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)

10th Year Of Festive Season Sales: 5 Trends That Will Define Clash Of Amazon, Flipkart, Meesho & Cos This Year

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October 7, 2023

Gargi Sarkar, Inc42

7 Oct 2023

The Indian ecommerce industry anticipates a stronger festive season compared to last year with over 20% sales growth, driven by the D2C segment’s expected 40% QoQ surge

The overlap of festive celebrations and wedding seasons, particularly with a later Diwali this year, is predicted to further stimulate demand

Despite the evident purchase intent, retailers are preparing for a possibly neutral festive season as economic challenges may hit consumers’ spending

As the festive season rings in its 10th anniversary in the ecommerce realm, giants like Flipkart and Amazon are prepping for their annual mega sales, set to begin on October 8. This year, however, they will face tough competition from newer players, including Meesho, which carved out a significant slice of the festive sales pie last year.

With new entrants like Tata Neu and JioMart, and fashion and lifestyle ecommerce players such as Myntra, Nykaa, and AJIO, the stage seems to be set for a fierce showdown.

For these ecommerce platforms, the annual festive sales aren’t merely about revenue generation; they’re pivotal customer engagement and acquisition opportunities. These events lure consumers with compelling discounts and promotions, giving a considerable boost to their yearly sales targets.

Through strategic marketing blitzes, they also aim to amplify brand recognition and glean insights into shopper preferences. Following last year’s subdued festivities, market analysts have predicted a revival in shoppers’ enthusiasm this year, forecasting a robust 20% surge in sales.

The festive season this year is set to witness a remarkable upswing in the ecommerce sector’s gross merchandise value (GMV). According to consulting firm Redseer, the GMV is anticipated to see an 18-20% surge, amounting to INR 90,000 Cr, a leap from INR 76,000 Cr in the previous year.

“The preceding quarter (April to June) witnessed a subdued performance in both offline and online retail sectors, primarily due to persistent inflationary pressures. However, the scenario is expected to undergo a transformation during the upcoming festive season. Festive periods tend to unleash latent consumer demand, prompting individuals to open their wallets more liberally,” Ashish Dhir, EVP (consumer and retail) of business consulting and services firm 1Lattice said.

There is a growing focus on electronics and appliances as traditional categories of interest. However, fashion and beauty are also emerging as important categories. The emergence of luxury goods is another important segment, which will likely make waves during the upcoming festive sales.

The ecommerce industry anticipates a stronger festive season compared to last year with over 20% sales growth, driven by the D2C segment’s expected 40% quarter-over-quarter (Q0Q) surge. However, average user spending is likely to remain flat.

Further, Tier III cities and beyond are becoming key revenue contributors, particularly in the fashion and beauty categories. Although consumer sentiment has improved, retailers are wary that buyers could maintain a cautious stance when it comes to spending lavishly.

While there is much to look forward to, let’s delve deeper into what shoppers and retailers can expect from this milestone year, which marks 10 years of festive sales fervour in the Indian ecommerce space.

D2C Brands To Lead The Charge

Notably, the Indian market is projected to have 500 Mn+ online shoppers by 2030, growing at 12% compound annual growth rate from 205 Mn in 2022, according to a 2020 report.

As far as the upcoming quarter is concerned, industry experts forecast that the homegrown ecommerce sector will likely see impressive growth of over 20%.

Playing a pivotal role in this escalation will be the D2C segment, predicted to grow more than 40% QoQ from October to December. Established ecommerce giants like Amazon, Flipkart and Meesho could also be looking at an approximate 30% uptick in sales, according to experts.

Tracing back to the inaugural ecommerce festive sales in 2014, the industry’s GMV was recorded at INR 27,000 Cr. Fast forward to 2023, the GMV is poised to touch an impressive INR 5,25,000 Cr, a nearly 20-fold increase, per a RedSeer report.

Festive Ecommerce OffersAverage User Spending Could Remain Muted

Despite the rise in GMV in 2022 compared to 2021, average expenditure per shopper held steady at INR 5,200 during the initial four days of the festive season sale, according to a RedSeer report.

This year doesn’t seem poised for a significant spike in individual user spending either. However, there is a silver lining in the form of rising consumer activity in smaller towns and cities. On the flip side, elevated living costs in metropolises like Bengaluru and Mumbai could dent extravagant consumer spending, noted Devangshu Dutta, the founder and CEO of Third Eyesight, a boutique management consulting firm.

Yet, with the growing online shopper populace in these cities, there’s potential for the average order value (AoV) to reduce as more users flock online to shop.

“As the online shopping base continues to expand, the average spending per user naturally tends to decrease. This phenomenon occurs as more people venture into ecommerce, with platforms like Amazon and Flipkart extending their reach to cover a broader audience. However, it’s essential to note that this drop in the average ticket size is a common trend when the customer base expands,” Sangeeta Verma, director of digiCart India said.

Consumers Sentiment Positive, But Retailers Remain Realistic

With the waning impact of inflation, India is witnessing a positive shift in consumer sentiment from the previous year. Unlike several developed nations wrestling with inflation, India has remained largely untouched by its dual impact on demand and supply, experts suggest.

For example, Flipkart delivered strong gross merchandise value (GMV) and sales growth in the company’s second quarter of the financial year 2023-24 (FY24), Walmart’s chief financial officer John David Rainey said during an earnings call.

“In India, the distinguishing factor in terms of festive demand is that it’s not merely brand-driven; consumers here are eager to spend, and the purchase intent is notably high. Unlike some developed economies grappling with inflationary concerns, both the demand and supply sides in India have not seen any impact of inflation. The consumer demand continues to stay buoyant,” Chirag Tanjeja, cofounder and CEO of GoKwik said.

The overlap of festive celebrations and wedding seasons, particularly with a later Diwali this year, is predicted to further stimulate demand, 1Lattice’s Dhir added.

Nevertheless, a note of caution reverberates among retailers. Despite the evident purchase intent, retailers are preparing for a possibly neutral festive season as economic challenges may hit consumers’ spending.

However, a recent study conducted by Nielsen Media India and commissioned by Amazon India says otherwise. According to the report, 81% of consumers are enthusiastic about shopping during the upcoming festive season. More importantly, this positive sentiment towards online shopping is not limited to metropolitan areas but Tier II and III cities and towns.

Ecommerce Platforms Ramp Up Efforts To Woo Sellers

In this year’s festive season, a standout trend is ecommerce giants’ intensified drive to court and captivate sellers with multiple strategic offerings like enticing commission rates, equipping them with advanced selling tools, enhancing the overall selling experience, and broadening their outreach.

Recently, ecommerce heavyweight Meesho made its platform accessible to non-GST registered sellers too. Not too behind in the race is Amazon India, which unveiled its multi-channel fulfilment (MCF) last month for D2C brands and retailers. This initiative is expected to aid sellers in managing customer orders from diverse channels.

Meanwhile, Flipkart flaunted its impressive seller growth, citing a tally surpassing 1.4 Mn — a notable 27% jump since 2022. Meesho currently has a seller base of 1.3 Mn and Amazon has over 1.2 Mn sellers.

Echoing the seller-side optimism, digiCart’s Verma said, “As a seller, we hold a very bullish sentiment. We’re so confident that we started stocking up well in advance. The robust build-up is evident from the current numbers. Mature sellers will expand into existing and new categories after.”

A recent survey by Redseer revealed that sellers are projecting a 15% increase in festive sales year-on-year. Even though the recent sales momentum on ecommerce platforms has been somewhat subdued — with only 40% of those surveyed reporting a 10% quarterly hike — there’s palpable enthusiasm for a significant festive sales boost across a multitude of product sectors.

Who Will Drive The Festive Ecommerce Growth?

Tier II and III cities and towns are expected to be the biggest contributors in this year’s festive season sales. According to experts, customers from these cities and towns are keen on giving their wardrobes and beauty kits a festive makeover. Although Tier I cities are spoilt for choice with numerous offline stores, spanning both legacy and contemporary brands, such luxuries are scarce in smaller cities.

However, this is steadily changing now. Some of the prominent D2C brands that have emerged from the country’s Tier II & III towns and cities are Raipur-based Drools, Mohali-based Lahori, Kanpur-based Phool, Coimbatore-based Juicy Chemistry, just to name a few.

Furthermore, consumer demand in the eastern regions of the country, along with enhanced connectivity in the Northeast, is also on the rise. Semi-urban and rural areas are fast emerging as the driving force behind the new wave of ecommerce growth, a trend expected to be pronounced during the festive season.

Considering that a whopping 65% of India’s populace resides in rural regions, the untapped ecommerce potential is immense, according to the Economic Survey 2022-23.

Yet, fostering trust will be paramount. Residents in these regions typically bank on word-of-mouth endorsements and recommendations from local retailers when exploring new products and brands. This is expected to give local D2C brands a much-needed boost in the upcoming festive season.
What’s Beyond The Festive Sale Fervour

As festive trends leave their mark in the ecommerce landscape, we’re likely to witness several transformative strategies. Central to this evolution will be Buy Now, Pay Later (BNPL) schemes. Yet, the traditional cash-on-delivery remains a preferred choice for many.

Ecommerce brands are increasingly prioritising customer retention, recognising that fostering enduring relationships offers more value. This shift is evident in the rise of loyalty programmes.

Notably, Flipkart introduced “Flipkart VIP” – a direct competitor to Amazon’s Prime – right before the festive sales kickoff. Simultaneously, Meesho debuted a loyalty initiative, targeting both customers and sellers.

Apart from the dominant themes, a few other noteworthy trends are slated to redefine the festive shopping narrative. Black Friday, for instance, is set for a revamp. Gen Z’s influence, especially their propensity to favour specific brands, will be significant.

Last year, for D2C brands, the Black Friday event overshadowed the traditional Diwali and Dusshera festivals in sales figures. GoKwik data indicates that brands on their platform saw a staggering 63% rise in GMV during the Black Friday sale, contrasting starkly with the 10-day Diwali sales.

Also, Christmas, too, is evolving. The allure of winter holidays and modern gifting practices are propelling this transformation, turning Christmas into a significant commercial event.

Given that the final leg of 2023 (October to December) will host almost all the major Indian festivals, the ecommerce players are in for a treat. Even though there will be a lot of cut-throat competition among ecommerce players, there will be no dearth of opportunities for them to woo customers who are eager to splurge to add more flavours to their festive celebrations this year. Going ahead, we will keep a close eye on the ecommerce players and D2C brands that will emerge triumphant after the great Indian festive showdown.

(Published in Inc42)

All charged up

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September 25, 2023

Akanksha Nagar, Financial Express

September 25, 2023

Adding to the fizz in the energy drink market, NourishCo, a division of Tata Consumer Products (TCP), has unveiled Say Never — a caffeine-based energy drink priced at Rs 10 for a 200 ml cup — in two variants of red (berries) and blue (tropical flavours). In its initial phase of launch, the brand will be available largely through general trade outlets in Karnataka and some key markets of the north, including Delhi, NCR, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Vikram Grover, MD, NourishCo Beverages, TCP, says, “With Say Never we are celebrating the heroes who carve their own path.”

As a functional beverage, the energy drinks segment has grown by leaps and bounds in recent years to stand at Rs 3,500 crore in 2022. Experts reckon the market will touch Rs 10,000 crore by 2027. Red Bull is the category leader with a 61% market share of the market.

PepsiCo’s debut of Sting a few years ago at an inviting Rs 50 for 250 ml (as opposed to Red Bull’s Rs 125 for 250 ml can) had shaken up the category. With a 7% market share Sting has surpassed PepsiCo’s older products like Mountain Dew to become the company’s fastest-growing brand. Charged by Thums Up kept up the buzz for Coca-Cola during the 2023 edition of the Indian Premier League on Star Sports. Grover says Say Never will stand out for two reasons — the attractive price point and the cup delivery format, which the company has used with Gluco+. “The rapid growth in this energy segment in the recent past has come on the back of price disruption, and we feel that we can take that disruption forward,” he adds.

As energy drinks still operate in a niche segment with a premium play, an affordable price point can be a game-changer, say experts. “Affordability is a significant driver in India, especially for pre-teens, teens and college students,” says Devangshu Dutta, CEO, Third Eyesight. For many years energy drinks were treated as a niche premium opportunity, but the availability of lower price options has opened up the mass market as demonstrated by PepsiCo’s Sting in PET bottles with a much lower price point.

While the cola giants have an obvious advantage in terms of shelf space accessibility, given the market’s trajectory even smaller players stand a good chance to create a space for themselves. “Clarity in positioning, techniques to make the brand stand out, and ensuring availability with strong distribution and replenishment is imperative to get ahead,” Dutta suggests.

TCP plays in the energy space with Tata Gluco+, a glucose-based energy drink targeting a young consumer set; for Say Never the target is the youth between the ages of 18 and 35.

Besides pricing, what will be make or break is marketing muscle and a differentiated appeal, says Samit Sinha, managing partner, Alchemist Brand Consulting. “Say Never can position itself as a party-drink — akin to how Red Bull is equated with active lifestyles. There are enough opportunities to create nuanced differences in attributes, functional benefits and most of all, emotional benefits.”

NourishCo contributes 4% to the TCP overall business and in Q1 of FY23, its recorded a strong revenue growth of 60%. TCP’s flagship drink Tata Gluco+ registered a growth of 61% in the same period.

(Published in Financial Express)

After cola, Reliance begins price war in home and personal care space

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March 23, 2023

Sharleen D’Souza, Business Standard

Mumbai, March 23, 2023

After sparking a price war in the carbonated beverages market through Campa Cola, Reliance Consumer Products has taken the pricing battle to the other segments in the fast-moving consumer goods market.

For instance, in soaps, it has priced its product lower than the market leader in the segment at Rs. 25 for 100 gms across its three brands – Glimmer, Get Real and Puric.

With Glimmer, Reliance Consumer competes with Lux, which sells a 100-gm soap bar at Rs. 36, while Get Real is similar to Hindustan Unilever’s Pears soap bar, which is priced at Rs. 54 for 100 gms. In the hygiene space, Reliance has taken on Reckitt Benckiser’s Dettol, priced at Rs. 40 for 75 gms. Godrej Consumer Products, one of the leaders in soaps sells its Godrej No 1 45 gms (each) pack of 4 for Rs. 40.

In the dish wash category, it captured the main price points of Rs. 5 for 75 gms, Rs. 10 for 145 gms, and Rs. 15 for 200 gms in bars, and Rs. 10 for 65 ml pouch, Rs. 20 for around 140 ml pouch, and Rs. 30 for 200 ml pouch in liquids. HUL’s Vim bar is priced at Rs. 5 for a 60-gm pack and Rs. 10 for a 125-gm pack, while a 300-gm pack retails at Rs. 30.

But Reliance has also moved a step further into the sachet space and is retailing a 5 ml sachet of dish wash liquid at Rs. 1. Other brands do not sell sachets.

On JioMart, the price of RCPL’s Enzo two-litre front-load liquid detergent is Rs. 250, a 43 per cent discount to the maximum retail price (MRP) of Rs. 440; the topload two-litre liquid detergent is available at a 35 per cent discount and now priced at Rs. 250. Its compact detergent powder one kg pack is priced at Rs. 149, after a 12 per cent discount on its MRP of Rs. 170. HUL’s Surf Excel Easy Wash detergent powder is priced at Rs. 150 and Quick Wash at Rs. 240 for a kilogram. But Rin detergent powder is priced for Rs. 103 and Wheel detergent powder at Rs. 73 for 1 kg. Surf Excel’s front load two-litre pack is priced at Rs. 390 and top load at Rs. 370. Tide’s 1.5 kg detergent powder sells for Rs. 225.

In detergents, Reliance has not disclosed which segment it intends to cater to and what price points it will offer in general trade.

Reliance is following the challenger strategy like in the telecom space, said Devangshu Dutta, founder at Third Eyesight. He said this is the fastest way to acquire market share, and since Reliance has deep pockets, it can easily fund market share acquisition by launching its products at a significant price difference compared to rivals.

“Customers will move at least to try the product and if they end up liking the product they will stick to it. This strategy is best suited for market share acquisition,” Dutta explained.

An executive from a top FMCG firm said on the condition of anonymity that there will eventually be a price war in whichever segment Reliance enters. He explained that while Reliance was still setting up its distribution network, over time due to its B2B supply chain, it will be able to push its products into retail
stores.

Some distributors who spoke on the condition of anonymity said it would not be easy to move the leaders in the segment as these companies have a fixed customer base and it might be difficult to topple brands that have been in the market for a while.

Reliance followed the same strategy with its carbonated beverage, Campa Cola. It relaunched Campa at a price point of Rs. 10 for 200 ml, Rs. 20 for 500 ml, Rs. 30 for 600 ml, Rs. 40 for one litre, and Rs. 80 for two
litres.

(Published in Business Standard)

Wake-up call: Mattress market heats up

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March 24, 2022

Written By Christina Moniz

D2C brands take the offline route to widen reach

Direct-to-consumer (D2C) brands are fluffing up the Indian mattress category with promises of lower prices, mattress-in-a-box convenience, 10-year warranty and 100-day trials. In a market that is predominantly unorganised, startups such as Wakefit, The Sleep Company, SleepyCat and Flo are aspiring to establish themselves as better alternatives to legacy brands such as Kurlon and Sleepwell, with most of them looking at the offline retail route too, to boost sales.

According to a Research and Markets report, while India’s overall mattress market has grown at a CAGR of over 11% in the last five years, the organised industry has grown at 17%. The mattress category in India is worth `12,000-13,000 crore; of this the organised segment commands 40% share.

New-age mattress brands are able to deliver products at lower price points by taking control of the entire consumer journey – from product discovery to post-sales support. Therefore, these D2C brands save big on distributor and retail margins, says Devangshu Dutta, CEO, Third Eyesight. These savings go towards compensating for higher customer acquisition costs and logistics, he observes. The elimination of the middlemen means that customers get their products at 30-35% less than what traditional players offer.

However, these digital-native companies are aware that they operate in a touch-and-feel category, which is why many offer a 100-day trial period. Priyanka Salot, co-founder, The Sleep Company, says that the product return rate is only 2-3%, and the returned mattresses are donated to charities but never resold. The Sleep Company, which entered the market a little over two years ago, is eyeing a turnover of `1,000 crore in the next five years, and has plans to launch its first offline store in a few months.

Online players also save on logistics, says Chaitanya Ramalingegowda, co-founder and director at Wakefit. “We implemented the roll-pack technology that allows the mattress to fit into a compact box. This lets us ship more products at a time,” he says. Wakefit has only two factories—one in north India and the other in south India—as opposed to older players with 10-12 factories across the country, he points out. The company hopes to close FY22 with a turnover of 630 crore, up from197 crore in FY20. It has one offline experience centre in Bengaluru, with plans to launch 10 more across five cities soon; these centres will not only be experiential, but also double up as booking/ retail sales outlets.

Offline boost

Rajat Wahi, partner, Deloitte India, points out that these new-age mattress brands must establish deeper offline distribution to expand reach. “After all, more than 90% of retail is offline in India,” he notes.

This is why D2C brands are not only taking the offline route, but also foraying into other segments like furniture and sleepwear. Kabir Siddiq, founder and CEO of SleepyCat, says the brand has plans to launch around four experience centres, and aims to become a one-stop shop for all sleep and comfort solutions, offering comforters, pillows and even bedding for pets.

Is the proliferation of D2C players giving legacy brands sleepless nights? Mohanraj J, CEO, Duroflex, says it has been akin to a “wake-up call”. He says the company has poured in investments into the D2C segment in the past few years, and now even has a completely online brand called Sleepyhead, catering to the millennial consumers. “Until recently, about 10% of our company’s growth was from online sales, but we expect that number to change to 30-35% this year,” he adds.

Despite the influx of new-age players, he maintains that Duroflex has doubled its growth in the past two years, with traditional retail registering 25-30% annual growth.

Source: financialexpress