Benita Chacko

"Won't compete with MNC colas; will target middle class in small towns": Rasna's Piruz Khambatta on 'Indie Cola'

A chat with the Rasna owner on the new beverage, which has been positioned as a 'Made in India fruit cola'.

With its Made in India ‘Indie Cola’, popular soft drinks concentrate brand Rasna is entering a segment that is dominated by the likes of Coca-Cola, Thums Up and Pepsi. Yet, Piruz Khambatta, chairman and managing director, Pioma Industries, the maker of Rasna, says that he doesn’t intend to compete with them. He positions the fruit cola product for the middle class families in small towns, than for the upmarket metro audiences.

“We don’t want to take the Cola brands head-on, and aren’t targeting the areas where they are strong. I don’t see Indie Cola being mixed with rum or vodka in a bar or discotheque. But I see it at a family party or an amusement park or a family outing to the theatre or a child’s birthday party, where the mother doesn't want to serve an unhealthy cola. There is a need gap for an Indian cola and a fruit cola,” says Khambatta.

The multinational Cola brands are known for their big-budget advertising and celebrity endorsements. But we may not see any of that with Indie Cola. Apart from social media, Rasna has planned to do more POS-driven marketing. Though Rasna gained popularity through its television ads on Doordarshan in the 1980s, it doesn't plan to advertise Indie Cola on television currently. The brand may consider it (advertising) in the summer months.

“I believe that Indian companies should not be spending money like the foreigners do. I don't think you require huge advertising budgets to get a decent market share in this country. I don't intend to spend such money and I can't do that also,” mentions Khambatta.

“We will be more niche in our marketing activities. We will only advertise in our TGs in the towns we are launching. Currently, television is a very bad medium because it is getting more and more fragmented. So, it doesn’t make sense to advertise there, unless you have huge budgets,” he adds.

In the soft drinks concentrate market, Rasna enjoys a majority market share, at 80-90 per cent. “In the powder drinks category, we have no competition. Tang is hardly doing anything. Its ad spends are very meagre. The market will grow if they are more aggressive,” says Khambatta.

However, Indie Cola will also face competition across categories - from fruit juice brands like Frooti and Appy to even powdered iced tea mix brands like Nestea and Lipton. “We will definitely be taking market share from juices and other soft drinks. Somebody can even move from iced tea to this drink,” he adds.

During the COVID pandemic, consumers became more sensitive about the origins of their products and also of its health impact. Indie Cola caters to both these trends, as it is positioning itself as a Made in India fruit cola.

“India is currently going through a nationalistic streak, especially post-COVID. Many surveys show that the consumers are moving towards Indian products. But only making (them) in India won’t help us sell our products. We did a year of research to get the right product mix based more on fruit, and not just on synthetic flavours. Since it is an Indian fruit cola, we are calling it Indie Cola,” Khambatta says.

While the product doesn’t claim to have any health benefits, it doesn’t have any preservatives, caffeine or phosphoric acid - ingredients that make health-conscious people wary of cola drinks.

“Unlike regular colas, our cola may not give the kick because it doesn't have caffeine. But except the kick, Indie Cola will taste as good as any other cola,” he reveals.

Though Rasna’s soft drinks concentrates are available in a wide variety of flavours - orange, mango, pineapple, guava, litchi, watermelon - its cola will not be flavoured. Khambatta says that mixing flavours with cola doesn’t work.

“We don’t want to mix cola with anything. Every brand in the world has tried to mix cola with something, but they all have flopped. Many years back, we also did a test for Vanilla Cola and it failed. People want to drink cola as cola only,” he adds.

Rasna was planning to launch the product in the summer months, but the second COVID wave postponed it. Now, the brand is waiting and watching to see how the COVID situation in the country will pan out before launching the product.

“With food products, the shelf life is 3-6 months. The last thing I want is to make products worth Rs 100 crore and then have a third or a fourth (COVID) wave. We will only do a full plan once COVID cases subside,” Khambatta mentions.

Rasna will be test marketing Indie Cola in Maharashtra and will then launch it in medium towns. “I believe that Indianness is more of an asset in these towns than in the bigger towns,” he signs off.

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