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Can Cadbury, Parle, Britannia replace mithai with chocolates, confectionery and biscuits

A few years ago, gifting during the festive season started with dry fruits and ended with mithai. Until a clutch of chocolate marketers decided to change the rules of the game.

, ET Bureau|
Updated: Dec 05, 2012, 09.57 AM IST
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A few years ago, gifting during the festive season started with dry fruits and ended with mithai. Until a clutch of chocolate, confectionery and biscuit marketers – from Cadbury to Parle to Britannia – decided to change the rules of the game. They've made rapid progress so far in eating into the not always friendly neighourhood mithaiwala's once thriving business
A few years ago, gifting during the festive season started with dry fruits and ended with mithai. Until a clutch of chocolate, confectionery and biscuit marketers – from Cadbury to Parle to Britannia – decided to change the rules of the game. They've made rapid progress so far in eating into the not always friendly neighourhood mithaiwala's once thriving business
Even the coldest and most antiseptic of office spaces in India is not immune to the charms of the festive season, a time that starts roughly around Navratri and extends all the way up to New Year. India may have passed over entirely on Halloween and trick or treating but office drones can usually be seen through this period, trawling from desk-to-desk getting their fill of mithai, dry fruits and assorted calorific treats. However, over the years, mithai and dry fruits have been in many cases replaced by boxes of chocolates and biscuits. These are fought over and consumed with equal gusto, by the average office goer. It’s a small but significant sign that all is not what it used to be in the Indian gifting space.

So what really happened here? Why did a mithai eating nation become so sweet on chocolates? Ankur Bisen, VP-retail, Technopak offers some reasons: “Things that are inefficient are getting rejected by customers. Changing consumer tastes, exposure, being well-travelled are all spurring change in consumption patterns.” While these are socio-economic reasons, if one company has to be credited (or blamed) for this revolution, it is Cadbury. From being sold on the 'sweets for kids' platform through the 70s and 80s, in the mid-90s Cadbury decided it also wanted to appeal to the young adult.

That was when Shimona broke into a jig and ran out to the cricket field to congratulate her batsman boyfriend on his ton in a memorable commercial for Cadbury Dairy Milk. Besides increasing appeal, Cadbury also tweaked its stock keeping units (SKUs). It launched a chocolate at ` 5 to increase preference for the brand among customers across the length of India. “We wanted to give customers more reason to consume chocolate. We changed from being a product preferred by a few affluent people to something a lot of people can pick up,” explains Anil Vishwanathan, VP, Cadbury India.

Cadbury embarked on what Vishwanathan calls “The Meetha Journey” in 2004, which was also the year when its brand Celebrations, focused specifically on the gifting segment, was launched. An internal ethnographic research done by the company zeroed in on the various occasions in an Indian’s life when he consumes sweets or meetha, a space almost totally dominated by traditional mithai at the time.

So be it passing an exam, or buying a vehicle, or even celebrating payday, a variety of occasions was identified as areas of opportunity. Rohit Srivastava, EVP, Contract India, the agency which works with Cadbury on its Celebrations range narrates an incident. “While doing research it was as if serendipity struck. In Delhi, people load their cars with 100-200 gift boxes during Diwali! It is huge!” explains Srivastava.

Ravi Deshpande, chairman and chief creative officer, Contract India recalls: “When we realised that for a chocolate company to grow further gifting would have to play a key role, we started by putting together our existing array of chocolates — Dairy Milk, Gems, 5 Star — in an attractive gift pack to test the potential of chocolates as a gifting option. This gave birth to brand Cadbury Celebrations.” Diwali was the low hanging fruit and proved to be the largest playing ground for chocolate gifting in the years to come. Next came Raksha Bandhan, because of what Deshpande calls “teens' natural affinity towards chocolates.”

Today the team behind Celebrations have identified more occasions and given Indians many reasons to gift a pack. Besides being an aggressive advertiser, Cadbury has also made sure it’s created buzz around the brand at the right time in the right place. Be it on the streets of Ahmedabad or Kolkata or ferrying people from Mumbai to Delhi during Diwali, Cadbury made sure it not just ruled mindspace, but also roadways and air ways (See: Time to Celebrate). Today not only does Cadbury command a lion’s share of the non-traditional gifting space, it has ‘inspired’ companies like Britannia, Parle and even Pepsi and Coke to`launch their own version of gift packs. Fighting for shelf space with Celebrations from Cadbury is Rejoice from Amul, Occasions from Parle and Shubh Kaamnayein from Britannia. Nestle opts for the simpler moniker of ‘Assorted Gift Packs’.

While most experts we spoke to struggle to give a market size, Cadbury pegs the branded food gifting market to be worth ` 500 crore, half of which comprises only chocolates. “The Celebrations’ brand is around ` 200 crore, which is incredible for a homegrown brand created and conceived in India,” says Srivastava. Vishwanathan is happy about the progress Cadbury has made in India. “The category context and evolution for Cadbury is unique to India. There is nothing like this internationally because there meetha means chocolate,” he says. While the brand continues to make inroads in urban India, Vishwanathan says rural markets will bring in the next era of growth.

Cadbury may have ‘showed the light’ to many brands, but for 70-year old Mumbai based regional brand Fantasie Chocolates, cocoa has been a way of life for a long time. Zeba Kohli, proprietor, Fantasie Chocolates, gets orders even on Republic Day and Independence Day besides festivals. Weddings are another great demand driver, she says. Kohli attributes the longevity of Fantasie to the passion and creativity of the brand. Sample this. Fantasie has conducted chocolate-themed fashion shows, chocolate sculpting events, introduction of chocolate body paints and fun fairs. “I like to stimulate people when we do something related to chocolate. If there is a new flavour that we are launching, we do a small event to unveil it,” explains Kohli. Today Fantasie caters to clients across the country although its retail presence is restricted to Mumbai and Pune.

While Vishwanathan says Cadbury doesn’t want to antagonise mithaiwallas, the reality is different. Bisen of Technopak says there has definitely been a drop in sale of Indian mithai: “Some media reports peg a 30% drop in sale of dairybased Indian sweets, which has a ` 2,500 crore annual market,” he says. He attributes this dip to incidents of adulterated sweets that hit national headlines and eroded consumer confidence in the offering. Another interesting change is happening in the mithai shops itself. “Retail shelf space for mithai has gone down. Today colas, packaged food, chips occupy considerable space. There is not much difference between a kirana shop and a sweet shop today,” says Bisen. Parle launched Occasions three years ago and according to Pravin Kulkarnii, marketing head, Parle Products, the brand was launched because the company sensed an opportunity.

“Food gifting s a growing market and Parle enjoys a good equity for our product among customers. There have also been many increments in our portfolio. Therefore we decided to launch gift packs,” says Kulkarnii. The brand has sold 150 tonnes of its products during the Dasshera to Diwali season, every year since launch according to Parle. The range is available across country and Kulkarnii says there is good demand for its products even in Class 2 towns. On the advertising front Parle has been quiet so far, but Kulkarnii says that will change as they get aggressive in media from next year.

According to Britannia, the festive season starts pre-Diwali and continues till Valentine's Day. Shalini Degan, category director - delight & lifestyle, Britannia says: "Our gifting mix is designed to add joyous moments, transforming them into delightful memories. We have judiciously priced (Rs 100 upwards) this entire range to make it available to everyone who wants to share good wishes.” It causes the company to tailor its product mix and incorporate new products even as it repackages old favourites from its stable. When asked for a reaction to this new found interest in the space by other brands, one can sense some discomfort in voice of Cadbury's Vishwanathan. “As long as people are investing to grow the market, it will be good, as the overall pie will grow. But right now most people are only riding on a ready-made platform built by us,” he says.


Time to Celebrate

Sisters Street: Cadbury dedicated a street for sisters in Mumbai and Maninagar (Ahmedabad) called "Cadbury Celebrations Sisters Street." The Sisters Street, had banners with personalised messages from brothers to their sisters, on every building. This initiative was based on insight that no matter how much a brother loves his sister, he finds it difficult to express his feelings.

Cadbury Mishti Shera Shrishti: This activity was aimed at redefining the mithai-eating habit of Kolkata. As a part of the activity Cadbury India tied up with leading mithai shops of Kolkata like Balaram Mullick & Radharaman Mullick and KC Das among others. The city of Kolkata was divided into nine zones, with each representing a mishti chain. With a single mithai made with Cadbury Dairy Milk costing anywhere up to Rs 60, sweet shops took the initiative to create variants like Choco Twister, Choco Kumbha, Choco Riceball, Choco Fusion, Kolaberi Di and Choco Mudpie.

Celebrations Airways: Cadbury patrons were in for a special treat last Diwali, when through a contest conducted on Facebook, radio and mall activations, 130 people were flown from Mumbai to Delhi in an exclusive flight to meet their loved ones in time for the festival.




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