Supreme Court’s whip in Patanjali case a wake-up call for the FMCG sector

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April 24, 2024

Mumbai, 24 April 2024
Sharleen Dsouza, Business Standard

With the Supreme Court cracking down on Patanjali over misleading advertisements, the advertisement industry is concerned. While industry players acknowledge that some degree of exaggeration in claims is common, the Supreme Court’s firm action signals an impending shift.

On Tuesday the SC said that its interest was not limited to Patanjali but all those Fast-Moving Consumer Goods (FMCGs) and drug companies that mislead consumers through their advertisements.

And Patanjali is not the first one to have crossed the line of puffery. There have been many cases in the past, like Horlicks Ltd versus Zydus Wellness Products where the former sought for a permanent injunction against Zydus for the broadcast of false advertisement.

Similarly, in Rajendra versus Union of India, the Bombay High Court restrained any good or service sale claiming it had supernatural and miraculous powers.

“Puffery in advertising is as old as advertising. There is always an element of exaggeration. Over the years, the government has looked the other way. Guys on the ground should take companies and brands to task and have largely been in cahoots with most of the brands,” said Sandeep Goyal, chairman and managing director of Rediffusion Brand Solutions.

Goyal believes that the SC coming down heavily on Patanjali would be a deterrent for other brands. “Puffery or not is for someone to figure out. In most food products, FSSAI doesn’t care. Who is to identify these ads? I think the SC has done something. This won’t deter other brands and get them to make claims which are within the realm of what is correct,” Goyal said.

A question of ethics

Industry experts point out that the primary objective of advertisement is to stimulate desire in the consumer’s mind. This happens by hook or by crook.

“Misleading a consumer has become inherent in advertising to a certain extent. I think this is dangerous when it comes to food, as it is basic nutrition. If you are embedding misleading information or mis-stating facts in ads then it has a real impact on whoever the customer or consumer is of that product. It is good that the issue has been highlighted,” said brand expert Devangshu Dutta, founder of Third Eyesight.

Then there is the Advertising Standards Council of India and discussions about ethical standards within the industry.

But Dutta believes there is a clear disconnect between what advertisements should say and what actually transpires. “I hope it gets acted upon from the government’s side as well. Self-regulation doesn’t seem to work. We all wish that it works, but it doesn’t. If it becomes more stringent, then it will be good overall,” he said.

While FMCG players are concerned about the stringent action of the Supreme Court, they believe that this will lead to improved advertisement regulation.

Ensuring compliance

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a senior executive of a leading FMCG company said, “The industry is already disciplining itself due to the growing consumer awareness, stringent ASCI guidelines and the impact of influencer marketing. This will further ensure that misleading ads will be few and far in the future.”

Some companies also ensure that their ads adhere to ASCI guidelines before launching them. “We run our ads with ASCI before we release them. This practice has worked in our favour,” said another executive on condition of anonymity.

In its hearing, the SC had said, “We are of the opinion that the issue relating to implementation of the relevant provisions of the Drugs and Magic Remedies Act and the Rules, the Drugs and Cosmetic Act and the Rules, and the Consumers Act and the relevant rules needs closer examination in the light of the grievances raised by the petitioner…not just limited to the respondents before this court but to all similarly situated/ placed FMCGs who have… misleading advertisements, and (are) taking the public for a ride… affecting the health of babies, school going children and senior citizens who have been consuming products on the basis of the said misrepresentation.”

(Published in Business Standard)

Ram Mandir Inauguration: Brands opt for on-ground presence in Ayodhya

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January 20, 2024

20 January 2024, Mumbai

Economic Times

Brand managers love a viral campaign that gives them a louder voice in the company boardroom, and leverage during appraisal conversations. An event the size and scale of the Ram Temple inauguration in Ayodhya, to be held on January 22, could be a means to get all this. Yet, brand strategists observe that major consumer brands are focusing on an on-ground presence with kiosks and hoardings around the venue-a more below-the-line (BTL) marketing approach instead of going for a mass media moment-marketing campaign that could fetch them the much-desired social media chatter and a subsequent virality badge.

Branding consultants believe there could be multiple reasons for this. For starters, January may not be a marketer’s favourite month to spend on a big campaign considering the Diwali season – when brands incur huge ad spends to drive festive consumption – concluded not too long ago.

Further, “there are various ways to stimulate consumption around religious festivals. A temple inauguration, while a good opportunity for TV brands to perhaps push people into watching the event on a big-sized television screen, is difficult for many brands to find a direct connection with,” says Ambi Parameswaran, founder of Mumbai-based brand advisory, Brand-building.com. “How does a clothing brand ask people to buy more clothes when they’re not attending the event?” he asks, adding that brands in the airline and travel aggregator sector are likely to start mainstream advertising once the temple is open to the public.

“Logistics and infrastructure brands involved in the construction of the temple will also most probably start advertising their involvement in the project in some time, to showcase it as a key part of their portfolio,” he notes.

Management consultant Devangshu Dutta says that “brands looking to get a boost from the event will still be treading cautiously,” as it is one of the most sensitive political issues pre-dating even the country’s independence. “We may see vanilla marketing, such as congratulatory or celebratory billboards from brands. But marketers will not want to hit any off note that can get hugely controversial, so they may avoid going for something clever or humorous,” he adds. Dutta is the founder of Delhi-based strategic advisory firm Third Eyesight.

Shagun Ohri, founder of Bengaluru-based branding outfit, The Satori Studio, says a client recently approached them for a major promotional activity ahead of the launch . “It was a founder-led brand keen to do something around the event as it aligns with their belief system. But they dropped the idea eventually as it would not have directly helped the brand’s sales and marketing objectives,” says Ohri.

With Ayodhya getting a full makeover, marketing consultants are keen to see the tourism trends that will emerge soon and the brand spending that will follow. “A new generation of India has gotten into religious tourism. It will be interesting to see whether popular consumer brands that are planning to set up shops around the temple area will be able to draw customers in droves,” says Ohri. “For a religious place to become a tourist spot requires a lot of work. Tirupati has taken years to create that pull.”

(Published in Economic Times)

How Revant Himatsingka is waging a battle against FMCG companies and bringing them to their knees

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July 28, 2023

Manu Balachandran, Forbes India

July 28, 2023

Revant Himatsingka doesn’t despise junk food.

The 31-year-old firmly believes that those who consume it also know the perils and long-term risks associated with it. From obesity to heart disease and diabetes, junk food is often counted as a more serious threat to life than even smoking according to some studies. “Most people who consume Coke and cigarettes know they are bad for you and consume them,” Himatsingka says.

Himatsingka, however, has a problem with junk food masquerading as healthy. That’s why over the past few months he has been busy calling out its makers, and in the process taking on some of the world’s biggest FMCG behemoths.

Since April this year, Himatsingka, through his social media profile, Foodpharmer, claims to have taken on almost all the FMCG companies in India, whose products he has reviewed, and in the process has been swamped with lawsuits. Himatsingka has a following of half a million followers on Instagram.

“Food is probably 60-70 percent of what shapes our health,” Himatsingka told Forbes India over a telephone call. “And what is shaping our food today is packaged food, which is very different from what our grandparents grew up eating. Most packaged food is just selling junk and they’re marketing it as healthy. This happens even more in relatively poorer countries.”

Himatsingka began his war against fake claims with a video about Bournvita, made by confectionary maker Mondelez. That video, critiquing the children’s drink for its excessive use of sugar, was shared across social media and on WhatsApp. Himatsingka poked fun at Bournvita’s tagline Tayyari Jeet Ki (preparing for victory), instead suggesting that Bournvita was preparing children for diabetes.

He listed out all the ingredients in Bournvita, debunked claims that the drink is healthy, and remarked that half of a package of Bournvita is sugar, and [it] even contains cancer-causing ingredients.

Trouble soon followed. Mondelez sent Himatsingka a legal notice asking him to take down the video within 24 hours. Coincidentally, the notice came to him on the last day of his notice period at McKinsey where he had been working as a consultant. Unfortunately for Mondelez, the video continues to be in circulation, more so across WhatsApp. Himatsingka took down the video and even issued a statement saying that he had no interest or resources to take on the company in any court cases.

“Most people have Coke once a week,” Himatsingka says. “But people have Bournvita twice a day. So you end up having 14 [servings of] Bournvita in a week. So, the net impact of Bournvita is probably worse than that of Coke.”

“As a growing market, India is potentially a natural “dumping ground” for poor products and processes that have been used by prominent brands in other markets,” Devangshu Dutta, the founder and CEO of management consultancy firm Third Eyesight says. “It is incumbent upon Indian customers to be diligent, picking up cues not only from Indian consumer-activists and but also their counterparts in the developed economies.”

From Kolkata to New York and back

Himatsingka grew up in an upper-middle-class household, with a homemaker mother and a father running his own business in Kolkata.

After his schooling, Himatsingka went to New York to study finance at the New York University’s NYU Stern School of Business where he graduated in finance. For a year after that he worked with a bank in the US. At 22, he ventured out into writing a book, Selfienomics, a self-help comedy book focusing on managing finances, health, religion, death, starting a business, and even completing projects on time.

“I wrote one chapter on how to read a food label even then,” Himatsingka says. “Back then, and even now I believe that it is the most important skill in the 21st century.” While he did secure admission into the illustrious IIM Bangalore, Himatsingka turned it down, instead focussing on his book.

By 2018, Himatsingka went to do an MBA at Wharton and followed it up with a course in nutrition, while also starting work at McKinsey as a consultant. “As a consultant, you work to solve business problems and you try to structure solutions,” Himatsingka says. “We focus on our career when it comes to structuring solutions and being data driven. But I try to extrapolate that into life. In life, one of our most important aspects is health.”

Himatsingka was also concerned by the growing link between cancer and heart diseases to packaged and processed food. In 2019, a study published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) suggested a possible link between “ultra-processed” foods and cancer. The study defined ultra-processed foods as those lacking vitamins and fibre, which also contain high levels of sugar, fat, and salt. Such ultra-processed food, the study noted, represents as much as half of the daily energy intake in several developed countries.

“This is such a big problem and no one is talking about it,” Himatsingka says. “No one is trying to solve it. So, I thought, I wanted to do something in this space.”

That meant, Himatsingka, who by his own account was making very good money in the US, decided it was time to come back home, and try and do something around awareness. “I’m very social impact driven,” Himatsingka says. “April 1st is when I made the Bournvita video. I made a video showcasing how Bournvita was falsely labelling itself. Their label showed that you get stronger bones and muscles. Then I got a legal notice from Bournvita asking me to take down the video in 24 hours.”

The idea for the Bournvita video, Himatsingka says, came from his concern that a product like Coke had become the face of obesity and junk food, while many others were marketing themselves as healthy, without it being so.

Mondelez, the makers of Bournvita soon retorted that the drink contains nutrients such as Vitamin A, C, D, iron, zinc and copper that help build immunity and have been part of its formulation for 70 years. It also said that every serve of Bournvita has 7.5 grams of added sugar, much less than the recommended limit for children.

imatsingka though found support from unexpected quarters. The Nutrition Advocacy in Public Interest India (NAPi) a think tank comprising independent experts in epidemiology, human nutrition, community nutrition and paediatrics, medical education, administration, and management, issued a statement supporting Himatsingka.

“The food product Bournvita falls under the ultra-processed food (UPF) category based on its ingredients list,” NAPi said in a statement. “This industrial formulation is inherently harmful. There is enough scientific evidence present in the public domain pertaining to the negative impact of increasing consumption of UPFs on human health, which include several chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and depression (Non-Communicable Diseases-NCDs).”

The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) also issued a notice to Mondelez asking the company to review and withdraw all misleading advertisements, packaging, and labels. The NCPCR is a statutory body to protect child rights.

Fighting it out now

Personally, for Himatsingka, the pushback from Mondelez couldn’t have come at a worse time. “I had just quit my job. And my family was asking me what I was trying to do with my life. They said ‘you had such a good job, you left all of that, now you are getting into a legal fight’,” Himatsingka says. “So I removed the video as they asked me to. And that got even more attention.”

Since then, Himatsingka has been actively taking on FMCG companies and their products in the country, ranging from ketchup, and chyawanprash to juices and bread among others. Himatsingka recounts having received legal notices from Dabur and even been asked to remove a video by Sting Energy, owned by PepsiCo.

He says his strength, however, comes from many parents who have reached out to him and are thanking his efforts for making them aware of the importance of reading labels. “People are reading labels for the first time and have now started figuring that many of the products are not that healthy,” Himatsingka says.

However, the pressure of the job continues to be heavy. “There is a lot of pressure,” the 31-year-old says. “These companies send legal notices and I have no idea how to deal with it. These are very technical and very dense documents, where they analyse each line and write a paragraph on each line. I once got a 300-page document from one company and they were asking me for a few crores. It’s strenuous.”

What lies ahead?

For now, the 31-year-old says his focus remains steadfast on raising awareness around food.

“Because of the Bournvita controversy, the rollover impact is that all the other companies are also going to get scared now to falsely market themselves,” Himatsingka says. “I cannot think of a human problem that is relatively easy to solve than nutrition labels and it creates massive impact.”

A few weeks ago, Himatsingka raised awareness about the growing consumption of bread in India and how most makers of bread who sell whole wheat or brown bread use more maida, which has less fiber, and is unhealthy. He had also called out juice makers for their use of sugar by comparing various mango juices available in the country.

“When a movie comes out, there are reviews and I can openly say whether I liked a movie or not,” Himatsingka says. “So why can’t I say the same about a food product? I’m just unboxing a product and saying what is there inside it. So I don’t think I’m legally wrong. They can ask me for whatever money they want. But I don’t think they can win on that.”

Along the way, he says he has also seen positive changes in companies. For instance, Himatsingka made a video on ketchup and explained how Maggi Rich Tomato Ketchup has more sugar than tomato in its ingredients. “Last month, they (Nestle) announced that they’re changing the recipe,” Himatsingka says. “They’re reducing their sugar content and they are going to have more tomatoes than sugar. One tiny change like that has such a major impact on the large scale.”

Experts agree that the growing scrutiny about ingredients is certain to give FMCG majors sleepless nights. “Given that food has a disproportionate share in our spend, an enormous impact on our health as well as a tremendous ecological footprint, it is only natural for consumers to question the composition, the origins, and the overall impact of the food that is being sold by leading brands,” says Dutta of Third Eyesight. “Over the last several decades, packaged food has become laden with synthetic flavouring, colouring, and shelf-life-extending chemicals, which are being called into question by activists through blogs and social media. On several occasions, prominent companies are forced to change their product composition or, at the very least, admit to the health-negative implications of their ingredients.”

Meanwhile, over the past three or four weeks, Himatsingka says he hasn’t been flooded with lawsuits. That’s partly because he has become quite careful about how he words his statements, instead focusing only on the merits of his argument.

“There are millions of problems in the world. But most of the problems are very hard to solve, like air pollution. But teaching people how to read a food label is easy. I feel learning how to read a food label is more important than coding in the 21st century, where most of what we’re eating is processed or packaged.”

Indeed, the fight is long. And Himatsingka is only gearing up for more.

(Published in Forbes India)

Festive discounts, online shopping and retail evolution in India

Devangshu Dutta

October 9, 2016

P. Karunya Rao of Zee Business in conversation with Devangshu Dutta, Chief Executive, Third Eyesight and Narayan Devanathan, Group Executive & Strategy Officer, Dentsu India, about festive discounts, the evolution of ecommerce and retail business in India.

 

Packaging – Uncovering Personality

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August 16, 2016

Dominos India

Packaging of products is, undoubtedly, an extremely strong means of conveying the essence of the brand, its ethos and its personality.

Packaging is not only a vehicle to endorse the identity of a brand in a consumer’s mind, the growing need for sophisticated packaging also results from many lifestyle needs such as ease of transportation, storage, usage and disposability sought by convenience seeking and time pressed consumers.

But, increasingly, it also reflects the brand’s responsibility and sensitivity towards Nature and its resources.

If we, as consumers, were to reduce or optimize packaging from our daily lives, especially for food and beverages, there will be a redefinition of the processes involving our purchase and usage. It will also to a larger degree alter the systems and processes of organisations whose distribution and retail is integrally dependent on packaging.

Original Unverpackt, a concept grocery store in Berlin, Germany operates without food packaging that would later turn into garbage. The idea around which it is build is to bring one’s own containers and have it weighed. The supermarket will label your containers. After one shops and gets to the till, the weight of the containers is subtracted and one has to pay for the net weight of the groceries. The label is designed to survive a few washings so one may come back and skip the weighing process for a few more times. In this way, not only do the food products shed their familiar identifiers (brand colors, packaging structures, and bold logos) but the ways they move from shelf to home becomes radically different. While shoppers are encouraged to bring their own bags and containers with them, a range of re-usable jars and containers are also available for purchase onsite. As much as possible, produce is sourced locally.

At this point of time, it may seem difficult to adopt this framework in entirety. However we should remember that just a few short decades ago we followed similar practices such as engaging biodegradable, recyclable, reusable materials for packaging, making use of one’s own containers and bags and filling them in with quantities as per the requirements from the bulk containers.

Singapore’s National Environment Agency (NEA) will be introducing mandatory requirements for companies to use sustainable resources in packaging and reduce packaging waste very soon. It is still being decided in what forms the regulations could be developed, but the preliminary ideas include requiring companies to submit annual reports on how much packaging they use, to develop waste reduction plans, or to meet recycling targets. Belgium on the other hand has been championing the cause of waste management by maximizing recycling and reusage.

The global trends are moving towards sustainable packaging given the ecological resource wastage it creates, the garbage the packaging material produces and the air and the ground water pollution the landfills create. Earth Overshoot Day, which marks the date when humanity’s demand for ecological resources and services in a given year exceeds what Earth can regenerate in that year, is arriving progressively earlier and earlier, indicating that the humanity’s resource consumption for the year is exceeding the earth’s capacity to regenerate those resources in that year.

Another very grim consequence that was witnessed is the frightening and highly visible impact on marine life – since the start of this year more than 30 sperm whales have been found beached around the North Sea in the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, France, Denmark, and Germany. After a necropsy of the whales in Germany, researchers found that four of the giant marine animals had large amounts of plastic waste in their stomachs. Although the marine litter may not have been the only cause of them being beached, it had a horrifying consequence on the health of these animals.

Given the serious consequences and the growing sensitivity towards these consequences, it is imperative for product manufacturers, raw material manufacturers and equipment and technology providers to design packaging with solemn intent to address sustainability.

The best time to reduce the use of packaging was 50 years ago. The next best time is now.