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Rajesh Ramakrishnan On Innovation, Brand Building And 25 Years Of Perfetti Van Melle In India

Over coffee on a hot day this month Rajesh Ramakrishnan, MD, Perfetti Van Melle, India spoke to BW Businessworld’s Jyotsna Sharma about art, brand building and marketing.

Photo Credit :

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A Thangka in his office prompted a conversation about art, which led me to discover that he is planning to hold an exhibition of his latest photographs and multimedia pieces in the near future. “People ask me how do you get time to photograph? I say, I don’t get time, I make time.” We will of course get you the details once the exhibition is up. Moving on, here are the excerpts from my chat with him about marketing:

JS: let’s start with Innovation, tell me about innovation at Perfetti.
RR: Innovation is a part of our DNA. For example, we launched the first liquid filled gum, center fresh in the Indian market. Then there is Chupa Chups – the gum filled lollipop, and more recently, there is Sparkiez – a chatpata gum filled with a jelly inside. 

We try to anticipate what the consumer would want and work accordingly. For us innovation is not restricted to product alone, we believe, innovation is a part of all aspects of the business. It is a part of manufacturing, distribution, sales and also communication. 

JS: Since you mentioned communication, which is your favourite Perfetti product ad?
RR: If you look at some of the older communication of Perfetti, they are iconic in their own way. For example, the Mentos adverts, the Centre Shock advert, the Happydent adverts are all great in the sense that they are clutter breaking. My favourite would have to be the Centre Shock advert, which in its execution is perfect. It is non-verbal and yet manages to get the point across beautifully.

He is right, created and conceptualized by Ogilvy, the advert is outstanding. So much so that I am confused about which advert I like better, the Happydent palace advert (created by Prasoon Joshi and voted one of the 20 best of the century, by The Gunn Report) or the Centre Shock ad. If you haven’t had a chance to watch the ads as yet, I urge you to please do so. 

JS: In terms of engagement with your audience, which is your primary medium?  
RR: The use of media by brands has evolved over time, there was a time when Television was the key medium of engagement. Television is still important, but digital has gained salience- it is the same for us. 

There are a few other factors in regard to engagement and communication that have changed such as, consumer attention has become shorter, screens have become smaller, there is a two-way communication now with consumers. We are cognizant of all these changes. 

For us the focus is staying relevant and forming meaningful relationships with our consumers. For example, the Juzt Jelly food Integration with celebrity chefs, where we have collaborated with popular names in India’s culinary circuit to curate exclusive recipes using Alpenliebe Juzt Jelly as an active ingredient. The recipes will range from quick snacks, desserts and cakes, to summer coolers and mocktails. The brand will also run a digital campaign inviting consumers to share different recipes using Juzt Jelly. The shortlisted recipes will be featured on brand’s social media assets.

JS: Right! So, digital is gaining importance at Perfetti? 
RR: In terms of spends, our use of digital is still a single digit number (in terms of %), but it is increasing and that is the direction in which we would like to move. We look at using a 360-degree approach - leveraging all media to make communication effective. For instance, a TV commercial gives immediate scale, it is good for a launch. Digital creates and increases engagement, while Radio acts as a reminder. 

JS: Tell me about the Urban and Rural penetration of your products, and also your efforts towards engaging the audience from both areas. 
RR: I would say in terms of consumption, it is almost equal for both. Centre Fruit and Centre Fresh are available in 40 lakh outlets across the country. As far as active engagement goes, we have been largely focused on the Urban consumer, but have recently taken steps towards engaging the rural consumer. 

For example, we have tied up with television channels that reach the hinterlands of Bihar and Maharashtra. To increase and drive brand connect for Center Fruit in UP/Bihar and MP, we tied up with Sony Sab as a main sponsor of their new program, My name is Lakhan featuring Shreyas Talpade. As part of the engagement, a Center Fruit branded pan shop was created and is an integral part of all episodes providing visibility to the brand. 

For us Maharashtra is an important jelly market, with 22% contribution to category. In order to drive brand saliency of Alpenliebe Juzt Jelly, we tied up with the regional channel Zee Marathi, for a family program titled Home Minister, where families get to compete against each other for an Alpenliebe Juzt Jelly hamper. 

In terms of collaboration, we have something quite interesting - with the Spiderman frenzy at its peak for to the upcoming Spider-man movie release, we will be introducing a limited-edition Center Fruit ‘Spiderman – Far from Home’ pack in association with Sony Pictures, USA. The limited-edition Center Fruit ‘Spiderman – Far from Home’ pack is already available nationally. We will be airing a co-branded TVC, which is slated to go live along with promotions of the ‘Spiderman Far from Home’ movie.

JS: Sounds good! There is something I want to ask you- given the focus on being healthy, how does Perfetti stay relevant? 
RR: Even though health and wellness trends are catching on, I believe everything should be consumed in moderation. Also, it is important to give the consumer a choice, so he can pick what he wants to eat. For instance, we have a sugar free range of confectionery, and the Alpenliebe Juzt Jelly has a 25 % fruit pulp content etc. it is ultimately the consumer who has to make an informed choice regarding what he wants to consume. 

JS: The Perfetti website says the brand is also a manufacturer of ayurvedic medicine? How is that?
RR: It is not ayurvedic medicine as such but some of our products like Happy Dent by virtue of the ingredients they contain, come under the category of Ayurveda. 

JS: 2019 marks 25 years of Perfetti’s journey in India – what have been the key challenges and opportunities? 
RR: Category creation has been both an opportunity and a challenge. Centre Fresh & Centre Fruit are two such examples where we created this category of liquid filled gum. The second challenge has been creating a balance between the reach and cost of distribution. And the third, which again is both a challenge and an opportunity, is building iconic brands, which are done with the support of communication, product etc. and making sure the brands play a meaningful role in the consumer’s life. 

MARKET SHARE

As per the company it has between 20- 25% share in the Rs 12,000-crore Indian confectionery market

  1. Center Fresh: 31% - category leader
  2. Center Fruit: 25% 
  3. Happydent: 14%
  4. Alpenleibe Juzt Jelly: 42% - category leader

*Perfetti was incorporated in 1946 by Perfetti brothers Ambrogio and Egidio, in a small town called Lainate just outside of Milan. Globally, Perfetti Van Melle sells to over 150 countries. 2019 marks 25 years of the company in India, some of their well-known brands here are Center Fresh, Center Fruit, Alpenliebe, Happy Dent, Mentos, Juzt Jelly, Chupa Chups. 


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