Agility, adaptability & technology important in crisis time: Oliver Mirza, Dr. Oetker

Mirza, Managing Director & CEO for Dr. Oetker in India & SAARC countries, tells us how the company connected with consumers and encouraged them to don the apron and wield the ladle during the lockdown

e4m by Simran Sabherwal & Sanstuti Nath
Updated: Jul 7, 2020 8:42 AM
olivermirza

The three-month long lockdown saw an increase in in-home cooking & dining. This certainly led to a surge in the demand of products like pizza sauces, mayonnaise, and sandwich spreads. Dr. Oetker, a popular brand in this category, too witnessed greater demand for its offerings. Oliver Mirza, Managing Director & CEO for Dr. Oetker in India & SAARC countries, tells us how the company adapted its working model and how it connected with consumers and encouraged them to don the apron and wield the ladle during the lockdown

Excerpts

Initial trends post lockdown showed there is an increase in consumption of packaged food items. How have the products in the Dr Oetker’s portfolio performed? Which product was the outperformer?

After an initial hiccup, we witnessed an increase in demand for some of our retail packs. As in-home cook & dine is on the rise, more and more consumers are experimenting with western food at home. Hence, retail packs of our pizza sauces, mayonnaise, and sandwich spreads have seen a surge.
In times of uncertainty, consumers rely on the brands they trust. Dr. Oetker is a trusted brand since 1891, and FunFoods was established nearly 40 years ago. Our responsibility during this time was to be consistently available at retail shelves for consumers.
For us, the best performers have been some individual mayonnaise jars, which saw a jump of around 50 per cent and select pizza sauces, which grew by up to 80 per cent.

During the lockdown, people experimented with home cooking. How has this helped in the sales/revenues, particularly when it comes to your range of sauces and spreads?

With restaurants shut for dine-in and ordering-in at an all-time low, in-home cook & dine has seen a massive surge during the lockdown period. Consumers wish to prepare tasty dishes that are easy to make such as pizzas, sandwiches, pasta, and wraps. These dishes also bring families together over food. More and more consumers are using our range of sauces and spreads as they enable them to prepare these western and indo-western dishes at home with ease. It is reflected in the increased demand for our range of mayonnaise, sandwich spread, and pizza sauces.

Production and distribution was impacted due to the lockdown. How did Dr. Oetker overcome the challenge?

It was an important step to announce the lockdown in March to slow the spread of the virus. Post the announcement, our plant was shut for a few days. After receiving necessary permissions, we restarted operations with less than one-third of the workforce for limited hours, as mandated by the government. Since then, we are operating special buses with social distancing protocols for employees. Thermal screening, regular sanitization, and social distancing are a part of standard operating procedures. We even sanitize shoes of every employee before they enter the production area. We have also taken a conscious call to only produce SKUs with a focus on broad shopper appeal and necessity.
As the movement of goods was also restricted throughout the country, it was difficult to acquire raw material as well as manage logistics. Even for finished goods, movement was a challenge. Our objective was to keep the supply chain going and ensure smooth operation of the plant. During this time, several consignees, distributors, and retailers have gone out of their way to ensure the availability of products on retail shelves. Our constant endeavour is to support the retailers, so we introduced a hotline number and an exclusive app for them to access us directly and place orders. We also reached retail outlets via B2B platforms like Udaan and Gram Factory. During this time, everyone pitched in with their bit - most of our workforce was working from home; we encouraged them to take orders on the phone or if they stepped out to buy groceries. Initially, servicing orders was a challenge, but we eventually managed to fulfil every order.

What was the insight behind the ‘What’s in your fridge’ campaign? What has been the consumer response?

Social media is an integral part of our consumer engagement strategy, and during this unprecedented time, it has become even more crucial. With more time at hand during the lockdown, social media consumption of relevant content went up significantly.
Our strategy on social media has been to engage with the audience and connect them to our repertoire of easy-to-do tasty recipes. During the lockdown, we rolled out an Instagram campaign titled, ‘What’s in your fridge?’ to help consumers with convenient and tasty recipes from the ingredients available in their fridge. We asked our followers to share the list of readily available ingredients through the ‘Ask Me Anything’ feature on Instagram. Our in-house chef then worked on easy-to-do recipes to be shared on Instagram stories. We also featured pictures of the most exciting dishes prepared by consumers on our channel.
Our audience received the campaign very well and it emerged as one of our best organic campaigns with an engagement rate of over 90 per cent.

What were the key learnings when it came to consumer engagement during this period?
It is essential for brands to engage with consumers meaningfully, even more so during times of a crisis. During this time, it is critical to listen to consumers and understand their requirements, to be able to provide relevant content.
During the lockdown, our objective was to engage with our audience and provide them easy to do recipes with our range of products. We rolled out ‘What’s in Your Fridge?’ campaign on Instagram, aimed at providing a solution to consumers’ everyday problem - ‘How can I make exciting food with basic ingredients at home?’ We also provided a platform for consumers to showcase their talent by sharing the most exciting recipes made by them on our social media channels.

As a leader, what are the three key takeaways for you from this crisis?
Key takeaways for us during this time:
Agility- Under crisis, it is essential to be agile and make faster decisions.

Adaptability- Adaptability is important as it gives power to adjust according to changing circumstances.


Digitalisation- It is crucial to adapt to new technologies and solutions continuously. The crisis has fast-tracked our digitalisation efforts, which will help us grow the market in the future.

These are unprecedented times, something that most of us have never seen in our lifetime. You cannot use your learnings from the past and implement them for instant success. It is important to be flexible and rapidly adopt new technologies to be able to deal with constantly changing circumstances.

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