Abid Hussain Barlaskar
Marketing

Will ITC’s All Rounder take the crunch out of Pran’s Potata?

Potata, the wafer thin potato cracker from Bangladeshi food company Pran has got netizens curious. But it has serious competition now.

Potata, a wafer thin biscuit from Bangladeshi food brand Pran, is getting the right kind of attention in neighbouring India. From happy mentions on social media to earned media coverage, the brand is having a good time.

The excitement is being primarily driven by the unique format of the biscuit and its taste. In simple terms, the product is a hybrid between a biscuit and a potato chip. It is thin, has potato as a key ingredient, and has the taste profile of spicy potato wafers.

Will ITC’s All Rounder take the crunch out of Pran’s Potata?

All that interest around the product was sure to raise some eyebrows. Indian FMCG major ITC launched ‘All Rounder’, its own version of Potata for the Indian market, last week. Not just product wise, All Rounder also resembles Potata when it comes to the packaging.

All Rounder has been launched under ITC’s Sunfeast line of baked products, and not Bingo, its brand of spicy packaged chips and snacks. ITC might have had a fair amount of conversation around whether to put the product under Sunfeast or Bingo. Format wise, it fits well with Sunfeast and product profile wise, it is closer to Bingo.

Will ITC’s All Rounder take the crunch out of Pran’s Potata?

While Potata sells at Rs 25 for a 100 gm pack, All Rounder is available in SKUs of 33 gms and 75 gms, which are priced at Rs 10 and Rs 20, respectively.

Now, considering Pran’s food business, it does intersect at a few spots with ITC’s. Pran’s Potato Cracker is in Bingo’s space, Roma is in Dark Fantasy’s space, Aamrosh is in Candyman’s space, etc.

However, Pran’s products are mostly manufactured in Bangladesh and imported to India. Most of it is distributed in the eastern markets, given the geographical proximity with Bangladesh. It is yet to build a truly national presence.

Pran has also been running brand campaigns for Potata in India. The ad builds on the ‘biscuit-or-chips’ debate and urges trials. It also positions the brand as a healthy snack. The ad reminds us of the iconic coffee-toffee debate from Coffy-Bite.

In a recent interview with Mint Lounge, Ahsan Khan Chowdhury, chairman and CEO of the Pran-RFL group, mentioned that though Indian FMCG players are really large in comparison, he isn’t intimidated. Instead, Khan plans to “learn from them” and wants his products to be readily available across India.

However, will All Rounder halt the Potata train?

KS Narayanan, a food and beverages industry expert (formerly with McCain Foods, Unilever), points out that snacks, as a category, requires very wide distribution, and given the low average unit value, e-commerce isn’t a good option.

“Multipack combos are an option, but that doesn’t suffice the need for Potata’s on-ground distribution.”

KS Narayanan
KS Narayanan

“Potata is an outstanding product, but distribution is critical for success. If ITC gets the pricing, taste and texture parameters right, it could be a blockbuster product. It (ITC) has a robust distribution network across cities, small towns and villages,” he adds.

Jishnu Sen, marketing consultant (ex-CMO, Future Retail, and ex-CEO, GREY group), opines that even if it’s a trend, it is important to understand if it’s truly national. “Like, say, Bisk Farm’s ginger biscuits are really popular in the east, but it’s not a national segment.”

Sen says that just because ITC is the second entrant in the segment, doesn’t mean it has copied Pran.

Jishnu Sen
Jishnu Sen

“If there are defined categories, it would be ridiculous not to play in it. The segment must be big or interesting enough for ITC to enter. Apart from distribution, ITC knows how to build successful brands. It has a great brand architecture.”

Now, it is one of those infrequent occasions when a very large player gets inspired by a product from a smaller brand. It is usually the other way around in the food and snacking business.

Kalyan Karmakar, a food columnist and brand consultant at Finely Chopped Consulting, says that ITC trying to be a ‘me too’ product is not going to work. In his view, Sunfeast has to approach it with confidence and think of it as a market leader, not a challenger. Over that, ITC would still need a distinctive story and voice to make its presence felt.

“If ITC creates a brand that has an emotional connect with the customers, while keeping in mind it is a fun product, there’s no reason why it can’t replicate a Bingo success story here.”

Kalyan Karmakar
Kalyan Karmakar

Again, given ITC’s distribution prowess, many consumers across the country, who aren’t aware of Potata, would be exposed to the new format as a novel innovation from ITC Sunfeast.

Karmakar agrees. He draws a parallel with Snapchat and Facebook’s case. “Facebook started doing something similar to Snapchat with Instagram Stories, with a much larger captive user base. Even though Snapchat was the first to do it, the first interaction of many users with the format was on Facebook. There are customers who have subscribed to the Sunfeast brand already.”

Indrajeet Mookherjee, president - South, dentsumcgarrybowen India, says that while there’s very little that separates the two in terms of taste, how both the brands garner more fans will be critical.

Indrajeet Mookherjee
Indrajeet Mookherjee

“That’s where ITC wins. Although Potata has had the first-mover advantage, ITC’s distribution might across the country, coupled with its dominant share of voice in media, gives Sunfeast All Rounder an edge,” Mookerjee signs off.