Starbucks Records Slowest Growth Since Pandemic In India Last Fiscal

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May 6, 2024

Sesa Sen, NDTV Profit

6 May 2024

Starbucks Corp., the world’s largest coffee chain, posted its slowest sales growth in India since the pandemic. The coffee giant is struggling to bring in as much business as it has in the past as consumers reduce their visits even as it prepares for ambitious store expansion in a tea-drinking nation.

The India unit formed in partnership with the Tata Group clocked net sales of Rs 1,218 crore, a growth of 12%, during the year ended March 2024, according to Tata Consumer Products Ltd.’s latest investor presentation.

The Seattle-based retailer experienced a compounded annual growth rate of 21.89% between FY17 and FY23 in the world’s most populous nation. The only exception to this trend was in FY21, when sales plunged by 33% as shops were forced to shut down due to the impact of Covid-19.

“Tata Starbucks had a subdued quarter given the overall trends that we’re seeing in the QSR [quick service restaurants] business,” said Sunil D’Souza, managing director and chief executive officer at Tata Consumer Products.

He, however, indicated that March was an improvement over February, and April was even better than March. “So, we see a better trend right now, and we remain focused on the larger India opportunity.”

Tata Starbucks Pvt. Ltd. took 11 years to scale its operations to a revenue of over Rs 1,000 crore. Although the joint venture turned positive at the EBITDA level for the fiscal year 2023, it continues to be loss-making. In the year ending March 2023, Tata Starbucks posted a net loss of Rs 25 crore on a turnover of Rs 1,087 crore, according to filings with the Registrar of Companies. The net profit figures for fiscal 2024 are not available yet.

The coffee chain has seen its popularity take a major hit over the last two quarters, ending in March and December, with a meagre 7% increase in sales during each period. This is a marked shift from its historical track record of double-digit growth, suggesting that consumers are now looking for more budget-friendly cafe experiences.

“Consumers have turned slightly more conservative with their spends, which is affecting both the frequency and of transactions,” according to Devangshu Dutta, head of retail consultancy Third Eyesight.

According to him, new store openings rather than an increase in sales at existing ones could drive growth.

The other reason is that the coffee market is more competitive today, with most local peers selling at price points lower than Starbucks, Dutta said.

Starbucks competes with Bengaluru-based Cafe Coffee Day and foreign entrant Barista, among others, in the country’s $400 million market. It also faces competition from private equity-backed Third Wave and Blue Tokai, which have opened about 200 stores between them in the last three years.

Since opening its first cafe in October 2012, Tata Starbucks’ store count has grown to 421, implying that on average, each outlet generated roughly Rs 3 crore in revenue from coffee, snacks, and merchandise sales in FY24.

The dwindling sales come at a time when the company plans to open 1,000 cafes in India. To meet the target, it seeks to open one new store every three days.

Starbucks added 29 net new stores between January and March, achieving a record of 95 stores opening in a year, according to the presentation.

The coffee chain had earlier said it plans to enter tier-2 and tier-3 cities in the country and increase the number of its drive-through, airport-based and 24-hour cafes. It also aims to double its headcount to 8,600.

To lure consumers back after a rough start to the year, the coffee giant is launching new products like a boba-inspired summer beverage.

“Over the past 11 years, the India market has grown to become one of Starbucks’ fastest-growing markets in the world,” Laxman Narasimhan, chief executive officer, Starbucks, said in a statement during his India visit earlier this year. “With a growing middle class, we are proud to help cultivate the evolving coffee culture while honouring its rich heritage.”

Starbucks faces challenges not only in India but also globally. A disastrous fourth quarter that saw a slowdown in store visits promoted Starbucks Corp. to lower its expectations for its full-year sales and profit. Its revenue for the January–March period dropped 2%, the first since the end of 2020.

Brands rewrite their wedding story for the 2023 season

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December 12, 2023

Akshit Pushkarna, Afaqs

12 December 2023

The season for Indian weddings, usually spanning October to December, experienced an unusual twist due to Hindu calendar nuances this year, resulting in a shorter duration. The unexpected shift has upended the conventional decrease in marriage ceremonies, resulting in a condensed surge of weddings. 

A report by the Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT) anticipates Rs 4.74 lakh crore in business earnings from the 38 lakh marriages expected this wedding season, marking a historic high. In comparison, the corresponding period last year witnessed around 32 lakh weddings with total expenses amounting to Rs 3.75 lakh crore.

This presents brands involved in the wedding business with an ample opportunity to capitalise and drive forth their business revenues for the year to come. Three key brands associated with wedding business are steering their strategies to align with the evolving preferences of Indian consumers in the lucrative wedding market.

A more region-specific focus for Shaadi.com’s marketing communication

In a conversation with afaqs!, Adhish Zaveri, VP-marketing, Shaadi.com, a prominent online matrimonial and matchmaking service, speaks about how digital media is more relevant for brand building for wedding-oriented businesses now, eclipsing the relevance of traditional TV and out-of-home advertising. He sees mass media serving only reminders to prompt registrations, while the primary focus shifts towards digital platforms.

This change involves a robust regional focus within our marketing playbook, recognising the dynamic shifts in matrimonial behavior across diverse geographies

Adhish Zaveri, VP-marketing, Shaadi.com

“This season, we have incorporated a paradigm shift in our marketing strategy, driven not only by the upswing in weddings but also by observing how Indians approach finding life partners, with nuances varying across regions. This change involves a robust regional focus within our marketing playbook, recognising the dynamic shifts in matrimonial behaviour across diverse geographies,” he says.

The campaign is driven by the company’s commitment to assure individuals of finding a match within a specified timeframe. The pledge to successfully matchmake within 30 days, with a refund guarantee, serves as the crux of their messaging this season. “Tailoring our approach to each market, we’ve executed this promise uniquely.”

This approach sees the company partner with people of influence across markets to drive better visibility. For the Hindi market, they’ve forged a strategic partnership with Jasleen Royal, the acclaimed singer behind popular wedding songs like Din Shagna Da and Hiriye. Leveraging her association, Zaveri says they have orchestrated a robust social media engagement strategy.

“In the Tamil market, we’ve employed celebrities who recently tied the knot as our ‘matchmakers.’ Adapting a viral reel from this region, featuring the celebrity couple, became a cornerstone of our campaign. While regional focus has always been part of our strategy, this time we’ve approached it through a celebrity lens, creating bespoke strategies for each South Indian market. Although distinct, each strategy is unified by a celebrity-centric approach. From featuring Supriya and Sachin Pilgaonkar for Marathi audiences to enlisting Jasleen Royal for the North, and partnering with Ashok Selvan and Keerthi Pandian for the South – we’ve delved deeper into regional dynamics,” he adds.

Zaveri believes the success of the approach is evident, particularly in the South, where the company’s market presence has increased dramatically post-campaign, providing them an opportunity to further invest in the region. 

A focus on the Wedding planning business for Vikaas Gutgutia’s Ferns N Petals

In the backdrop of a season that signals prosperity, Vikaas Gutgutia, founder and managing director, Ferns N Petals (FnP),  reflects on the trajectory of its business, navigating through the challenges of a pandemic-induced wedding lull.

He says FnP strategically sustained its business in 2022, aligning with the resumption of the wedding business. With the focus shifting to a year poised for business takeoff, the company plans on exploring the wedding planning business with their new business line Shaadi Central. 

“With a legacy in the wedding industry, FnP has historically undertaken various wedding-related tasks, albeit not comprehensively under one roof or in an organised manner. This year marks a strategic shift as the company introduced ‘Shaadi Central,’ a luxury wedding company offering a one-stop solution for all wedding needs.”

“This holistic approach aims to streamline and elevate the wedding planning experience, allowing partners and their families to focus on the approaching wedding date with ease. The innovation and consolidation under ‘Shaadi Central’ have sparked notable interest and engagement in the new business venture. Having weathered a less-than-ideal summer season and traditionally subdued winter numbers, we anticipate a robust revenue surge, making the current season particularly promising,” he asserts.”

The business setup was sparked by Gutgutia’s assertion that, with the evolving landscape of wedding planning, which has made destination weddings and grandeur now necessary for some, the role of wedding planners has become significantly prominent. The launch’s alignment with the business boom anticipated with the wedding season of 2023, Gutgutia underscores the importance of timing in business.

The innovation and consolidation under ‘Shaadi Central’ have sparked notable interest and engagement in the new business venture.

Vikaas Gutgutia, founder and managing director, Ferns N Petals (FnP)

Delving into the marketing approach for this new business vertical, he explains, “The momentum generated by word of mouth for the growth of its wedding planning vertical. Each wedding becomes a nexus of potential customers, and social media plays a pivotal role in amplifying references. With clear and specific messaging in the realm of social media, we have successfully driven business, recognising the platform as the primary point of reference in shaping preferences.”

Looking ahead, FnP anticipates a substantial increase in business revenue across all its verticals. The wedding services vertical, in particular, is expected to bring in significant growth in revenue for the company. The belief stems from the observation that the wedding planning sector remains largely unorganised, and he believes that FnP stands out as a formidable player in terms of size and brand image. As the business charts its course forward, the wedding services vertical emerges as a key focus, poised for substantial expansion.

Senco Gold & Diamonds leveraging virtual try-ons for delivering business growth

Joita Sen, director- marketing and design, Senco Gold & Diamonds, says that the company, with a legacy of 80 years, is uniquely equipped to understand the evolving landscape of bridal desires.

Sen elaborates that the company started the year fresh after initiating their Rajwada Collection, a campaign with which the brand aims to weave together traditional designs infused with modern touches and patterns in their offerings. These offerings, thus, can resonate with the essence of the contemporary woman.

The move also sees the brand shifting its focus towards diverse designs, moving away from region-specific choices. Herein lies a unique selling proposition (USP) for the brand—fulfilling a diverse range of needs while ensuring accessibility across various price points. From high-end designs to more budget-friendly options, the brand aims to leave every customer content upon leaving the store.

“The evolution of groom preferences and competitive pricing have further shaped our approach. A significant aspect of our marketing strategy here revolves around social media, leveraging its targeted reach compared to traditional approaches like billboards and footfall. 50 percent of the marketing budget is allocated to digital channels, where advancements have allowed for more precise consumer outreach.”

50 percent of the marketing budget is allocated to digital channels, where advancements have allowed for more precise consumer outreach.

Joita Sen, director- marketing and design, Senco Gold & Diamonds

However, the digital realm poses a challenge in providing a comprehensive array of options compared to the immersive experience offered in showrooms. To address this, Sen acknowledges the importance of virtual try-ons.

“While currently available for select products,  we are actively working on expanding our offerings in virtual try-ons. This approach proves instrumental in effectively communicating the design, look, and feel of the jewellery to consumers, bridging the gap between the digital and physical shopping experiences.

Importance of strategic visibility and multi-modal presence for short-term success

According to Devangshu Dutta, CEO, Third Eyesight, the ongoing mega-season of weddings presents a favourable outlook for formalwear and traditional wear brands across various categories. This surge in weddings is not limited to the upper-income segment but extends across the income spectrum, reaching the middle class and towns of all sizes.

Thus, to effectively capitalise on the wedding season, brands must establish a strong position in customers’ minds well in advance, he believes.

“Products and brands associated with brides, grooms, and close family members, as well as those intended for gifting to the extended family, are inherently perceived as “premium” within their respective consumer segments. This holds true regardless of the targeted population segment. Success as a “wedding brand” requires a long-term perspective, with continuous investments in product development, service enhancement, and marketing expenditure to ensure that the brand stands out prominently amid competition,” he says.

”In the current market landscape, achieving visibility demands a multi-modal approach, encompassing both offline and traditional channels, along with tactical online advertising.”

Devangshu Dutta, CEO, Third Eyesight

In the short term, however, he opines that the visibility and availability of products just before the wedding season play a crucial role in influencing specific performance during that period.

”In the current market landscape, achieving visibility demands a multi-modal approach, encompassing both offline and traditional channels, along with tactical online advertising.”

(Published in Afaqs)

FMCG companies expand into adjacent categories that offer high growth

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December 7, 2023

Sharleen Dsouza, Business Standard

Mumbai, 6 December 2023

Godrej Consumer Products is test marketing its liquid detergent under the brand name ‘Fab’ in South India. While this is not the company’s first move in detergents, the launch is expected to give it a bigger play in the category, especially with a competitive price point of Rs 99 a litre. The company already has Godrej Ezee for winter wear wash.

Some other fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) companies are also entering new categories which are allied to their current businesses. Companies are chasing low-penetrated categories which offer high growth both in terms of revenue and margins, according to analysts.

For instance, Parle Products, known as a biscuits manufacturer, has re-entered the wheat flour (atta) market. Earlier in 1996, it had launched packaged wheat flour but exited the segment as the demand failed to pick up. “Now, the demand is much higher for packaged wheat flour,” Mayank Shah, senior category head at Parle Products, told Business Standard while explaining the re-entry into the category. The company already procures wheat flour in bulk for biscuits and therefore packaging and selling it also makes sense for us, Shah pointed out.

Known for its snacks and namkeens, Bikano Bikanervala Foods has entered the Indian spices category under the sub-brand ‘Swad Anusar’. It came as a natural progression for the company.

“The top masala companies have either established or expanded their position in the sector over the past year, which is believed to account for up to 36 per cent of India’s entire Rs 70,000 crore spice industry,’’ Manish Aggarwal, director, Bikano, Bikanervala Foods, said. The remaining 64 per cent of the market is disorganised. ‘’We believe it’s the right time to invest in the spices category and foresee growth in this dynamic segment,” Aggarwal added.

The brand is already established in people’s mind and these companies already have distribution in place, according to Rajat Wahi, partner at Deloitte India.

“As long as these are adjacent categories, the company can easily leverage the existing distribution and also target new customers. These categories are typically low penetrated categories which offer high growth and are fragmented due to regional brands being present, thus giving them a better opportunity to enter these categories,” Wahi said.

Brand expert Devangshu Dutta, founder at Third Eyesight, also believes that companies can easily use their existing distribution strength while expanding into related categories. “There has been a broad-based consumer growth over the years in these categories. Also, large companies find it difficult to grow after a point when present only in a certain categories,’’ Dutta said while explaining the significance of group synergies in launching new products.

(Published in Business Standard)

100 years of Sabyasachi? The fashion designer’s quest for legacy

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November 17, 2023

Smita Tripathi, Business Today

17 November 2023

“I don’t care about being No. 1 or No. 2. I don’t care about how much money I’ve made today, or how much money I’m going to make tomorrow. I think you are successful as a business if you last. Because when you’re trying to create a business, what is important is longevity,” says Sabyasachi Mukherjee, arguably the leading fashion designer in the country.

It is a sultry September morning in Kolkata as we interact with a relaxed Mukherjee—dressed in his signature white kurta-pyjamas and self-designed black sleeveless jacket (he made a guest appearance recently on Season 2 of Amazon Prime Video’s Made in Heaven with the same look)—at his beautiful home in Alipore, a tony locality in the City of Joy. The interiors, which ooze his signature baroque style, are an extension of his personality, which is also reflected in every Sabyasachi store. Mukherjee has tastefully decorated his abode with beautiful curios from around the world. Just like in his stores, the interiors of his home exude class and grandeur.

Billionaire Kumar Mangalam Birla-led ABFRL has bought 51 percent stake in Sabyasachi. Experts believe that ABFRL and Mukherjee complement each other well (Photo Credit: Business Today)

Mukherjee reveals that a few years ago, he was going through the anniversary issue from the 1930s of a leading fashion magazine. “I saw a small ad that said we are now open for business on Bond Street. It was for Tiffany’s. There were other larger ads for bigger brands from that time. But I don’t remember them. I remember Tiffany & Co. because it lasted and the rest of them just evaporated. And I said to myself that I’ll try my best that doesn’t happen to mine,” says the 49-year-old, who has come a long way since setting up his eponymous label in 1999 with a workforce of three, having borrowed Rs 20,000 from his family.

Over the past two decades, Mukherjee (or Sabya, as he is popularly called) has dressed Bollywood royalty (read Deepika Padukone, Anushka Sharma, Priyanka Chopra, Alia Bhatt), heiresses (Isha Ambani), models, and hundreds of brides across the world. Being a ‘Sabyasachi Bride’ has become a cultural phenomenon that has established the brand as a leading design house.

But Mukherjee doesn’t believe in resting on his laurels. It is the next 20 years that he is planning for. “I want to be India’s first global luxury brand.” And he is working towards it slowly and steadily.

Designer Sabyasachi Mukherjee’s flagship store in Mumbai. Launched in March this year, it is his largest flagship store yet. Spread across 25,000 sq. ft, it is housed in a majestic neo-classical heritage building at Horniman Circle (Photo Credit: Business Today)

Over the past few years, he has launched his jewellery line as well as accessories. The brand now offers ready-to-wear western wear and he recently entered into a collaboration with US luxury eyewear brand Morgenthal Frederics to launch his range of sunglasses. On the cards is a beauty and wellness line that should launch in a few months. Last year, he opened a store in New York; he had a window display of his jewellery at the Bergdorf Goodman store in Manhattan; and his clothes and accessories will be available at top luxury departmental stores like Selfridges and Browns in another couple of years. In March, he opened his largest flagship store, at 25,000 sq. ft, in Mumbai. “I have spent the last five years growing the brand and making it visible. If this country cannot occupy a position of power in the luxury industry, then shame on all of us. Luxury has been a part of our ecosystem,” he says.

Keeping in mind Mukherjee’s two goals—longevity and global growth for the brand—he sold a 51 per cent stake to Aditya Birla Fashion and Retail Ltd (ABFRL) in 2021, reportedly for Rs 398 crore. “Nobody in my family is interested in my business, I don’t have children, and often a mistake that many entrepreneurs make is that they don’t let go of control at a time when they should, so that they can build tomorrow,” says Mukherjee. “But what I want to do—while I’m still in my prime and I still have full control over my company—is to use the next 20 years to [plan for] tomorrow. I want to create my second-in-command; I want to create a succession plan. So that [brand] Sabyasachi does not go down with me; it deserves a much longer shelf life,” says the designer who broke the rules by signing out of fashion weeks in India and launching his collection directly on Instagram in 2016. It’s a practice the brand continues with the latest Autumn-Winter 2023 collection having dropped on Instagram in mid-September. “Why bother with front row politics, when the world can be your front row,” he says.

As he continues to grow, Mukherjee has not forgotten his middle-class roots. His father was the son of a refugee, raised by a single mother. He was a chemical engineer who worked in a jute/wool mill that shut down and he lost his job. “My father gave maths tuitions, my mother taught art and I taught English as a teenager to make ends meet,” he says, adding there was a time when he didn’t want to go to school because he was traumatised with the privilege that his friends enjoyed. “I once saw my father crying while standing next to the kitchen sink. And I realised that’s what money does to you. It brings you to your knees and strips you of your pride. I felt the same helplessness during Covid-19. I was responsible for all these people,” says Mukherjee. However, after a conversation with his CFO, the designer was relieved to know that they could survive for three years and as a result, no one was let go.

Mukherjee says he had been in talks with billionaire Kumar Mangalam Birla, Chairman of the Aditya Birla Group, for a few years before Covid-19 and it was his decision to sell the majority stake to ABFRL. He says he wanted to work with Birla for the way he has treated his children. “I think it takes a very wise parent to be able to allow his children to be what they want to be. I told him I wanted to partner with you because I think that you have a lot of wisdom. And for me, that’s a great value.”

The designer believes it is this wisdom that makes working with the group easy. “They’re silently trying to build an ecosystem for me without interference, because they know that I do the job the best because I know the domain the best. And they let me lead naturally… When I work with them, I don’t have to be mindfully conscious of the fact that they’re a $57-billion empire. They treat me as an equal partner.”

Harminder Sahni, Founder & MD of consulting firm Wazir Advisors, says that the only way forward for brands like Sabyasachi is to either sell to a corporate or to corporatise. “For growth, you need the backing of a corporate house. Especially if you want to go global as it’s an expensive foray and it is uncharted territory.” As far as expansion into various categories is concerned, Sahni says there is no playbook. While some may expand into larger small-ticket categories to make the brand available to a larger demography, others may stick to their core.

“For any brand to scale globally, it needs to be relevant to consumer audiences that are outside its home market,” says Devangshu Dutta, Chief Executive of consultancy Third Eyesight. For any brand whose products draw heavily from the roots in terms of silhouettes and embellishment techniques, adding products that fit with the ethos and needs of the targeted global markets becomes a must, he adds.

ABFRL and Mukherjee complement each other as the company brings its expertise in understanding consumers at a larger base while the designer is more aware of consumers at the top of the pyramid. “They have a very acute understanding of a consumer that is not mine today but will be mine tomorrow. And I have a very acute understanding of the consumer that they don’t have yet but might get tomorrow.” Mukherjee says he did not take private equity funding earlier because he was not ready. “I’m not here to make money. I’m here to create value. And there’s a huge difference. Value creates money eventually. But money never creates value. With ABFRL, we are very clear about what we want to do.” As for financials, in FY22, Sabyasachi Calcutta (what the company is called post the acquisition) posted a turnover of Rs 229.42 crore, which rose to Rs 343.86 crore in FY23, per ABFRL’s annual report. But profit after tax fell from Rs 27.72 crore in FY22 to Rs 7.96 crore in FY23.

He feels luxury is becoming more abstract and it is about finding value. Moreover, consumers are buying less but better stuff. “People are flirting, but they’re not consuming. It’s like they are channel surfing. What is going to happen is that consumers are going to buy less, but they’re going to buy better. And I’m preparing my brand for that.”

With ABFRL’s backing, the designer is busy strengthening the brand. “We are going to use our core—which is wedding couture—for storytelling, to be able to create different-tiered products at different prices to be able to engage our customers who will slowly and steadily find a ladder to climb up to the core.” However, he plans to make wedding couture very limited and very exclusive. He has already started creating guardrails. Bollywood partnerships have reduced significantly and he is no longer giving his creations for the red carpet. In today’s age of social media, Mukherjee says that everyone believes that they are a celebrity. “For us, our customers are our celebrities. And we are trying to create something that is unique for them. And that’s something that’s not made very visible. But what we are going to make democratically visible are our entry-level products; once we get into beauty that is going to be the most widely distributed. And then it’s going to be accessories.”

Mukherjee says that Indian clothing, which is the heart and soul of the brand, will become more and more exclusive. In clothing, the focus will be on western ready-to-wear. However, that too will be of the best quality. For instance, ready-to-wear starts at Rs 35,000 for a silk shirt with an original artwork, digitally printed. “We are very mindful that we will never dilute the core.” he says.

While currently it is wedding couture that contributes the maximum to revenues, he expects jewellery to surpass that over the next few years. Mukherjee launched his jewellery collection in 2017 and while it was a natural fit, he had an interesting reason for doing so. “When I started looking at people’s selfies, I realised that we occupy the smallest real estate. You see a little bit of the blouse in a wedding picture, you see the garland, the make-up and the jewellery. Where are the clothes? Nowhere. And if the bride decides to wear a bikini blouse, then God save us,” he laughs. “So that’s when I realised that I want more real estate in that picture. And, for me, it was a logical move to start getting into beauty which we’ll eventually get into, and to get into jewellery.”

Accessories is another category he is focussing on as that allows more people to own the brand. Mukherjee is one of the most copied designers in the country. “Today, all top jewellers in the country are copying my jewellery. It happened with my clothes, it’s now happening with my jewellery, so I know we are on the right track,” he says. The same is the case for his accessories. “You go into a copy market and you see LV, Calvin Klein, Gucci and Sabyasachi. I am flattered because that means we have done something right,” he chuckles.

Over the years he has entered into some remarkable collaborations, establishing his brand further. In 2015, he announced his first global one with Christian Louboutin with a collection of limited-edition shoes and handbags, showcasing Sabyasachi’s hallmark embroidery and craft, with Louboutin’s iconic red sole. He also launched the Sabyasachi for Nilaya collection in collaboration with Asian Paints. Other collaborations have included Pottery Barn, H&M, L’Oréal, Strabucks, Thomas Goode, etc. He says he is open to more collaborations but only with brands that are the best in their field and those that allow him to “tell the Indian story without apology”. “I would never do a collaboration, irrespective of how much money was being offered to me, if I was not able to tell the story of who I am and where I come from. I can make more money by selling on my Instagram,” says the designer who went off all social media three years ago to get away from the clutter and the noise. His brand, though, is very active on social media.

(Photo Credit: Business Today)

Mukherjee can be credited with revolutionising luxury retail in the country. Walk into any Sabyasachi store and you are transported to a world of opulence and luxury rarely seen anywhere else. For instance, at the Mumbai store, over 100 chandeliers, 275 carpets, 3,000 books, and 150 works of art created by the Sabyasachi Art Foundation—which he runs to promote art—are layered among antique Tanjore paintings, vintage photography, rare lithographs, and historical trinkets, some from his own collection.

“When I saw the Ralph Lauren flagship store for the first time, it made me realise how important the soft power of a retail store is to be able to influence a customer because it’s an immersive journey, which tells the length and the breadth of the brand’s story,” says Mukherjee, adding that today it is not just about the product but also the experience of selling the product.

With the opening of the Mumbai flagship store, the total number of Sabyasachi stores in India stands at four, the others being in Kolkata and Delhi, and a jewellery store in Hyderabad. In addition, there is the New York store and an exclusive Sabyasachi Jewellery boutique in Dubai.

Will he look at more expansion? Not immediately, he says. “We are going to build our flagship stores one geography at a time. I first want to expand brand literacy by building our flagship so that the story of what the brand is all about and who we are does not get diluted. We will take our time to understand the geography and then expand later,” he says. However, a part of the business is going to be opened to wholesale again. “Which means that in a couple of years, we are going to start speaking to departmental stores such as Selfridges, Browns, etc.,” These are stores where Mukherjee used to retail at the beginning of his career in 2004-05.

“Right now, I’m charting my own growth, one brick at a time, so that I last those 100 years,” he signs off.

(Published in Business Today)

The Classic pivot: Charting ITC’s FMCG growth story

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October 13, 2023

Anand JC, Economic Times
13 October 2023

Once the butt of jokes in Dalal Street circles, 113-year-old ITC has turned a new leaf in recent years, as its strategy to derive higher revenue from its consumer business is bearing fruit, bit by bit.

Registered in Calcutta as the Imperial Tobacco Company, the FMCG major has always relied on its cigarettes and leaf tobacco business for a major chunk of its revenues. ITC’s true diversification move might have begun with the launch of its hotel in Chennai in 1975, including a failed attempt at the financial services business, but it wasn’t until August 2001 that the tale of the FMCG behemoth came to be.

Having relied on its cigarette business since 1910, ITC has increasingly sought to earn more from its ‘cleaner’ consumer goods products. In a 2018 interview, CEO Sanjiv Puri admitted that while the journey to diversify the company started a long time ago, it only got traction around 2008. Under Puri’s first term as the ITC chairman, the company embarked on the ‘ITC Next’ strategy. The first decade was focused on preparing the company for the transition, he said. ITC now can innovate products, create brands and allow “pro-neurs” or professional entrepreneurs to build businesses in FMCG.

The plan has worked

ITC, a darling of dividend-led investing lovers, has always been a long-term growth story in the making. Nearly two decades after entering the food business, the company holds a leadership position across categories.

As per the company’s latest annual report, it holds the leadership spot in the branded Atta market through Aashirvaad, cream biscuits segment via Sunfeast, bridges segment of snack foods via Bingo!, notebooks via Classmate and dhoop segment via Mangaldeep. Its Yippee noodles trails Nestle’s Maggi, as the latter continues to lead in a highly consolidated market. However, Yippee has managed to gobble up Maggi’s share at an enviable pace. Capturing these positions, this quickly is no easy feat either.

One of the things that worked for ITC is their understanding of the distribution of products, stemming from their strength in the tobacco business. ITC started exploring aggressively diversifying away from the tobacco business around the 90s, says Devangshu Dutta, head of retail consultancy Third Eyesight.

ITC’s foray into the food business was supported by its presence in the hotel business. “Some of the marquee products that used to be served in their hotel restaurants, packaged dal and so on, they packaged and sold but it was not a humungous success. It was marginal at best.”

“But they started understanding the distribution aspect because those were sold through traditional distribution channels,” Dutta says.

ITC also put in a lot of financial muscle behind the brand building, given no dearth of resources, Dutta says. This helped them grow rapidly in product categories in which they didn’t have a presence earlier on.

“Starting from scratch, particularly on the foods side, ITC has been one of the most successful companies in the last 15-20 years. Their overall revenue this year has been roughly Rs 19,000 crore, out of which Rs 15,000-16,000 is purely from foods segment,” Amnish Aggarwal, Head of Research, Prabhudas Lilladher told ET Online.

“For a company which started this business, maybe, say, two decades back, this is a very big achievement,” he says.

Unlike its commanding position in its cigarette business, ITC’s ‘other-FMCG’ ambitions faced stiff competition from local and national companies in categories including soaps, shampoos, atta, snacks, biscuits, noodles and confectioneries.

Supporting ITC’s ‘other-FMCG’ ambitions is its core competency, the cigarette business. ITC’s consumer business’ growth has weathered storms, in part, thanks to the cash flows generated by its cigarette business which has helped it create stronger brands, an essential part of any consumer-centric business. Through its cigarette business, ITC also gets unparalleled access to a network of brick-and-mortar stores that have a diverse presence across India.

Also complimenting its growth is ITC’s agri-business, a segment which has also grown in strength over the years. From 10 per cent in FY14, the agri-business in FY23 contributed around 24 per cent to the company’s revenue from operations, as per ET Online’s calculations. ITC over the years has invested in building a competitive agri-commodity sourcing expertise. Some of these structural advantages have facilitated the company’s sourcing of agri raw materials for ITC’s branded packaged foods businesses, be it towards its atta, dairy or spices.

Like its peers, ITC too has given a fair deal of importance to its digital push, with more and more companies launching their D2C platforms. These platforms help customers buy products directly from the company website without the hassle of dealing with channel partners, and at the same time, the companies get their hands on first-party data. Such access can help the company market its offerings better. ITC, like some of its other peers, has also been investing in start-ups to diversify its product portfolio. It recently invested in Yoga Bar and Mother Sparsh.

The numbers behind ITC’s consumer business behemoth

Built to engage in the tobacco business, ITC got into cigarette packaging nearly 100 years ago. Another intent in recent decades has been to focus more on the non-cigarette business.

Puri saw it coming.

Upon being asked about the FMCG business overtaking cigarettes, Puri had said “We do not give guidance. But it will certainly happen because the other businesses are growing faster.”

After contributing nearly 62 per cent to the overall revenue in FY14, the cigarettes business in FY23 contributed only around 37 per cent.

ET Online calculations show that the other-FMCG business contributed 17 per cent to the overall revenue in FY14, which grew to 25 per cent in FY23.

Data confirms the claims made in the above segment. ITC’s non-cigarettes businesses have grown over 31-fold and currently form over two-thirds of its net segmental revenues. The company’s other-FMCG business didn’t start turning consistent profits up until FY14. Since then, it has gone from strength to strength.

ITC’s Other FMCG segment (the second largest contributor to sales) is also witnessing strong earnings and growth momentum, unlike most consumer staples peers.

The segment clocked a revenue of 19 per cent YoY while Nestle and Britannia saw 21 and 11 per cent growth each. FMCG EBITDA performance was even better, with the margin expanding by 430 bps YoY to 13.3 per cent & EBITDA growing 2.1x YoY.

Laughing stock no more

For years, the cigarette business has funded the growth of ITC’s other businesses like non-cigarette FMCG products, sometimes to the ire of shareholders who weren’t happy with the slow growth in financials and scrip value.

A slower growth in scrip value meant that for years ITC was also the laughing stock among social media circles. The stock often remained elusive during market rallies in the previous decade, offering poor returns in comparison to FMCG peers. Between 2014 and July 2022, ITC rose with dividends rose 53 per cent while Nifty50 rose 200 per cent, as per moneydhan.com, a SEBI RIA. ITC’s shares trailed the Sensex for five out of eight years through 2020.

“In the last ten years, HUL has done far, far better than ITC. And if you look at other companies in the same universe, say Dabur, it has also given superior performance. ITC has actually underperformed many of the large consumer names,” Aggarwal said.

But fast forward to 2023, not only is it among the best performers within the benchmark index, ITC has even trumped it. While Nifty50 has gained around 17 per cent in the last year, ITC has grown nearly 40 per cent. The ITC scrip in July crossed a market capitalization of Rs 6 lakh crore, beating HUL to become the largest FMCG company.

Sin stock

Prompting a move away to other segments is the nature of the cigarettes business. Tobacco is toxic, and investors are increasingly recognising it as such. Sin stocks are shares of companies engaged in a business or industry that is considered unethical or immoral.

While Environment, Social, and Governance (ESG) investing may be at a nascent stage in India, it is a serious parameter for global investors. Asia’s largest cigarette maker ITC cannot ignore it.

“The company sustained its ‘AA’ rating by MSCI-ESG –the highest amongst global tobacco companies– and was also included in the Dow Jones Sustainability Emerging Markets Index,” Puri noted in the company’s 2022 sustainability report.

Cigarettes, a bitter but essential overhang

For all the accolades for its gains in its other-FMCG business, ITC is nowhere close to ending its love for cigarettes, not that we are claiming it wants to. The Gold Flake-maker currently controls nearly 80% of the cigarette market.

The numbers in recent years suggest that the segment is flourishing more than ever before.

On an annualized basis, the return on depreciated cigarette assets is approaching a staggering 240%, three times the level two decades ago, as per a Bloomberg report. The entire legal cigarette industry was bleeding in the recent past due to punitive and discriminatory taxation on cigarettes. Taxes on cigarettes in India are multiple times higher than in developed countries viz. 17x of USA, 10x of Japan, 7x of Germany and so on, data shows.

But, companies are now recovering due to stable taxation. ITC’s three four-year cigarette sales CAGR are at their best levels since FY15 despite the company not taking material price increases over the last 13-14 months, as per a Motilal Oswal report.

ITC, which accounts for three out of every four cigarettes sold in the white market in the country, is currently seeing its best growth levels in over a decade, and is far superior to the flattish volumes of the past ten and twenty years.

(Published in Economic Times)