Tata sets the ‘pulse’ racing

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Seeing a gap in the branded pulse market in India, Tata Chemicals forayed into the food grains market with Tata I-Shakti Dals in 2010. Once the brand was available pan India, the company set out to endorse the positive health qualities of its unpolished pulses offering, by recently rolling in Masterchef Sanjeev Kapoor as its brand ambassador.

Brand extension and wide networking
Tata had established food retail presence through Tata Salt and I-Shakti covering a total of around 18 lakh outlets. Hence, there was an opportunity to extend the I-Shakti brand from salt to other food essentials. Plus, the pulses category also had a limited branded presence and most of the consumers believed that the polished version of the dals, was the best that the market had to offer. In a bid to overcome this misperception and hail unpolished variety as the best form of the food grain, the company launched the brand and rolled out TVCs to educate the end consumer of the health benefits of the product. However, in the initial phase of the launch, the focus was on extending distribution coverage and reach and once the I-Shakti brand established an all India presence, the company started its media campaigns with the celebrity chef.

The company also saw a huge opportunity in the fact that India predominantly is a vegetarian country; it is probably the only nation that depends heavily on pulses as its staple food. “Pulses are not only a rich source of protein; but also the mainstay of every Indian’s diet. The stagnant domestic production of pulses in India vis-à-vis increasing demand makes India a net importer. India would require 33-37 MT by 2017-18 of pulses to meet the protein balance of its population,” observes, Ashvini Hiran, COO – Consumer Product Business, Tata Chemicals.

Ashvini Hiran

Ashvini Hiran, COO – Consumer Product Business, Tata Chemicals Ltd.

Taking this into consideration, Tata Chemicals started an initiative called ‘Grow More Pulses’, endeavouring to work closely with farmers and state governments across the country to increase pulses productivity. According to the company, this program leverages on the strong linkages with the farmer through expansive and well entrenched networks of Rallis and Tata Kisan Sansars (catering to 30 lakh farmers). PPP projects were initiated with Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra governments under this program and farmers were also keen that Tata buys the produce. Hiran says that with I-Shakti, the company’s thrust is on offering superior quality and hygienic pulses at an affordable price.

All that glitters is not gold
Explaining the key differentiator for I-Shakti dals, Hiran spells out the merits and demerits of unpolished and polished dals, respectively. “We realised that unpolished dal is the dal in its purest form – retaining taste and flavour. At an initial stage of a product life cycle, it is imperative to have enough awareness generation on the goodness and benefits of unpolished dals. The customer is looking for a good quality product that is healthy besides being tasty and that is the reason we are focused on delivering unpolished pulses. The shiny looking polished dals which are commonly available at nearby kirana store may have gone through different form of polishing using water, oil or even leather thus deteriorating  the quality of dals in terms of added moisture content and depletion of proteins. With Tata I-Shakti Dal the customer not only gets the best tasting dal but gets more dal/kg, due to lower moisture levels than in loose dals,” he adds.

The company has launched five popular varieties of pulses i.e. Chana, Toor, Urad, Masoor and Moong in the Indian market. The sub categories include Moong whole, Moong Chilka, Urad whole, Urad Kali and Masoor whole. Further, in terms of widening the portfolio the company will be looking to augment that based on consumer needs.

However, Tata’s biggest challenge in this industry will come from the largely unorganised loose food grains market in India. Hiran adds that within the challenges faced while competing with unorganised sector include the supply chain cost and distribution expansion, sourcing the best variety of pulses from a specific location and keeping a tight quality control. Hence, the company is using the Tata Salt distribution network to gain efficiencies in operations, and now the dals brand reaches 21 states. In addition, the dals are widely available in large and medium format stores as well as neighborhood kirana stores.

Sanjeev Kapoor

Tempering growth; meeting challenges
In terms of creating a space in the market category, the COO also points out that as the customer does not have many options of packaged dal, thus, in the long run the challenge will be providing a differentiated product and giving consumers value that can be perceived. Thus, the company is laying emphasis on the health benefits of the offering.

“Protein retention in unpolished dals would be the perceived value that will be leveraged for Product differentiation. Parallels can be drawn from Oil, Rice, Flour (aata) industry  and other staples in which the branded packaged segment is  gaining in roads at a healthy and sustainable growth rate, primarily through upgradation  in usership,” explains Hiran.

There might be a challenge in terms of the price sensitivity of consumers, who prefer buying the food grain in bulk from a local wholesale dealer store. However, Tata Chemicals does not feel threatened as it thinks that favourable macroeconomic indicators, rising disposable income, general awareness and depleting trust in loose food products will assist adoption of packed pulses. But Hiran also points out that the adoption of branded unpolished dals will be initially higher in Tier 1 cities and then later percolate to Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities.

Promotional strategy
On the choice of the brand ambassador as the apt spokesperson for the benefits of unpolished dals over polished ones, Hiran, says that Sanjeev Kapoor is the quintessential and by far one of the first and recognised faces of Indian cooking. “He is a household name in our country and he is one whom we can call a true blue Indian chef. Through his cooking, he has always helped housewives & mothers cook better and healthier food for their families. Dals being the staple food of India, we see a direct connect between him and our audience/end consumers. To propagate and spread the message we thought that who better to rope in as the ambassador than chef himself,” he says.

Apart from the TV advertisement being aired across national & regional channels, the promotional campaign will be supported by market level visibility drives. Attempts are being made to get the brand closer to consumers through various consumer engagement platforms like  local  cookery activations and on the site ‘feel it, know it and taste it’ format  activations across markets . An initiative on retail focuses on catching the eyes and attention of the consumers at retail shelf through merchandising and visibility drives.

Looking deep
The company does not want to divulge the market share of I-Shakti pulses, but feels that market share for any brand at early stages of category development- in commodity such as pulses – may not carry as much relevance as the brand building efforts. Tata Chemicals’ future roadmap is to leverage the geographical spread and the brand affinity it commands to further expand its market penetration and user base. “The company has a vision of making Tata I-Shakti unpolished dals a household phenomenon in all Tier I & II cities and the idea right now is to give the end user a quality product which is superior and hygienic,” Hiran sums up.

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