General Mills India has moved its flagship brand of Pillsbury flour onto the health platform. It has re-launched Pillsbury Chakki Fresh Atta on the benefit of whole wheat atta being good for the family's heart and health, and has shifted from the proposition of softness to wellness.
The branded atta market has been steadily evolving from being a commoditised one. Pillsbury, in spite of sounding foreign, has been trying to crack the market with its chakki-fresh (just off the mill) offering to equate it with freshly ground flour, which most Indians continue to consume. Gayatri Yadav, Marketing Director at General Mills, says, "In spite of being a global brand, we have completely adapted to the Indian market's needs." In fact, the concept of chakki-fresh atta was introduced as the first step towards bringing consumers closer to what they are already used to — that of buying grain and then grinding it to get fresh flour.
Explains Yadav: "Food is close to culture and it is always a challenge to change tradition. We believe we are offering convenience, hygiene and standards in quality and moving from softness to wellness as a proposition. The move is consistent with our desire to be the innovation leader in the market, bringing new and relevant benefits to our consumers."
When the brand was launched in 1998, it was the first time anyone had offered the Indian consumer rotis that retained their softness over six hours, making it convenient for her to offer her family soft rotis in their tiffin boxes. This was backed by double-layered packaging to keep the product chakki-fresh.
Today, the soft rotis have graduated to strengthening the heart as well as Pillsbury is touting its flour's benefits as those for a `healthy heart.' "Heart health is a relevant issue in India. It accounts for 25 per cent of all mortality in India and the World Health Organisation forecasts that by 2010 about 60 per cent of all people who suffer from heart diseases will be of Indian origin," says Yadav.
Linking the goodness of whole wheat to reduction in heart disease, Pillsbury atta is going the Saffola oil way to convince consumers of the goodness of its product. According to the company, whole wheat's three components — bran that is rich in fibre, vitamins and minerals, endosperm withcarbohydrates and proteins, and germ rich in nutrients— "work in powerful ways to give the consumer important benefits, primary among which is the fact that whole wheat is good for the heart."
Pillsbury is today one of the top three wheat brands and enjoys a 7.5 per cent value share as per ACNielsen urban data. Besides, it has recorded the highest shares in the Southern markets, bagging a 20 per cent share in the region. "Although the Southern markets have been traditionally rice-eating States, they are making a transition to wheat. This makes it the fastest growing market for us," explains Yadav.
In these States, the Pillsbury atta has also made inroads into rural areas, compared to the rest of the country where it is still an urban brand.
According to company estimates, the branded atta market stands at about 8 lakh tonnes, which comprises about 2 per cent of the total atta market. The branded segment is growing at 20-25 per cent and General Mills claims Pillsbury has been growing ahead of the market.
Perceived globally as a flour and dough-making company, Pillsbury's challenges in the Indian market have been primarily to break tradition and make consumers more aware of the convenience and hygiene in using branded products. At the same time, it has made efforts to build the brand and believes in charging a premium for its products considering the value it offers consumers.
Besides, distribution has not really been an issue since General Mills had the advantage of owning the network after its break-up with the company in 2001. For efficient logistics, the company does not have a centralised manufacturing facility. Instead, it has spread out its manufacturing structure whereby it sources the flour from the local chakkis across the country. More than an extensive distribution network, brand building or gaining market share, the biggest challenge has been in terms of creating demand, says Yadav. Food being a sensitive market, satisfying regional taste buds is a daunting task, which almost every food marketer faces. "You cannot have a `same size fits all' approach in the foods market," says Yadav.
But Pillsbury is not relying on its flagship atta brand alone and has been steadily bringing in a basket of products, which may seem niche at present. Its portfolio now comprises Pillsbury Non-Sticky Semiya, Pillsbury Pan Fresh Pizza, Pillsbury Oven Cake Mixes, Pillsbury Custard Powder and even imported brands such as Green Giant canned vegetables.
And not all its products have been easily accepted in the Indian market. For instance, some time ago, there were consumer issues regarding the quality of its pressure cooker cake mixes. Pillsbury withdrew the brand but brought it back with a different formulation.
Targeting modern-day mothers, the Pillsbury brand is all about "empowering moms," as Yadav describes it. Offering a range from snacks such as pizza to intermediates like ethnic pasta (semiya or superior vermicelli), the philosophy adopted by the company is all about creating options and choices in the foods market.
Besides, General Mills has also made India its export hub by setting up a manufacturing base at Nasik. It currently exports atta and frozen flat breads to over six countries. The Pillsbury frozen flat breads include products such as ready-to-puff rotis, stuffed paratha and flavoured paratha. Besides, it also supplies the Betty Crocker range of dessert mixes to Europe.
While it is always easier to manufacture ethnic products with a base in India, the company realises other expertise is needed for Western foods and will thus continue to import its Green Giant brand of canned vegetables. As Yadav says, "We will continue to import such brands since it is difficult to replicate them in the Indian market."
Meanwhile, General Mills is cagey about revealing both top line and bottom line figures. "All that I can say is that we are on track and expect to build this market further."
Says Jagdeep Kapoor, Managing Director, Samsika Marketing Consultants, "From an evolutionary phase, General Mills should get into a revolutionary mode. The Indian foods market is based on volumes and the company should move from the sidelines and get into the mainline mass market and speed up its offerings in the market." Now, that is something for the company to chew on.