Moderator: Hemant Malik, CEO- Food Division, ITC
Rajesh Ramakrishnan, managing director, Perfetti Van Melle India
Rohit Markan, managing director, Roquette India
Tarun Arora, CEO, Zydus Wellness
Gautam Sharma, MD, Indo Nissin Foods
Hemant Malik (HM): We are seeing a transformational shift of the food processing industry over the years – from products to services to experiences to insights. Today, consumers are becoming more and more conscious about food safety and quality. They evaluate this through criteria such as healthiness quotient, nutritional value, sustainable sourcing and procurement practices and packaging among others.
The corporates and the government are undertaking significant initiatives with the objective to build consumer credibility. With the changing times, food companies are themselves undertaking efforts to build brand credibility, educate consumers about the safety and quality of processed food and provide transparent information about their products. They are also addressing the concerns around food counterfeiting in the domestic market.
What is the secret behind the consumer trust your brands enjoy?
Rajesh Ramakrishnan (RR): As there has been so much uncertainty in the last 12 months, we have observed the natural gravitation of consumers towards the brands they trust, especially in the confectionery category. Now, what are the reasons for this continued trust? Quality, performance and transparency – I would encapsulate these three aspects in terms of brand authenticity. This ensures a higher-order purpose for brands rather than creating just a transactional product.
This aspect of transparency and clear communication is a must to ensure brand loyalty and trust. Consumers should know everything about the production and sourcing of products. This has helped many big brands to rebuild trust.
Gautam Sharma (GS): Globally, 100-bn packages of instant noodles are sold every year. This segment went into an existential crisis a few years back due to a lack of consumer trust. Building trust takes decades, but it only takes one moment to lose it. Thus, the noodle industry came together to rebuild consumer trust by providing absolutely clear information on how the food product is manufactured and packaged. Fortunately, the government was supportive in the efforts to enable this transparent communication. Hence, it is essential that an ecosystem where the government and the industry play a key part to cater to the consumers, who are the value drivers, is built on the basis of a strong institutional framework and trust.
Mohit Anand (MA): One of the things that consumers look for is shared value. Brands built that trust over a period of time due to this shared value. As mentioned by one of the esteemed panellists, authenticity is key. For instance, if a certain food product has gluten or sugar or salt, they can simply be transparent about it. And the brand has to be consistent in regards to all these aspects – this an invaluable criterion to ensure brand authenticity.
Is trust necessary only for indulgence products or also for the range of products Zydus offers?
Tarun Arora (TA): Sometimes you have to go the extra mile to build consumer trust for each of our product. We took this extra mile in our sugar substitute space to convince the consumers as there are a whole lot of things that go around in public platforms which are not backed by the right data; thus, it has become a conscious task for us to educate our consumers about the right data. Authenticity is key for especially a nutritional brand and hence we have always provided clinical evidence to build the trust around it.
Is the way how a consumer perceives a product is changing?
Rohit Markan (RM): The discussions around a sustainable ecosystem are on the rise. Our major raw materials in our five plants in India is maize, which we are sourcing from different states in India. The brands have now set a requirement in which they want information on the sourcing and manufacturing practices of the maize. Earlier, only a few products required such details. We also share our environment-friendly practices with our brands, which they further convey to the consumers.
What are the consumer expectations of the information available on labels?
MA: Fundamentally, there are three questions that consumers ask – What do you have? How is it made? And what value does it offer me? For instance, some ask for a healthiness quotient, some ask for sustainable sourcing and so on. Sourcing has been a marketing tool for products such as coffee, which highlights what the consumers seek.
RR: The market we operate in is important in terms of a practical approach. For instance, the Indian market and the Scandinavian markets have to be operated differently. Now, our confectionery products which come in small mono packs can only display a certain set of information, and what sort of information has to be highlighted depends on the market.
Processed food is more expensive than fresh produce and this has to change if the industry has to grow
GS: The brands should tap the next generations which are set to drive the trends. The environment and carbon footprint are important consideration for today’s consumer. Also, we will have to source each raw material naturally; as consumers expect it. Fully recyclable packages are becoming a trend, too. All these trends will drive the industry.
How should consumers approach the extended producer responsibility model?
TA: Consumers will look at the brands' contribution to sustainability. Planet, purpose, people trend will gain more momentum. We have to believe the sustainability and economics are not contrary to each other. So, the brands should find out solutions to integrate sustainable offerings. They should also be bold enough to take medium-to-long terms calls on such offerings and display them in their packaging. The new generations are conscious of these actions; thus, we should communicate this eco-friendly aspect of our products.”
How does social media impact brand trust?
RR: It’s great because it offers gamification and curated content creation which offers consumer engagement not only about the product but also on what the product stands for. However, on the flipside, misinformation and misinterpretation about a brand on social media can dent a brand image. So, your cohort of consumers should back you here on such platforms as it is virtually impossible to counter each one of them.
RM: Social media has helped us educate our consumers. For instance, we have used social media platforms to highlight how dietary fibres can be incorporated into formulations and how they ensure good gut health to keep away from diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Are plant-based products becoming a trend in India as well?
RM: Yes. We have been manufacturing P-protein in France and we have also set up a new unit in Canada to produce the same. Such products are in demand in Europe and the USA, but we see this trend growing in Asia as well.