Vitamin fortified lollipops and candies, gift-packs with personalised messages to getting food influencers to create dessert recipes using gums and candies, the ₹10,500-odd crore Indian confectionery market in the Covid-19 era has pushed really hard to gets its mojo back. Largely driven by out of home impulse consumption, the confectionery market during the first wave of the pandemic in 2020 witnessed a degrowth of 30%-35%. However, the industry, dominated by large players such as Parle Products, Perfetti, ITC, Nestle and Mars Wrigley wasted no time in jumping on to the innovation bandwagon to keep the needle moving.

“At a Re 1 price-point, brand loyalty is limited, we therefore need to constantly innovate in this segment to keep the excitement going. Covid has pushed all of us to innovate even harder,” says Ritesh Gauba, sales director (India), Mars Wrigley Confectionery. The American chocolate and candy manufacturer, has found more takers for its confectionery brands (Skittles, Doublemint and Boomer) in the sub 50,000 population towns. In order to woo those highly value conscious consumers the candy-maker has launched its popular brands Skittles and Doublemint in a hard-boiled format at a Re 1 price-point. Skittles world over are chewy fruit candies and the most affordable 9 gm pack of Skittles in India is priced at ₹10.

Perfetti Van Melle on the other hand, has launched lollipops and fruit jellies fortified with vitamin-c. Rohit Kapoor, director of marketing at Perfetti Van Melle, says that with consumers increasingly becoming health conscious, the brand chose to differentiate itself by introducing a health proposition.

In fact, both Perfetti and Mars Wrigley have invested in high decibel marketing campaigns for their confectionery portfolio through the last two years. While Gauba says that Boomer was the highest advertised brand in its category, Perfetti invested a lot more on influencer marketing. “We tried to create stories that would drive in-home consumption. We tied up with digital influencers to make interesting dessert recipes using Alpenliebe and Juzt Jelly. We have tied up with ZEE for a cookery show, wherein we are getting consumers to create recipes using our brands and they would be judged by celebrity chefs,” explains Kapoor. He says that these initiatives have helped to get the company back on the growth track. “We are registering double digit growth now.”

Parle Products, which has iconic confectionery brands such as Kiss Me, Melody, Mango Bite and Rola-Cola, pushed its confectionery portfolio on the back of its biscuit distribution network. “We asked distributors who bought Parle-G and Monaco to also buy our confectionery. Once the products were sold to the trade, consumption did happen,” says Krishnarao Buddha, Senior Category Head, Parle Products. As opposed to the 12% year-on-year growth, Parle’s confectionery business in the last two years has grown by 6%-7%. “Our growth dipped but we didn’t degrow like the rest of the industry,” claims Buddha.

Almost all the confectionery majors have strengthened their rural penetration in the past few years. They claim that they gained market share at the expense of local brands, which perished due to Covid-19 disruptions. Consumers’ preference for established brands also came to their rescue in the smaller markets. In the bigger markets most of them launched larger packs to drive in-home consumption.

Brands also came up with marketing innovations. A category such as mint, for instance, is typically positioned as an out-of-home consumption category to ensure fresh breath when a person is interacting with others. “We changed the narrative to fresh breath for yourself. People were wearing masks so we stressed on the importance of fresh breath behind the mask,” explains Gauba of Mars Wrigley.

The candy-makers claim that they are back to their pre-Covid growth trajectory but with the third wave of the pandemic staring, are they expecting a setback yet again? “We are hoping the third wave won't be as bad. With lower rates of hospitalization and a large part of our target audience (kids) expected to be vaccinated soon, we expect business to be fully normal by July this year,” says Buddha of Parle Products.

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