Shreyas Kulkarni + Aishwarya Ramesh

"We used the entire jar to tell it's a sandwich spread:" Elephant Design's Ashwini Deshpande on Licious' meat spreads

She weighs in on overt meat imagery on packaging, purchase barriers to meat spreads, and if design world needs a regulator, and we look at Licious' latest ad for meat spreads.

You’ve heard of a cheese spread, a peanut butter spread and a mayonnaise spread. But have you ever heard of a meat spread? Yours truly certainly had not, until now.

Turns out that meat spreads have been in the Indian market for a while now (over a year old ads), courtesy Licious, a Bengaluru-based meat and seafood company. From chunky honey mustard chicken spread to chunky butter garlic prawn spread to chunky butter chicken spread, it’s quite the range.

It was an image from Elephant Design’s LinkedIn post that made yours truly aware of this product because of its eye-catching packaging. “The idea was to demystify the moment of consumption for a meaty spread by literally showcasing a stack of sandwiches as key visual,” read a sentence in the post.

“We didn’t have them in India. Licious is the first one to bring in a proper curated national brand of meat spreads,” says Ashwini Deshpande, co-founder and director of Elephant Design, the agency that designed the packaging for Licious’ meat spread jars.

Ashwini Deshpande
Ashwini Deshpande

In a brief conversation with afaqs!, Deshpande spoke about the right meat imagery on the packaging, checking the appearance of the products on modern retail and apps, and if the design world needs a regulator.

Edited excerpts:

What were the purchase barriers to (meat spread) consumption?

There is always this apprehension, “Will it have preservatives?” “Will it smell or have a different aroma?” Licious’ masterchef Joe Manavalan, also the brand’s co-founder and VP, innovation and design told us the recipes were clean and preservative-free… we were privy to early samplings and the moment we tasted them, all our apprehensions faded away. The other interesting thing was that the meat spreads didn’t have `excesses’, they were moderately flavoured and tasted just right.

What role does a design agency play in pushing the sales of food items like meat spreads?

If you’re selling pickle, people know what to do with it. But with meat spreads, how do you tell people about the consumption occasion and where to get an appropriate shelf space?

So, we said our real estate is the jar, and the consumption occasion needs to be completely bold and in your face. We used the jar to tell that it’s a sandwich spread. We thought it’s the first moment of truth and tells you when to consume it... It’s a refrigerated product so it’s not going to be out there on the shelves… It was also Licious’ first modern retail product.

Overt meat images can either be mouth-watering or gross, how do you balance things?

There are two or three things we’ve consciously attempted on the jar. First, we used the entire jar as real estate to say what the consumption occasion is. The second was to show it’s carefully made like a gourmet recipe, not something carelessly mass-produced. The jar has a label tied to it (it’s printed), an effort to have a conversation with the person picking it up.

The images on the jar are small because anybody who is buying a prawn spread or chicken spread is not a first-time meat eater. He or she is familiar with the meat, the taste, the pros and cons, and so, doesn’t need to be told how it looks.

However, a small, neat and carefully arranged image of the flavour adds to the boldness and premiumness. It reassures the consumers that there’s real meat inside because it’s shown on the pack.

How does a design agency balance offline and online aesthetics?

We do tons of packaging. Earlier, we’d only check what kind of visibility it has on modern retail, general trade and so on. Nowadays, we also check how it looks on an app, on an Amazon Pantry or a BigBasket because that’s also an important marker of how your packet will stand out. There’s also a colour band between two flavours of the meat spreads because we didn’t want any confusion, especially when you are viewing it on a small mobile screen.

The recent honey controversy has renewed the focus on purity of packaged goods. Will the shadow of suspicion extend to meat spreads too?

Nobody suspected honey and look at it now. So, I don’t think any category will be out of suspicion. Consumers have a right to know what exactly is being put in a jar, and brand owners and marketers should be extremely transparent and honest.

In 2020, Dabur Honey accused Saffola Honey of copying its design and packaging and took it to court. Now, there's the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) for ads and fashion has Diet Sabya. Do we need something similar to call out design malpractices?

If Diet Sabya could also cover design of other things, then great. If such a handle does come for design, I will be the first one to follow it because it will check the brands and, of course, the designers. As long as there is no malicious intent to go after someone, it’s fine. Many clients tell design agencies that we want to look like this. The agencies need to stand up and say no, we can’t do this.

Licious also released an Ogilvy made ad for its chicken spread last month (December 2020)… We asked two experts to give us their views on it:

N Chandramouli
N Chandramouli

N Chandramouli, CEO of TRA Research, says that for Licious, it is a dramatic shift since it is moving from being a (delivery) service to a product. It is venturing into the true consumer space. As of now, the meat spreads are available on its website, but could soon be available in other retail locations too.

“This is a very new segment. And, I think it (Licious) has identified a good niche because this is something that was only done by family businesses, making pickles, chutney mixes, and so on.”

Chandramouli points out that India is a vast country with different tastes, cultures and languages. “If it (Licious) is able to get that balance between groups who enjoy Western and traditional food, then it has got a very high possibility of achieving profitability. The packaging could have been a little bit more traditional. If it can balance the traditional with the modern with its flavours and packaging, it will be good.”

He adds that this product is possibly for a different market – for a person who cooks at home because at the end of the day, he needs a break.

“We didn’t have a lot of guests because of COVID, but cooking for a family is a task, as is the cleaning of dishes. Dishwasher penetration is still low in India. So, cooking becomes a tedious task. If once a month, Licious can offer dishes for the family that are easy to cook or pre-cooked, then it can be a game changer. It is going in the right direction by introducing marinades and ready to eat meals.”

Chandramouli admits that being a `Tam-Brahm’ meat eater, he was tempted to purchase the items himself.“ The TG isn’t only the homemaker, but also a younger crowd as it (Licious) has included continental flavours too. From a brand point of view, it has a great packaging right now and is also a very well-known name in the market.”

Kalyan Karmakar
Kalyan Karmakar

Kalyan Karmakar, a food writer and brand consultant, mentions that the concept of a meat-based spread is not an unknown one. He tells us that it’s been around in the Indian market for a while – albeit in a completely informal way, as a part of the unorganised sector.

“Shops that sell meat and have a cold storage typically used to offer ham spreads and other similar items – but it was informal.”

Karmakar dwells on the flavours, pointing out that it would be of interest to people who have been cooking at home because of the pandemic.

“In the first few months, there was a lot of home cooking and subsistence was a priority. But now, many months down the line, people are looking at experimenting and variety – for entertaining themselves and guests, who may come over to their house, considering the popularity of house parties right now.”

When looking for products that can sort of add variety, a product like this comes in handy because you can put it on bread, with cheese, or even on tortillas. There’s a lot you can do with it.

“The product’s aim is make your life a lot easier. People will prefer to be at home now, and no longer wish to go to an unknown brand for these items.”

Karmakar adds that with a brand name like Licious, it's more likely people will trust the products; as opposed to small businesses that they may not have heard of before.

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