Five takeaways from Sumant Bhargavan at PS 24

ITC's executive director Sumant Bhargavan, the man known for setting-up 'Bingo!', the snack food category at ITC spoke at length about three business ops - and how to keep abreast with the changes the consumer requires, and how ITC in India has responded; and how testing and research backed up by work on the ground has built the ITC brand.

30 Jan 2024 | By Ramu Ramanathan

Sumat Bhargavan, executive director, ITC Limited

Sumant Bhargavan shared his ITC journey with the delegates who had gathered at the Tata Theatre, NCPA for BMPA's PS 24 Summit. He said, "I had learnt every single job in the plant". This included following the salesman into the market plus spending time at tobacco farms when Bhargavan was part of the tobacco business at ITC.

Takeaway one: When ITC launched Yippee noodles!, they launched it as a round block. The reason? Their market survey found that children wanted to slurp noodles. Unfortunately, the noodles were square and pans were round, so the users ended up breaking the noodles. The ITC team interacted with Indian mothers and found out that when they made noodles, they put it in a pot and extolled their children to eat. The child was distracted and in the meantime the noodles would get lumpy. So ITC decided to create non-sticky noodles.

Takeaway two: Bhargavan said, Indian mothers had the onerous task of making their children eat. And so, in addition to making noodles "healthy food for children; making noodles "a fun activity" for children was a task and very overwhelming. So the ITC the team manufactured noodles that were long noodles; non sticky noodles (which don't form lumps); and had dehydrated vegetables. For this ITC invested in food lines which were capable of producing the same. The net result: 20% market share plus a leader in the children's noodles segment.

Takeaway three: Today, ITC has the best brands in segments like atta (Aashirvaad) and noodles (Yippee!). About Aashirvaad atta, Bhargavan he said the USP was the roti stays soft longer - and even though it is priced at Rs 3/kg. He mentioned how the Indian housewives are the most value chain conscious and possess the sharpest minds and they appreciate the fact that Aashirvaad atta, contains wheat protein, as per FSSAI regulations. Wheat protein is naturally found in grains like wheat, barley, rye, and oats. It gives elasticity to the dough, helps it rise and gives it a chewy texture. And hence the rotis are soft and tasty.

Takeaway four: Given the per capita consumption in India, ITC saw potential in biscuits. The area that ITC made a mark in biscuits has been the cream biscuits segment. Especially Sunfeast and Sunfeast dark fantasy. ITC offered a unique and innovative offering. To have a filling in a biscuit. It was a cookie when it was launched at Rs 5 a piece. Dark Fantasy was a super premium option. ITC priced it at Rs 5 a cookie in individual packaging. This was for the first time anyone did it. When ITC launched it, they put up a 100 ton capacity. Today, they have 3,000+ ton capacity.

Takeaway five: Sumant Bhargavan highlighted ITC Foods' surge to number one spot as the largest FMCG foods manufacturer in India. Before the surge, ITC competitor brands like Lay's had 85% of the market share in chips; Maggie had 80% share in the noodles segment. Bhargavan delved into India’s changing food habits, new category expansion and identifying taste buds patterns in proximal markets and children's segments. (My favourite was the experiments with food to understand the food psyche. This led Bhargavan to Induben Khakrawala in Ahmedabad which has been established since 1955 and "discovered" 155 varieties of khakra which provided him a consumer insight into the base ingredients; plus new ingredients and the "crunch factor"). Today, thanks to experiments such as this, ITC brands are leaders. Be it: Aashirvaad (wheat flour); Sunfeast (biscuits, cereal); Bingo (chips); Yippee (noodles); Vivel (personal care); Candyman (candy); and Mangaldeep (agarbatti).

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