Interview: Angelo George, CEO, Bisleri International

By: |
August 27, 2021 6:49 AM

‘Hand sanitiser category is here to stay’

The market is still largely stressed; however, Bisleri is now operating at pre-pandemic levels.

Bisleri launched its direct-to-consumer channel and partnered with chemists and milk booths to keep its consumer business afloat during the pandemic. Angelo George speaks to Venkata Susmita Biswas about recovery expectations from the HoReCa and corporate segments, and why the packaged drinking water company is foraying into hand sanitisers now.

 Are sales of packaged drinking water back on track?

The market is still largely stressed; however, Bisleri is now operating at pre-pandemic levels. The pandemic has tested the resilience of our supply chain and our ability to adapt to dynamic situations. Our supply chain model is based on locating manufacturing units close to the markets we are serving. This model helped us immensely.

Have you been able to recover any business from the HoReCa segment since March 2020?

Apart from the HoReCa segment, the travel and tourism sectors have been heavily impacted. Corporate sales also declined. The corporate and HoReCa businesses are running at about 50% of pre-pandemic levels. One of the challenges in the HoReCa segment is that almost 30-40% of the small hotels have shut due to the pandemic. Broadly, 20-25% of sales in the packaged water business comes from the corporate and HoReCa segments. While the situation is improving in some parts of the country, the business in these verticals is functioning under huge constraints.

How did at-home consumption change? Was your premium water brand Vedica the worst-hit SKU?

The largest consumption of a brand like Vedica happens in the HoReCa segment and is driven by fine dining. Therefore, sales of this product were affected initially. However, we have made the product available to high net-worth individuals at certain outlets and on our e-commerce platform.

From a home consumption standpoint, the 20-litre SKU is the most preferred. However, we have noticed that during the pandemic, consumers are preferring to buy the 5-litre or 10-litre SKUs as they are easy to carry home. Therefore, we ramped up capacities for those two SKUs, and this change has benefitted us.

Did your D2C portal help drive sales?

We have had about 20 lakh users visiting the website, and I am confident this will emerge as a significant channel for Bisleri. We realised that at a time when there is a premium on consumer service, we may incur costs on servicing, but that will pay us back in the long term. The e-commerce venture helped us gain good word of mouth on the ground. We also began exploring new channels like chemists, milk booths, fruit and vegetable stores, etc, as these were the only stores open during the pandemic. We also developed a cost-effective, hyperlocal hub-and-spoke model to ensure service is not disrupted.

How much headway has Bisleri made in the tier II and III markets?

 We have about 150 manufacturing plants across the country, and are constantly expanding our presence in small markets. We set up a few plants during the pandemic and are scaling them up this year. A couple of plants will be set up this month in the interior locations of the country. We partnered with logistics services to scale up delivery in 40 cities. This allowed us to reduce the time taken for delivery from 24 hours to three-to-six hours.

How do you plan to revive the fizzy drinks vertical that was relaunched months before the pandemic hit?

This vertical took a beating as fizzy drinks are largely consumed outside the home. We are focussing on the sale of these beverages in metros, and tier I and II markets. The key priority is to induce trials within the target group. For this, we have Rs 10 packs (160 ml), and 600 ml packs priced at Rs 40 for in-home consumption. We will soon be advertising these products on mass media.

Many brands that launched hand sanitisers last year are now scaling down production. Why is Bisleri entering the market now?

Consumers have become more health and hygiene conscious, and we see sanitisers becoming a necessity. The category has grown by 300% since the pandemic, and is sustaining the momentum. The sensorial nuances of sanitisers presents a need gap in the market. Consumers are now looking for products that smell good and are not too harsh on their skin. We believe this category is here to stay, but we need to provide a differentiated product to carve out a niche for ourselves, and that is what we have done. The tie-ups with chemists from last year has come in handy for the distribution of our hand purifiers. We are targeting metros, and tier I and II markets for this product.

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