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Venkatesh Kini

VP Marketing | 08 Oct 2007

“In order to have a loyal customer base we have to make our brands relevant to our consumers in their lives. Where, when, how, with whom they drink – all of these aspects matter. We communicate our brands in the right way and make our products available at an arm’s reach. We aim at creating desire in the consumer’s mind.”

Venkatesh Kini was appointed Vice President for Coca-Cola India in September 2006. He moved from Atlanta, where he was VP-Sprite and Flavors Brand Business Unit in Coca-Cola North America, a position he had held since September 2005. During his Atlanta assignment, Kini had led the development of breakthrough advertising and graphics redesign for the Sprite re-launch. He also led the successful national rollout of Vault as well as the business plan for Sprite and Flavors for 2007.

Kini had joined Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages India Pvt. Ltd as Marketing Operations Manager in March 1998. Later that year, he joined The Coca-Cola Company in India as Senior Brand Manager for the Lemon Lime category, where he was instrumental in the successful launch of Sprite.

In October 1999, Kini took on the role of Global Brand Manager in Atlanta and worked on new products. In 2001, he assumed the role of Global Marketing Manager for bottled water and was promoted as Global Brand Director for bottled water in 2003.

Prior to joining Hindustan Coca-Cola, Kini had held a variety of leadership roles in Asian Paints, ITC, and Black & Decker, among others. He has over 17 years of marketing, sales and general management experience. In this conversation with exchange4media’s Pallavi Goorha, Kini talks about the Coca-Cola portfolio in India, and marketing activities undertaken. Excerpts:

Q. You took over the reins of Coca-Cola India as Marketing Head in September last year. How has the journey been since then?

It has been a wonderful experience and a real pleasure to be back in India after eight years. India has changed a lot since the time I had left the country. There is an entire new generation that has grown up with a global outlook, optimism and a hunger for success that is unique to India. I am rediscovering a lot, months have been spent rediscovering what’s new. The journey has been good in preparing for the ongoing season.

Q. You moved to India after having worked in Atlanta for some time. How would you draw comparisons in the consumer behaviour between these two markets?

Consumer behaviour in North America is very mature. There are a lot of choices, and a lot of channels that offer you options in terms of convenience. People in the US have grown up with so many choices that they take the choice for granted. The US is that kind of market where you serve between the existing needs and try to set yourself apart in a crowded market.

In India, the task is market creation. The vast majority of brands are still trying to create markets for products and categories. People in India have grown up with few brands, and the task is really differentiation. It is motivating consumers to adopt products and categories, and also creating a suitable business model.

Q. Which are the brands of Coca-Cola that you enjoyed working on the most?

In my career at Coca-Cola, I worked on almost every category and every brand of the company. I worked on distilled water, sports drink, juices, energy drinks and sparkling drinks. When I came to India, the one brand that I finally got to work on was brand Coca-Cola, as this was the only brand I hadn’t worked on in North America.

Q. Which among your brands contributes the most to your topline?

We have a diverse range of brands in our portfolio ranging from Coca-Cola, Thums Up, Limca, Maaza, Minute Maid, Sprite, Georgia, etc. Each of our brands is number one in their respective segments. Coke is the leading global brand in the country, while Thums Up leads in the cola category. We have global brands that are global leaders in their respective categories. Each brand contributes significantly to our portfolio.

Q. The carbonated soft drink (CSD) market is predominantly ruled by two major players -- Coke and Pepsi. In such a scenario, how do you make sure that you have a loyal customer base?

First of all, I disagree with such a statement. Consumers have a variety of needs, which they fulfill with a variety of beverages and products throughout the day. Whether it’s a morning drink or afternoon refreshment or an evening drink, the market for beverage in India is strongly driven by teas, dairy products and sparkling beverages. In order to have a loyal customer base, we have to make our brands relevant to our consumers in their lives. Where, when, how, with whom they drink – all of these aspects matter. We communicate our brands in the right way and make our products available at an arm’s reach. We aim at creating desire in the consumer’s mind.

Q. What are your brands in India? Are you planning to introduce more products?

Our brands in India are Coca-Cola, Thums Up, Fanta, Sprite, Kinley, Maaza, Georgia, and Limca. We are always looking at adding more products and expand our existing portfolio. We look at the range of consumer needs and the options that they already have. We are always trying to find ways to create something that could be a unique differentiator, and thus meet existing needs better. For example, we launched the Minute Pulpy Orange recently after two years of research. It is now being launched nationally.

Q. How important is branding for a cola major? How are the advertising spends for this year?

As a beverage player, we market a range of beverages and are a leading player in the juices segment. Branding is important in our industry because impulse plays a very important role as consumers do not step out of the house knowing what they would drink – Coke or Maaza. When they are somewhere on the go, they may feel the desire to have something to drink. People prefer to choose that drink which they can recall easily, which is available easily and visible at an arm’s length. All these factors come into play. The importance of branding is absolutely critical.

The branding in our industry is not restricted to traditional advertising. Branding is all the activity we do from the point we make it available. As far as advertising spends are concerned, we plan our advertising based on the communication task we have. Our communication task is to be visible and be on the mind of consumers, especially during high selling months.

Q. While summers are hectic for cola companies, what are the off-seasons like?

There is no off-season exactly. During summers we may be at the top of the consumer’s mind, but not that much in spring and winter. The cola drinks from our portfolio can be consumed throughout the year. It’s just that the occasion of consumption might vary. During summers, consumption is high. During the festive season, the party pack gets more consumed. Even during winters or the New Year, a great deal of consumption is observed. Georgia Gold, our vended tea and coffee business, does well during winters.

Q. Coca-Cola India is planning to open ‘Red Lounges’ across India….

The Red Lounge is equivalent of a third meeting ground – not home or college or office. It is touted as a one-stop destination where the youth can spend time and consume Coke products. The pilot Red Lounge outlet has been operational in Pune for the last six months, and based on the feedback, more outlets would be rolled out in other cities.

Coca-Cola is basically trying to create a place where the youth can sit, chat, relax and indulge in activities they enjoy. The Red Lounge will offer an entire range of beverages from the company’s portfolio. Coca-Cola already has such lounges functioning across the US and Singapore. While the lounge will sport a red colour, it will have a giant LCD television, video games and Internet surfing facilities.

Q. Which are the key markets for Coke in India? Going forward, what will be the growth drivers of the company?

Coca-Cola is a national brand. The key markets in India are the Northern and Western regions. Coke does well in modern trade outlets like multiplexes and malls. We are looking forward to growing our portfolio, and are looking for opportunities to be present both in rural and urban India. I see growth coming from smaller towns as well.

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