People’s appetite to consume honey-based products has increased with the entry of Patanjali, he said
For long, Rasna has been known for its fruit concentrate. With the demand for healthy beverage alternatives rising, the brand has forayed into related products that are ‘Indian’ at their core, such as honey-based milk fortifiers and local juice flavours. Piruz Khambatta talks to Venkata Susmita Biswas about the need to diversify to keep up with changing times, and the brand’s inherent mass appeal. Edited excerpts:
Why has Rasna deviated from its core offering of juices to honey-based milk fortifiers?
Once we started our honey business, we found that there is huge scope for honey-based products in this country. The brown beverage market in India is, in fact, bigger than the fruit drink market. Our products use honey instead of sugar. We plan to introduce two more honey-based products soon.
People’s appetite to consume honey-based products has increased with the entry of Patanjali. The truth is that the success of Patanjali has driven a lot of companies like HUL, Rasna and P&G to explore the natural category. People realise that India has a lot of natural foods, such as honey, amla and jamun, which they should be consuming.
I have the option of launching Rasna in a strawberry flavour, but market research shows that mothers would choose an aampanna or shikanji flavour over strawberry. These products have better acceptability in the market today. In our export portfolio, we have a range of westernised flavours, but I cannot introduce them in India, simply because people want more ethnic and back-to-nature kind of products. So, we have launched this range, including honey, Honey Vita, Badam Vita, Aampanna and Shikanji, under the Rasna Native Haat brand.
What prompted you to enter the honey business in the first place?
The honey story started when Prime Minister Narendra Modi added me to the special focus group on doubling farmers’ incomes. I believe that farmers can double their income by taking up dairy farming or honey farming, as increasing incomes will not happen with basic agriculture. Honey is one way to supplement it. The market has good potential for branded honey as most players are small and, in fact, do not sell natural honey. This business is essentially our social development initiative.
In 2017, Rasna launched Vitos — a baked snack. But its national distribution doesn’t seem to have taken off…
Yes, Vitos is currently restricted to Bengaluru. We are almost ready with a unit for Vitos to serve the Kolkata and North East markets. We want to grow slowly, while ensuring we don’t overburden ourselves with debt or equity.
From baked snacks to jams and pickles — is the Rasna brand elastic enough to accommodate such varied categories?
As a business, I cannot bank on the success of one product alone. Creating new products is the only way the legacy of a brand can grow. Brands that don’t launch new-generation products, die. These products may flop, but we have to continue innovating if we want to grow.
But why is Rasna’s marketing communication firmly centred on its price points?
While people may consume Rasna products because they are tasty and healthy, our main proposition is that of value. Our products are for the masses. There is a bigger demand today for a `5 or `10 product than for a Rs 50 product. This is also why the sachet will be a part of every product launch from Rasna.
Does the Indian market still want instant powders when packaged juices and drinks are easily available?
After juices, the powders category has seen the most growth. For a lot of families falling in the mass segment, it is hard to purchase expensive fruit drinks and carbonated drinks on a monthly basis. The only other option is to buy synthetic syrups, but those are perceived to be unhealthy. Therefore, the concept of adding powder to make a drink will never die.
How big is e-commerce for Rasna? How much does it contribute to sales?
E-commerce is very small for us; it contributes less than a percentage of our sales. For now, we are using e-commerce to test our products by making them available exclusively online. For example, we are currently testing lemon iced tea on e-commerce platforms to see the consumer response.