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Britannia: Good Day All Along

In the highly competitive packaged snacks market, Britannia has been a dominant player and continues to hold its ground

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The colours in the brand’s earlier logo — red white and green are perhaps etched clearly in the memories of every middle aged Indian, especially those who associated biscuits with Britannia. What started as a supplier of service biscuits to Second World War armed forces has now transformed into a leading packaged food giant. Today the company continues to be on the path of  reinventing itself and changing according to the times and consumer taste, aggressive competition and food industry reforms notwithstanding. Yes, it is true that not many brands can withstand the test of time, especially when market forces compel them to keep evolving and adjusting to newer demands and newer consumer preferences.

Britannia, which completed 100 years recently, is one of the few examples of a brand that has sustained its reputation for over a century now. The company was first set up in Kolkata in 1892 with an investment of Rs 295 and incorporated in 1918 as a public limited company. The other brand that comes close to Britannia in the same category is Parle G, which has shown brand endurance for nearly eight decades. Despite competition, Britannia has now grown to become a Rs 10,000 crore behemoth, which reaches 50 per cent of Indian consumers with its network of over five million retail outlets.

The company also has many firsts to its credit. In 1954, Britannia pioneered the high quality sliced and wrapped bread industry in India and, in 1963, the company ventured into the cakes portfolio. It first breached the Rs 100-crore mark in 1983 and entered dairy products in 1997. In 2007, Britannia industries formed a joint venture with the Khimji Ramdas Group and acquired a 70 per cent beneficial state in the Dubai-based Strategic Foods International 65.4 per cent in the Oman-based Al Sallan Food Industries.

Biscuit industry in India
India is currently the world’s third largest biscuit manufacturing nation after the US and China. According to 6Wresearch, the Indian biscuit market is projected to reach $8.2 billion by 2023. Besides Britannia, major companies operating in the biscuit market of India include ITC, Parle Biscuits, Surya Food & Agro and Unibic Foods India. However, in the organised sector, the industry is dominated by Britannia and Parle, which account for 70 per cent of the industry’s volumes.

Call it cookie, or call it a biscuit, Indians truly love this form of baked bliss. And there is proof. In the FMCG category, the penetration of cookies and biscuits is quite high in both urban and rural markets. In urban areas, the penetration is as high as 94 per cent while in rural areas it is 83 per cent. The biscuit industry annually contributes Rs 8,000 crore to the FMCG industry and if we look at category wise market share, it is dominated by glucose biscuits (44 per cent) followed by Marie (13 per cent), milk (12 per cent) and cream (10 per cent).

The biscuit market has the potential to grow manifold and Britannia has dominated the category for long. So, what has helped the brand stay so enduring? According to Varun Berry, MD, Britannia Industries, a large part of this formidable brand identity is about the people who have been part of the brand’s journey and about cost leadership, which Britannia has mastered over the years.

“All the people who have been involved with the brand have done a fantastic job of creating them,” says 56-year-old Berry, who joined Britannia in April 2014. “I think it is very difficult to create the kind of brands we have been able to create. We have also been able to create this whole thing about cost leadership. We have got this intense mindset of cost leadership, cost savings and cost efficiency programmes. So, that is something I don’t think any large FMCG in India has been able to create,” points out Berry.

Going for a makeover
Despite having a formidable brand and having presence in over 60 countries around the globe, Britannia recently went for an image makeover by reimagining its core identity — the brand logo. While many companies would be averse to experimenting with a new identity, Britannia has traditionally taken the reinvention game in its stride. In 1997, the brand played the reinvention game, which helped it further consolidate its leadership position.

In 2018, the brand has done it again and Berry explains the reinvention formula. “It was not a small exercise. We researched this for almost a year and 2-3 months. The objective was set up-front. The objective was that we cannot walk very far away from where we are because we are doing so well and the brand is such a strong brand. It was not that we could just wander very far away and create some other Britannia.”

He further adds: “Moreover, there were some things which were clearly laid out that these are must haves, but what was required was modernisation. We have been with ‘Eat Healthy, Think Better’ for a very long time and, as a result, we have been able to create  a right kind of image for ourselves which is — being good for you but at same time being exciting as well.”.

Britannia launched a massive rebranding exercise and changed its logo without sacrificing any of its core values. Speaking about the rationale behind the big rebranding exercise, Ali Harris Shere, VP, Marketing, Britannia Industries adds, “We just fixed things without them being broken and that is the best thing to do. When you are on a strong wicket and doing well, you have the confidence to take the change, you should make the change and that is what we have done. We, in Britannia, have to take a big leap so change was required. We are moving in the right direction and we have taken very good care that we don’t alienate our existing consumers and we keep those connections that we have with them.”

A new beginning?
Backed with strong numbers and a diversified consumer taste, the company is also focusing on becoming a total foods company. To make it happen, the leadership is carefully evaluating new product line ups and looking to leverage opportunities that exist in the rapidly growing branded foods category.

“It is about making sure that you play in a lot more categories and that is the objective. We were very focused, we have played in biscuits and it has become very large and robust as a business today. We have been able to create competitive advantage, so we have got a shield around us. Now can we start to look at other categories and can we start to build a business which is a macro snacking business rather than just a biscuit or a bakery business. We are not really looking at going to centre of plate, we are not looking at lunch and dinner, but we are looking at macro snacks which is everything that you snack on during the day,” explains Berry.

Value Vs volume: A tough competition
If we look at the numbers, Britannia continues to grow at a steady rate. Britannia Industries net profit for the quarter ended 31 March was Rs 263 crore compared with Rs 211 crore in the year-ago quarter, an increase of 25 per cent. While the growth numbers are in its favour, experts believe that the brand can grow even faster if it moves beyond the value war to focus on the volume game too.

Harish Bijoor, brand expert and founder, Harish Bijoor Consults says that while Britannia won the value wars it focused less on the space of volume and thus is facing tough competition from rival brands. “The Britannia journey has been a journey of good distribution for a long many decades. In the early days, in a nation where biscuit manufacturing was considered a local enterprise, the one who had the better distribution won. That was the early story of Britannia’s success. In the1990s and the years of the 2000 series thereafter, in came a focus on brand marketing. It is here that Britannia won the value wars, creating a whole pack of value-added offerings that took the story of premium biscuits further,” says Bijoor.

“In the bargain, Britannia focussed less on the space of volume and more on the space of value-added offerings. The market today has gotten carved into two spaces. One is the volume space where Parle biscuits rule. The other is the value-added space where Britannia leads, only to be met by competition from both an ITC Foods at one end, and a revamped and newly invigorated Parle Platina at the other end,” he adds.

Richard Rothman, author and MD of Open Mind Consultancy, says that Britannia needs to leverage new opportunities to continue its market dominance. “I would say the company needs to focus on investments in products and markets where it has “the right to win,” and not gamble on suicide attacks against much larger and well entrenched brands. The key to continued success will be the ability to relentlessly focus its resources on the very best opportunities.”

While staying not out at 100 may be a feat in itself, however, the growing competition in the space can only be tackled if the reinvention leads to another winning innings, and looking at Britannia’s track record, it should.

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britannia magazine 1 september 2018