Kapoor for Lays; Ranveer Singh for ITC’s Bingo and Virat Kohli for Too Yum, he points out.
We asked him, what should a brand be mindful of when expanding its market? He says as a brand moves from regional presence to a national roll out the key is getting their distribution in order. “Creating awareness through a national campaign may happen easily but for a largely impulse-led category such as ready-to-eat snacks, ensuring availability is all important. Irrespective of loyalty, consumers will not go from shop to shop to find the product,” he says.
He adds, “The second element is the ability to go head-on against national players such as PepsiCo's Lays, ITC-Bingo. Haldiram’s, etc who’ve established distribution, multi-location manufacture, strong supply chains and an established consumer base nationwide. The competitors will up the ante, to ensure minimal share loss and the battle can be long and brutal.”
Jagdeep Kapoor, chief managing director, Samsika Marketing Consultants, says, “Balaji Wafers is a very strong and well distributed brand in some parts of India. However, it needs to be strong pan-India to grow and expand. The usage of a brand ambassador helps. The fit of Ayushmann is relevant due to his freshness, youth, unconventional choice of roles and likeability. The brand personality of Balaji Wafers will get a contemporary boost.”
Regarding the caution during expansion, he adds, “The brand needs to ensure good servicing to the distributors and retailers while increasing availability.”
Commenting on the same, Sita Lakshmi Narayan Swamy, brand and consumer expert, thinks it's never an easy task for any brand to go from being a regional stronghold to a national one. “India is a rather diverse and complex country and certainly not a cohesive whole when it comes to attitudes, preferences and purchase behaviour. Consumers in the South and the West tend to respond very differently to certain brands than the North. The East is an enigma, when it comes to brand choice and loyalties. As the brand moves to other geographies, it is also likely to face competition from other local brands that already have an established presence there,” she says.
Talking specifically about Balaji, she comments, “Distribution is likely to be a major factor in its eventual failure or success. Especially since it is pitted against PepsiCo and ITC, etc., who have extremely strong and established distribution networks across India.”
About the brand's association with Khuranna she feels that he may not be a bad choice as the brand increases its footprint across India as he is becoming increasingly popular with the youth particularly in up-country India. “He has the boy-next-door kind of home grown Indian appeal that seems to fit the brand personality of Balaji. The only concern is that he currently endorses over a dozen brands from Titan to Magicbricks and to that extent his association with any new brand would be diluted,” she adds.