We are witnessing more disruption within the frozen food space: Mithun Appaiah, Sumeru

Appaiah, CEO of Sumeru says they are focused on removing the misconceptions surrounding the frozen food industry, and talks about the brand's Individual Quick-Freezing Technology

e4m by Neethu Mohan
Updated: Feb 25, 2019 8:52 AM
Mithun Appaiah

For a long period, the frozen food industry in India were limited to products like frozen vegetables, French fries, nuggets etc but the advent of technology and consumer needs have urged brands to introduce more innovative products into the market. According to 'India Frozen Food Market Overview, 2016-2022', the retail frozen food market is close to 24-26 per cent of the overall frozen food market and is expected to continue its growth trajectory in the forecast period also.

Innovative foods owned frozen food product brand, Sumeru has re-defined the frozen food industry in the country, and are focused on removing the misconceptions surrounding the frozen food industry. The Bengaluru based firm is planning to expand their retail reach to 25,000 stores. The company has manufacturing units in Kochi (Kerala) and Chittor (Andhra Pradesh) which produces about 4,000 + tonnes of frozen foods and ready-to-eat vegetarian and non-vegetarian products.

In a conversation with exchange4media, Mithun Appaiah, CEO spoke about Sumeru’s journey by far, marketing strategies, company’s R & D department etc.

Edited excerpts:

It’s been one and a half year since you took over the CEO post, how has the journey been so far? What are the major changes you have brought into Sumeru?

The journey has been exciting by far. We have been concentrating on renovating and re-positioning ourselves as a brand. With 30+ years in the frozen food industry one of the things we have believed and recasted ourselves is to act and believe like a start-up, who is quicker and faster in terms of communication to the consumers. We have also taken the position of being a leader in the market to talk about goodness of frozen food products in the market and Sumeru’s Individual Quick-Freezing Technology (IQF). We have gone out to consumers in our own way using different mediums to communicate about the goodness of frozen products.

The culture of the company has undergone a change. We have become lot faster and more receptive, and more consumer centric. From operational stand point, the sales structure has been rehashed. We were able to focus on adding better distribution and have doubled our outlet coverage in the last one year. If you look at it in its entirety Sumeru as a brand has undergone complete innovation. We had double digit growth this year.

There is a set of myths surrounding the frozen food industry in India. How Sumeru is addressing these misconceptions and what are the steps taken to remove these misconceptions?

One of the biggest challenges the frozen food industry faces is the misconceptions among the consumers. People who don’t consume frozen food think that they contain preservatives, the nutrients are lost or the products are stale. The truth is other way around, technically frozen foods are actually fresher than what we get today. We as consumers believe that the fruits and vegetables kept in a store are fresh because of the ambience they are kept in but the truth is different. If you look at the technologies used by frozen food companies especially Sumeru, they ensure that freshness of the products is locked using technologies. A product like green peas is treated with a technology called Individual Quick Freezing where the product’s temperature is dropped to -18 degrees Celsius and the nutrients get locked in the process.

Now, we are taking the position of educating the consumers majorly through PR and digital campaigns. We are going to mention it on the product packets. We are also passing the messages to the retailers so they can educate the consumers.

What’s the current scenario of frozen food segment in the country? What are the emerging trends in this industry?

We did a research on this and findings were quite interesting. The consumers are craving for more innovative products, secondly there are lot more mainline products like Pizza, Biriyani coming to the frame, fruits and vegetables are gaining traction which was not the case earlier. Products like desserts are gaining traction and consumers have started accepting those products.
We are witnessing lot more disruption within the space, Sumeru is driving that in the country and other players are watching it, larger players too are getting to this segment. This is a category that is going to emerge.

Could you throw some light on the R&D of Sumeru?

One of the best things that we have in our system which we can invariably challenge any food company today is the kind of R&D we do. We have easily 50-70 products in our innovation funnel which are ready to be launched in the next few months. We keep innovating our products, what we have done in last one year is to build a robust system to manage R&D. We have created our Chef’s Panel with well-known chefs from top properties in our Cochin plant. They come together twice a month and go through these innovation funnel, and the required modification is done by them. Based on their evaluation they give colour coding ranking like dark green, green, light green etc. We can launch the product only if it has received dark green and green ranking.

The products which are approved by the Chef’s Panel comes to consumer panel in Bengaluru. If they approve the products, then we are ready for the launch.

Tell us about your marketing strategies?

We have defined our consumers and are completely aware of their needs. We figured that digital is the best way to communicate to them. Also, cost of doing ATL is pretty high. We are focused on BTL as it is the root and is the closest to the consumers. Also, research says that nearly 70 per cent consumers switch brands inside the store. We believe that BTL is the best way.

What are your expansion plans 2019?

One of the key areas we want to focus is to double our distribution, instead of focusing on all cities so we are focusing on Top 8 cities which contribute to the 7-80 per cent of the category sale.
From products stand point we will be launching lot of innovative and disruptive products which will get closer to consumers. Innovation will hold a large space.

We are also focused on expanding our export destinations. We are already in the USA, which is our biggest export market. We have started off in the middle-east, within middle-east we are getting into Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman.

Our exports have doubled over the last year which is a good sign. Hence we are looking into launching more products loved by Indians living there. We will be growing 10-15 times more than the industry growing pace.

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