Chocolate shopping at the airport duty-free shop is a given for most globetrotting Indians. Some of their favourite duty-free chocolate brands include Mars, Snickers, Bounty and M&M, which come from the portfolio of the $40 billion American confectionery and pet care manufacturer, Mars Inc. When the chocolate major set up its chocolate factory in Pune in 2017, the plan was to capitalize on the 1.3 billion India opportunity, a market that is extremely price-sensitive and value-conscious. The chocolate-maker had to break out of the perception of being a premium chocolate brand meant for the upwardly mobile Indian consumers. It also needed to break the dominance of Cadbury (owned by Mondelez India) chocolates, which not just owns more than half of the ₹12,000 crore Indian chocolate market, it is also synonymous with chocolates in India.

By the time the American chocolate-maker set up its manufacturing base in India in 2017, it had already acquired confectionery-maker, Wrigleys. With brands such as Boomer, Doublemint and Orbit priced affordably at ₹1 upwards, the latter already had a reasonable presence in the heartlands of India. The chocolate-maker got on to the task of further democratizing its portfolio. It launched variants of its popular brands such as Snickers, M&M and Skittles at ₹10 price-points. However, its flagship brand in India is Snickers, where it’s making maximum investments. It has also invested in localization by launching fruit-and-nut, cashew and almond variants of Snickers.

While the Snickers available all over world, is a chocolate bar studded with peanuts, Indians, says Kalpesh Parmar, General Manager (India), Mars Wrigley, have a liking for fruit-and-nut and cashew. The Indian version of Snickers is also an egg-free recipe and to counter the hurdle of chocolates perishing due to lack of refrigerating facilities at most small stores, the company has also launched heat robust Snickers to suit the Indian climatic conditions.

The company also localised its gum and candy portfolio by launching products such as Paanmint and a sugar-free variant of Orbit priced at ₹1. Parmar says that the idea is not to compete with its competitors but to grow the market. “The chocolate, gums, candies and mint market put together makes for an over ₹20,000 crore opportunity which is growing robustly every year. Depending on how we can transform our portfolio, we will have a nice runway to grow not just for the next five years but for the next 20-30 years.”

The per capita consumption of chocolates in India is as low as 140 gms per annum (vis-à-vis a market like the U.S. or U.K., where the consumption is as high as 10 kgs per annum), hence, Parmar believes that there is a huge scope to grow in India. “We don’t want to increase consumption aggressively, we want to be responsible, hence we say chocolate is a treat, not food. We will launch more snacking products and there we will talk about food.”

“We thrive on uniqueness, quality and technology. The recipe of the products that we manufacture in India is at par with our global products. We have Indianised the products only in terms of price points and local flavours,” adds Ritesh Gauba, director (sales), Mars Wrigley.

Globally, the company has invested in snacking brands such as Nature's Bakery. In India, though a formal snacking foray is still a while away, it is very much on the cards. “Currently, Snickers is our go-to brand when it comes to snacking. Most people who go for adventure trips or treks in India carry Snickers, as it is a bar with nuts. A brand like Snickers has a lot of headroom to grow,” explains Parmar.

The company in the last couple of years has also invested heavily in distribution. “We are currently available in over 2 lakh stores directly. We have doubled our rural distribution in the past year,” says Gauba. He claims that even rural consumers who have always relished the traditional mithai have started embracing packaged treats in the COVID-19 era. Like biscuits, chocolate consumption in India has also gone up substantially in the past year.

Pet Food

While the chocolate business is relatively new in India, Mars Inc has been in the country for over two decades through its pet food business. Its brands, Pedigree and Whiskas, are synonymous with pet food in India. It launched its manufacturing facility in Hyderabad in 2008.

Pet care is a ₹3,500 crore industry in India and just like other food categories the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic has also led to a transition towards packaged pet food. “The share of packaged pet food is less than 10%, as most Indians feed their pets home-cooked food. However, during the lockdown people spent more time with their pets and also indulged in them. This has led to a boom in the pet care industry at large. The lockdown was also a time when most consumers had to do their domestic chores by themselves as their domestic help wasn’t coming. This also led to many of them embracing packaged pet food,” explains Ganesh Ramani, MD, Mars Petcare India.

The pet care industry in 2021 is expected to grow by 35% and here too there is a move towards premiumization. Mars Petcare has launched its super-premium dog food brand, Iams, and cat food brand, Sheba. “There is an increased awareness about pet food and consumers are seeking both premium and specialised food for their pets. We have variants for small-sized breeds as well as big-sized breeds,” says Ramani.

While brands such as Pedigree and Iams fall in the premium and super-premium bracket, Mars also has an economy brand, Chappi. “Five years ago, packaged pet food was a city-centric phenomenon. Today, it is widely accepted in tier 2-3 markets too and we intend to make it more accessible,” says Ramani.

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