Home-grown fast-moving consumer goods [FMCG] major Marico India is targeting ₹500-crore revenue from its food business, under the Saffola brand, within the next one year. After numerous misses, with failed launches such as Saffola Zest (a healthy snacking brand) and cholesterol and diabetic management additives, Marico finally hit the home run with Saffola Oats a few years ago. “Around seven years ago, we realised that oats is an extremely healthy grain but it was not big in India. People across the globe consumed oats plain or with fruits or oat milk and that didn’t appeal to Indians. So, we launched masala oats and that became extremely popular. Today, we have an over 90% share in oats. The biggest satisfaction is that multinationals (such as PepsiCo and Kellogg’s) are also launching masala oats,” says COO Sanjay Mishra.

Tasty, Healthy and Centre-of-plate

Marico's food journey has been an outcome of learnings from its past forays. One of the reasons why Saffola Zest didn’t catch the attention of consumers despite being a healthy snack option was because it wasn’t as tasty. “We realised that in a food product if you want to do a mass business, you cannot take taste as the secondary choice, it has to be primary. It will be a delight if I find the tasty food healthy, it’s not the other way round,” explains Mishra. The other learning was to be a centre-of-plate option and not to be in the periphery. Saffola’s cholesterol and diabetic management additives which promised to make atta more nutritious didn’t do well since consumers were looking for products which had nutrition already built into them, and were not ready to buy additives separately. “We realised that we needed to change food habits and if you came across a product which is an add-on it doesn’t work. We wanted to be centre-of-plate, not an additive.” Therefore, the idea behind Saffola Oats was to be not just tasty and nutritious, but also be a complete meal.

The masala variant was launched in flavours such as pav bhaji and sambar flavours in order to tickle regional taste buds. It also comes in international variants such as Mexican and Italian. The company has the classic plain oats too. However, oats is a ₹500-crore category of which flavoured oats is a mere Rs 150-crore market in India, hence the journey to becoming a mass category takes time. Mishra says since the penetration of the category is in single digits, there is a huge opportunity. It has rolled out small pack sizes of Saffola oats at ₹20 and ₹30 price points, as well as 500 gm and 1-kg pack. The company has also launched oats noodles.

From Curative to Preventive

The Saffola edible oil advertising over a decade ago showed a man being rushed to the hospital in an ambulance after suffering a heart attack and the tagline said Saffola oil was the answer to heart ailments. While this was the first time an edible oil brand was positioned on the back of the benefits it offered (unlike most brands which focused on the grain they used like groundnut, sunflower, mustard etc), the curative approach also scared away a large segment of consumers, says George Koshy, chief marketing officer, Marico. “We realised that we have to make health relatable and enjoyable, rather than positioning it as a need to make a drastic change in one’s lifestyle.”

Since then, Saffola has embarked on a journey of being a brand that enables a healthy lifestyle, and the company has taken a similar approach towards its food business, leading to its foray into branded honey last year. A close to ₹2,000-crore market, the biggest concern that consumers have with honey brands is purity. Mishra claims Marico’s honey is the only domestic brand which is NMR (nuclear magnetic resonance) certified, a mandatory test to export honey. The company aspires to be a Rs 100-crore honey brand in the next couple of years. It recently launched chyawanprash as well.

Mishra is particularly upbeat about the response to its recent foray into soya nuggets. The company is looking to capitalise on the huge protein deficiency that exists in India. It already has competition from the likes of Ruchi Soya and Adani Wilmar though Mishra claims Saffola’s soya nuggets are more juicy and softer. The company is coming up with more innovations in the soya protein space.

Marico has also been aggressive in the direct to consumer food space, where it has launched Saffola Fittify, a weight management brand, which includes products such as protein meal shakes, soups and green coffee.

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