Rural India is the new battleground for FMCG majors Hindustan Unilever India (HUL) and ITC when it comes to market share. To drive volumes in FY14, both ITC and HUL are betting big on their rural distribution programmes, Project Shakti and e-Choupal, respectively.
After carrying out a pilot project on ‘e-Choupal model Version 3.0’ (a new version of e-Choupal), ITC is currently piloting two new projects on personalised agri extension services, leveraging new mobile devices such as tablets and farm mechanisation and precision farming solutions to connect with rural consumers.
Meanwhile, ITC’s rival HUL has deployed a low-cost mobile IT solution called Shakti DMS (a mini-ERP package run on an entry-level smartphone) to improve the efficacy of its Shakti Entrepreneur programme. HUL is increasing its direct coverage through distributors and its Project Shakti to reach out to a wider audience.
While ITC e-Choupal reaches 40,000 villages across the country, HUL, through its project, has 48,000 Shakti entrepreneurs (Shakti ammas) in 15 states. The application, available in eight languages, also has updates on promotional events and discounts.
Talking about ITC’s rural initiatives, S Sivakumar, chief executive, agri business division, ITC, said, “Choupal Haat is the first part of e-Choupal 3.0 version that has been scaled up across the e-Choupal network. Health services under ‘market-based health partnerships’ project of United States Agency for International Development is the second area that is being scaled up in this year.”
Sivakumar said e-Choupal Version 3.0 will leverage the spread in mobile telephony and the growing aspirations emerging from the semi-urbanisation of some of the top tier villages in India.
Besides its FMCG brands, Sunfeast biscuits and Vivel soaps, ITC is connecting with other brands as well through Choupal Haat and Choupal Mahotsav. “‘Many brands have leveraged Choupal Haats, including Tata Motors (both passenger and commercial vehicles), Tata Steel, Sundaram Finance, Airtel, Maruti Suzuki, TVS Motors and SBI,” added Sivakumar.
Meanwhile, e-Choupal Mahotsav, a larger format event, has tied up with TVS Motors, Bharat Petroleum, JCB India and Singer Electronics, besides agri input companies to connect with farmers.
On the other hand, HUL through its new initiative ‘Project Express’, is distributing telecom products for Tata Teleservices in 95,000 outlets through a network of over 700 rural distributors. In 2012, HUL strengthened its partnership with Tata Tele and the company expanded the model through its rural distribution system in 13 telecom circles. At present, HUL has a direct coverage of more