When you’re selling a product like like food packaging, you have to think out of the box. And nobody does that better than Saumya Tyagi, director marketing, India and South Asia Markets, Tetra Pak, India. The 38-year-old management graduate has a diverse range of clients all the way from Nestlé and Amul to Parle and Haldiram’s, which means getting into the minds of an equally diverse range of customers.

Not an easy job. So, how does he understand the mind of the consumer? Simple, he just peeps inside their refrigerators. Tyagi says he got a sense of consumer choices when he saw that refrigerators today have more juices and milk-based drinks rather than fizzy drinks—a seemingly unimportant bit of information to a layperson but key to a marketing professional. Of course, Tetra Pak does much more than sell cartons. “My role is that of an ambassador for Tetra Pak because we provide complete end-to-end solutions and not just packaging materials and machines to our clients, fast-moving consumer goods companies,” says Tyagi .

“We help our customers by bringing in our deep and rich understanding of various categories of foods and beverages, consumer tastes and preferences, global and local solutions and world-wide innovations from 170-odd countries in which we are present.”

Getting into the mind of a consumer is clearly important. But Tyagi’s job doesn’t stop at that. He sees his role evolving over the next few years as newer marketing channels like e-commerce become increasingly big in the retail universe. The marketing head of the Indian arm of the 11.4 billion euro (2016) Swedish packaging behemoth can tap into all the experience he’s gained over the years at top companies like Colgate-Palmolive and L’Oréal. “We can contribute much more to the FMCG industry [consumer goods] because we can provide a 30,000 feet perspective because of our presence across the entire value chain in the production and distribution process,” he says.

Tyagi has certainly come a long way from his days in small town Lucknow. Born into a middle-class academic family—his father was an economics professor at Lucknow University and his mother has a doctorate in Sanskrit—he studied at St Francis’ College, Lucknow. Growing up in an academic family, not surprisingly, he was always among the top three in school, but his interests went beyond that. He was also interested in sports like badminton. “What also helped was the fact that my parents always encouraged us, me and my sister, to have well-rounded personalities,” he says.

Remembering his Lucknow days brings out Tyagi’s disarming honesty. He says he did not perform to his potential and ended up with 75% when he finished high school. “There were too many distractions... a little more pocket money, a new bike, the first flush of independence,” he says. But he more than made up in the years ahead. He had set his sights on a management degree from a top school as early as his first year of college. But in the final year, his father had surgery and was hospitalised for three months. With little time to prepare, Tyagi had to settle for the Institute of Manage - ment Technology, Ghaziabad though Tyagi says he had offers from Mumbai’s Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies, IIM Lucknow, and others.

Being from a small town, Tyagi initially found it difficult to open up to peers from larger metros, but soon realised his intro - verted nature would come in the way of ex - periencing all that the management school had to offer. So he joined a 20-member placement committee, whose job was to ensure that top companies come to the campus not just during the final recruit - ment, but also for summer placements. “It was all about marketing the institution and the students, which not only boosted my self-confidence, but also made me popular among the students and teachers,” says Tyagi, who majored in marketing with a minor in finance from IMT.

His first job as a management trainee was with Agro Tech Foods in 2002. His first assignment was to sell edible oils like Sundrop in Tamil Nadu. “I was put in charge of sales from Madurai to Kanyakumari, despite having no knowledge about the language or culture of the place. The idea was to put you in an uncomfortable zone and see how you perform,” he says. For the then 22-year-old, the real challenge was to convince and build a relation - ship with distributors and stockists so that they bought Agro Tech products with the help of a translator.

It was a great learning experience. After three years at Agro Tech, Tyagi moved to Colgate-Palmolive as customer marketing manager to help build the brand. One of his success stories was to develop a strategy to outdo a local competitor with a strong connect with stockists and distributors. “I focussed more on the cheaper Cibaca brand, rather than Colgate, did a lot of trade innovation and consumer activation and was able to compete with the local player,’’ says Tyagi. But he will always remain indebted to Colgate for teaching him processes in sales and distribution.

After marketing cooking oil and tooth - paste, Tyagi made a huge leap and moved to a different business—the world’s number one beauty product company, L’Oréal. “It was no longer about marketing of function - al products like toothpaste but things which are more emotional like cosmetics, hair colour, and anti-ageing creams,” he says. The Paris-headquartered company was Tyagi’s first experience in digital marketing in 2013-14, when it was still in its infancy. “L’Oréal is a pioneer in this space and the standing rule was to use e-commerce to drive business,” he says. The second thing he learned was the importance of innovation, because L’Oreal invest heavily in innovation and product development.

Four years on, he was on the move again and this time to Tetra Pak. So why did he leave L’Oréal for Tetra Pak? “See those who succeed in L’Oréal are those who are passionate about beauty and beauty products, but I am not one of them. Blame it on my upbringing or my family, but I was never attached to beauty products. It was like stepping out of my comfort zone.’’

Clearly, he’s very much in his comfort zone now at Tetra Pak.

(The article was originally published in 15 March-14 June special issue of the magazine.)

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