Shreyas Kulkarni

We wanted to get into the flavour bucket of cheese: Neha Prasad, Kurkure

The Kurkure brand head explains why and how the extruded snack giant decided to introduce cheese and jalapenos in its portfolio.

That Kurkure, a salty namkeen collet snack from PepsiCo India, would taste anything but masaledaar has felt an alien thought since its launch in 1999.

That day is today.

With the flavours of cheddar cheese and jalapenos and yes, the chatpata masala taste Indians are accustomed to, Pepsico India has launched Kurkure Chatpata Cheese, a new and more importantly a permanent addition to the portfolio; it takes inspiration from the Cheddar Jalapeño flavour of its videshi siblings Lay’s and Cheetos.

It will be available at the price points of Rs 5, Rs 10 and Rs 20.

Kurkure is a leading player in India’s packaged snacks segment which, as per an Economic Times story in December ’21, is estimated to be around Rs 45,000 crore. Within the snacks segment, Kurkure is part of the sub-category of extruded snacks where the PepsiCo India brand competes with the likes of Balaji Wafers, Bikanervala Foods, and ITC Limited, Parle Food.

Kurkure has launched a new western flavour this year, and rival Bikanervala Foods’ Bikano, in 2021, launched Mexican Crunch (Peri Peri) and Fun Sticks (Cream n Onion, Tangy Tomato), globalisation of flavour seems to have touched these snack brands in the past few years.

What is with these new flavour launches? Fusion is the answer. “While we wanted to get into the flavour bucket of cheese, we knew fusion is something that will click with the target audience we are going after and that is how the proposition came to be,” remarks Neha Prasad, associate director and brand lead, Kurkure.

For a giant like Kurkure and mothership PepsiCo India, to introduce a new flavour is not something that happens on a whim but amid serious boardroom discussions. Turns out, it was a lot of research papers and social listening that made the beverage and snack giant decide to dole out a new permanent flavour.

“When we identified that this dairy bucket (cheese) is something which is not present in this category and it has only been about masala be it Kurkure or our competition… It was important to disrupt this category,” says Prasad.

And it has by some margin. “We have already sold double of our monthly target in 15 days,” reveals the brand head.

The international variants of Lay’s and Cheetos may have inspired the Kurkure Chatpata Cheese; it is by no means a direct lift. Pepsico India’s RnD team worked on the new product to make it localised and personalised and that is where “you get a hint of jalapenos but there's a whole lot of masala which had been added to customise it to the Indian palette.”

Some of the Kurkure flavours Indian palette is used to include Masala Munch, Green Chutney, and Chilli Chataka, would this very consumer(s) take to Chatapata Cheese? It’s important to note that Kurkure makes and markets a Yummy Cheese Puffcorn flavour too.

Says Prasad, “There's a rigorous research that happened with the Indian consumers in this category of salty snacks where we figured that this flavour is something they love, we have received a great green score on it and the concept of fusion saw the green score in terms of the fit we've between the product and the concept.”

She adds that the brand does not want consumers only from this category but wants to pull consumers who are lying beyond this category and are interested in dairy but have not seen it happen with collet snacks.

The initial press release for this new Kurkure offering revealed the brand would release one ad (set in the familiar Kurkure familyesque setting) and a 360-degree digital campaign would follow it.

Prasad says the brand will make its presence felt wherever its consumers are “be it YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, we know the charts where they are spending most of the time and hence our media spends will be in line to that.” The brand will also work with big, micro, and nano influencers to push the new offering.

Marketing is crucial to get a new product off the shelves but amid a time of inflation and reworking of household budgets, Kurkure’s team must have echoed the worries in its boardrooms.

As per the brand head, PepsiCo and all its brands keep the consumer first. “All the spends will be redesigned even if we have to mitigate that pressure in a way we do not compromise with the consumer.”

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