Mayank shah, Senior Category Manager, Parle Products, and Buddha Krishnarao, Senior Category Manager, Parle Products, share their perspective on brands, consumer preferences, changing trends, food laws, the pandemic and more, in an email interview with F&B News. Extracts:
Parle is one of India’s iconic brands and also the world’s best-selling cookie brand. How has the transformation gone over the years?
Mayank Shah: Parle Products had humble beginnings. After initially making orange candies and caramel, the company turned to cookie creation, and in 1938 the company produced the first Parle Glucose cookie, popularly known as Parle- G. It’s been a great learning process all these years as the company has evolved and adapted, launching more diverse products. In 1941 we introduced Monaco, a salty cracker, followed by Cheeslings in 1956. Krackjack was established in 1972. In recent years, we have introduced Parle Platina, a line of premium cookies. The latest product offerings, the foray into new segments – Atta and packaged breakfast cereals are also part of the ongoing transformation to become a whole food company.
Serving generations, Parle Products has always been at the forefront as a reliable brand since its inception. The confidence we have gained has enabled it to reach its current position. Over the years, the brand has established itself as a household name and is exceptionally well received by consumers.
Parle products have been a household name and a constant consumer choice for the past nine years. How did the brand manage to maintain this key position with consumers in a competitive category like FMCG?
Buddha Krishnarao: FMCG being a competitive sector, it is necessary to follow the evolution of consumer consumption patterns. Establishing a fortress requires effort in all aspects. Our strong distribution network is one of the factors that gives us an advantage over our competitors. On top of that, we have a strong brand positioning with Indian consumers which has allowed us to maintain their trust for decades.
The fact that we aim to stay in touch with current industry trends, whether through new product launches or our marketing and branding strategies, has also contributed greatly.
Parle Products has a wide range of products which makes it a complete food business. Elaborate on the vision of the company.
Shah: Evolving with the demands of the consumer has been the philosophy of Parle Products. The company started out as a confectionery brand and has gradually grown over the years to accommodate several other categories. Also this year, we ventured into the packaged attack cereal and breakfast space, further expanding that vision. Over time, the need for new products arose and we slowly developed these parameters. We have always considered ourselves to be “the son of the earth” and, with each passing day, our goal is to contribute to the social and economic development of the country.
Parle’s signature ads remind consumers of their childhood. How did they help shape the unique marketing and advertising journey she took?
Buddha: Consumers today connect with brands on many levels. When utility is important, it is also necessary to establish a relationship with consumers. A brand can be preferred by consumers for the value it creates for them. Our consumer research has shown that Parle-G is not just a consumer habit for consumers, but rather means a deeper emotional connection with the brand. We try to deliver campaigns that celebrate and focus on this emotion and this connection that the consumer can feel with the brand. We try to take a route of marketing and advertising that shows how there are relationships or connections in life that may not be recognized very often, but which play an important role in defining who we are.
Rol-a-Cola candy was a popular Parle offering and its taste and price was what set it apart from the competition. The candy was discontinued after a while but consumers still remembered the product and one Twitter user expressed how much he loved the candy and asked for a feedback. Subsequently we received over 10,000 tweets and we returned the favor relaunching Rol-a-Cola and now it caters to the Gen Z market today and receives the same love from consumers than before.
Elaborate on the effect of the pandemic on the FMCG industry and consumer consumption.
Shah: In the first few weeks of the lockdown, there were huge panic buying which resulted in people racking up every product they could. This has led to an accelerated transition to purchasing branded items for household supplies. Food safety, nutrition, immunity had all become buzzwords, and as a result, the propensity to purchase branded products for daily home use was higher. In terms of conversion, the pandemic was a catalyst that helped the conversion that would normally have happened in 2-3 years, in a matter of months.
In the last few months of the pandemic, there has been a huge push towards health and wellness. Consumers were extremely suspicious of the product they were purchasing, the health benefits, and the implications of using that product. As a result, the industry turned to the production of health-oriented products. Also due to the medical emergency in the country, many companies have started producing hand sanitizers, disinfectants and other medical supplies.
Parle Products is known as a Swadeshi brand. How does the brand plan to recover post-Covid sales with this identity?
Buddha: Parle’s creation as a Swadeshi brand at the time was to compete with its British rivals. Over time, the identity has evolved to serve the growing country at all levels. As a company, Parle Products has woven Indian values and heritage into the brand’s philosophy. We celebrate the heterogeneity of India while invoking the sense of solidarity that unites the nation and its different cultures with a common thread.
Parle has seen unprecedented growth during the full lockdown due to public hoarding and panic buying. We were the first brands to take action and start production to fill the void in the market. The timely availability of inventory has gained immense trust from consumers and business partners for the Parle brand. Our brands have also proven useful for millions of migrant workers. Consumers were also extremely proud and voiced their voices for local brands like Parle.
We will continue our efforts to build and consolidate our preferred Swadeshi brand position and continue to meet the needs of our consumers.
What type of R&D goes into your products?
Shah: We invest in diligent market research and closely observe changes in consumption patterns. Instead of the changes happening around us, it’s important to keep an eye on what consumers need at any given time. Maintaining the relevance of the product offering is the key to research and development.
Food recalls rarely occur in India. What could be the reason for this?
Buddha: Food recalls or product recalls in general occur when the product is found not to comply with the regulations that affect them. Problems of safety, hygiene, etc. may be at the origin of these recalls. India’s food regulatory authorities have become extremely vigilant and enforce the appropriate laws to ensure full compliance. This is an extremely positive development for the Indian food industry. We saw a massive food recall a few years ago that is a national waste. Organizations must comply with and should incorporate strict quality controls and measures to ensure no food recalls.
The 2011 FSSR, a comprehensive food law, is constantly updated. What are the challenges companies face because of this?
Shah: The FSS Act is in place to establish scientific standards for food items and to regulate their manufacture, storage, distribution, sale and import, to ensure the availability of safe and wholesome food for human consumption. As such, when a business falters on any of these fronts, it becomes obligatory for it to maintain control in accordance with the provisions of the law. Depending on how advanced and up-to-date a business is against standards, the challenges encountered differ from business to business.