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.
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)
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)
Rochelle Britto & Shabori Das, The Economic Times
May 25, 2023
“Taiyaar Hoke Aaiye”. It seems the tagline has worked for the company which has been able to attract investors who came prepared for its offer for sale (OFS).
In a bid to reduce promoters’ shareholding down to 75% as per SEBI norms, Vedant Fashions, known for its ethnic wear brand Manyavar, floated the OFS on May 19 which saw huge participation — oversubscribed 1.4 times with bids for 34 million shares as compared to 24 million shares on the offer. The non-retail segment was oversubscribed 2.24 times.
The shares were offered at a price of INR1,161. While the stock initially fell 1.5% on May 19 to INR1,230, it was trading at INR1,268 on May 24, up 4.59% in five days.
The promoters have offloaded 16.9 million shares, which works out to 7% of the total equity shares with an option to sell additional 6.9 million (2.88%) shares, taking the total to 9.88%.
Manyavar represents the premium wedding market of the country and boasts of some big names as its brand ambassador — Virat Kohli, Amitabh Bachchan, Ranveer Singh, and Kartik Aaryan. With strong fundamentals, the company has grown at 30% CAGR over the last one year and investors feel this is one classic growth stock with high valuations that cannot be ignored. Vedant Fashions trades at a PE multiple of 73x while Trent, a competitor, has a PE of 119x.
The great Indian wedding
The sales of Vedant Fashion are highly correlated to the wedding season. The Indian wedding market is massive at USD50 billion with around 3 million weddings or events taking place every year. According to news reports, the spending is growing and is likely to be around INR3.75 lakh crore this year.
According to Crisil, weddings are getting bigger, grander, and longer, fuelled by higher disposable incomes and a surge in discretionary spending. It expects the ethnic-apparel market to grow between 15% and 17% to nearly INR1.38 trillion by 2025, supported by a growing desire among Indians to wear traditional attire instead of western wear for big celebrations.
While a lavish spending is done on everything, from venue to food to even flower arrangement, clothes hog the limelight. The business has become high-margin, elite, and high-fashion. And the organised market is growing at a very fast pace.
In the organised market, Vedant Fashion has a 40% market share which might be difficult to maintain as competition increases. “In the upcoming quarter, while April experiences a slight lull in wedding dates, May and June present an abundance of excellent opportunities. Moreover, as we analyse the entire year ahead, we are highly confident in the favourable wedding dates during Q3 and Q4. These trends align closely with our historical data, reinforcing our optimism for the current new financial year,”says Vedant Modi, chief marketing officer, Vedant Fashions.
“Vedant Fashions has successfully tapped into and emerged as the market leader, head and shoulders above competitors, in a segment that has been extremely fragmented. Festive wear and occasion wear is not immune to downturns, but is better placed to ride them out, and this makes it a very attractive product segment. However, Vedant have exploited this opportunity and scaled up much more successfully than other companies, beginning with menswear and then in womenswear,” says Devangshu Dutta, CEO, Third Eyesight.
Vedant Fashions is expanding its retail footprint by adding around 75,000 sq ft retail area in Q4FY23. It has a total retail presence of 1.47 million square feet as of March FY23, spanning across 649 stores in 257 cities. There is a direct correlation between the addition of stores and the growth in sales, but the full potential of a new store takes some time. Almost 40% of the expansion has happened in the fourth quarter, so the full revenue (of the expansion) would come in the following year. Thus, many times the store growth doesn’t match the revenue growth.
The company is also expanding in US, UAE, London, and Canada to cater to the growing Indian community in these markets. For FY23, it has had sales growth of 30% at INR1,355 crore with Ebitda margins at 50%.
However, the growth witnessed by the company in FY23 has slowed down despite an upswing in events and weddings.
Vedant Fashions reported revenue growth of 76% in FY22 over FY21 and profit growth of 136% during the same period. While the slowdown in the growth rate can be attributed to settling down of revenge shopping post-pandemic, the number of social events has definitely increased to not take notice.
“Market valuations are an indicator of not only present value of a business but also perceived future value, and market leaders usually are rewarded with richer valuations(Page Industries is another such example),” adds Dutta.
The company’s latest presentation states that it has achieved 95% ROCE for FY23. The company is still in an investment stage and its cash flow statement says that INR249 crore is blocked in investments for FY23.
In a market that is lacking growth, the wedding season almost looks like recession-proof. The market has returned to growth mode even at a time when inflation is high and the overall economy is subdued. But then, the Indian wedding market — especially the part that Vedant Fashion tracks — is on a high and the growth will continue for a long time.
While the number of players is increasing, not many have a picture-perfect balance sheet with high ROEs and even higher Ebitda margins. Vedant Fashions has become the classic growth stock with very high valuations. It has a price/book value of 28x but investors feel that for a company that generates a high ROE and a high growth, the valuation is not extreme.
Mutual funds and institutional investors are making a beeline for the stock because of the growth rate and the overall size of the market. According to BSE filings, mutual funds account for 8.90% of the total holding where SBI Mutual Fund has the biggest share at 3.80%. On the other hand, retail holds 1.43%. Post the OFS, these numbers will go up.
The company successfully launched its initial public offering (IPO) last year. The stock debuted at an 8.08% premium over the issue price of INR866. The share slipped more than 4% on May 18 as the promoters announced plans to sell stake in the company.
Since listing, the company has gained 36% and has had a great run with its stock being up by a significant 27% over the last one year as compared to its peer Aditya Birla, which is down by 30.95%, and Nifty 50, up by just 12%.
The Indian apparel market is amongst the top three consumer categories. The pandemic made a lot of consumers switch to the online channel — which was also enabled by easy returns. However, while western apparel in India is a lot more frequently purchased when it comes to the online channel, the offline channel continues to be the primary source of consumers and footfall for ethnic-wear brands. The organised ethnic wear market in India is still relatively small, as the unorganised apparel category, ethnic and otherwise, continues to dominate.
The primary market for the unorganised ethnic wear is mostly women, driven by everyday and wedding wear categories.
According to Euromonitor International, a UK-based market research firm, the Indian apparel market is expected to be at USD58,773.8 million by the end CY23 (excluding the footwear market). The market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 8.6% during CY2023-CY2027.
“The apparel and footwear market experienced significant recovery in 2022 with the easing of Covid-19 restrictions. The industry also benefited from the return of festivals and weddings to their pre-pandemic fervour, as these are periods when the demand for categories such as ethnic apparel and other occasion-based apparel spiked,” says Euromonitor International.
The peer play
Prominent players like Aditya Birla Fashion, Reliance Retail, and Tata-owned Trent are making strategic investments in the country’s thriving ethnic wear market, estimated at INR1.84 trillion.
The recent acquisition of TCNS Clothing by Aditya Birla Fashion further solidifies this ongoing trend. With a transaction value of INR1,650 crore for a controlling stake of 51%, this acquisition highlights the company’s commitment to capitalising on the prevailing market dynamics.
According to Ashish Dikshit, managing director of Aditya Birla Fashion, ethnic wear commands the largest market share in India’s apparel industry, comprising 30% (equivalent to INR1.84 trillion) of the total domestic apparel market valued at INR6.15 trillion, while 80%-85% of the ethnic wear market, according to experts, is dominated by the unorganised segment. The branded or organised end of the market at 15%-20% (around INR28,000 crore – INR37,000 crore in size) is growing at around 20% per annum.
Trent, owned by Tata, has launched a new ethnic wear brand Samoh to increase its market share, as consumers splurge on fresh attire for every event. The new brand will help Trent to compete with Manyavar, and Aditya Birla in the ethnic wear space. The company also has two other fashion retail formats. Its flagship concept, Westside, caters to discerning customers who are aspirational and yet seek value for money. The other format, Zudio, with much smaller stores, operates in a more mass-priced segment. Besides, Trent runs a relatively new concept store, Utsa, which sells its own ethnic and indie wear private labels like Utsa, Zuba, Vark, and Diza.
A growth stock?
The management’s disciplined approach to growth, exemplified by the gradual scale-up of brands like Mohey and Twamev, has been instrumental in mitigating the risks associated with inflated working capital and excessive write-downs. This prudent strategy has safeguarded Vedant Fashions’ profitability and allowed it to maintain sustainable growth without compromising on scalability.
The company’s strong design capabilities with data-driven decision making (leading to no discounted sales), tech-driven supply chain, and auto replenishment model, exclusive vendor ecosystem, and franchise-based EBO expansion have helped scale up its business and achieve superior margins. Most brokerage houses give the stock a “buy” rating.
Manyavar’s decision to team up with some of the country’s top names like Virat Kohli, Ranveer Singh, and Kiara Advani (for Mohey) demonstrates its ambition to capture new markets and connect with a diverse customer base. Continuing the brand’s vision to associate with the best, it reinforced #DulhanWaliFeeling by looping in actress Kiara Advani in January 2023 as the new brand ambassador. With all of them on board, Vedant Fashions hopes to have a joyful journey in style!
By capitalising on their influence, Manyavar solidifies its position as a leading ethnic wear brand in India. But will the company live up to the investors’ expectations? For a growth investor, the answer is yes.
(Published in Economic Times)
Faizan Haider, ET Bureau, 15 March 2023
Value apparel brands are set to grow in India.
The success of Tata Group’s Zudio that sells clothes below Rs 1,500 has prompted Reliance, Shoppers Stop and several global brands to enter the mass-priced retailing segment.
While Reliance Retail is planning to launch a value apparel format, likely to be named ‘Youth’ to compete directly with Tata’s Zudio and Landmark group-owned Max, Shoppers Stop is coming up with a mass-priced brand, internally called InTune, people in the know said.
Aditya Birla Fashion & Retail has been eyeing shoppers in tier-2 and -3 cities with Style Up, a similar format, while affordable French brand Kiabi is in talks with retail space providers and potential partners to enter the India market.
“Although there is a significant concentration of demand in the metro cities and tier-1 cities, these are also hypercompetitive markets. With economic growth spreading into the smaller cities and rising aspirations, especially among young consumers, there is an opportunity for brands to expand into these markets,” said Devangshu Dutta, founder of retail consulting firm Third Eyesight.
“However, keeping price-sensitive segments in mind, companies are creating new labels and brands, rather than pulling down their existing brands’ selling price,” Dutta said.
Trent, the Tata Group company that houses retail brands such as Westside, Zudio and Landmark, had earlier said that while Westside accounted for 70% of its standalone business, Zudio had the potential to outpace the department chain due to the size of the opportunity in the value segment.
“While the value format can offer growth in smaller cities, in metro cities the retailers are trying to target youth through this format. The youth is also aware of the sustainability part and most of these brands are focusing on it,” said Shriram PM Monga, who cofounded retail consultancy firm SRED.
Both Reliance and Shoppers Stop are looking for 6,000-9,000 sq ft space at malls and high street for their new brands, said a person familiar with the development.
Experts said India’s consumption structure was skewed in the past over a narrow base of rich consumers accounting for a large chunk of the market. However, as the economy is broadening across many more cities and the impact is reaching further down the income ladder, the opportunity for value formats and value brands is expanding.
For Lifestyle International, its value brands Max and Easy Buy have already outpaced the department stores by sales, indicating that consumers are increasingly seeking either lower-priced merchandise or opting for global brands such as Zara and H&M for fashion apparel instead of department stores.
(Published in The Economic Times)
Faizan Haider, The Economic Times
New Delhi, 5 December 2022
Shoppers Stop is planning to open a value format to attract consumers opting for lower priced brands such as Tata Zudio and Landmark Group’s Max, two officials privy to the launch said.
The idea is to open stores on ty to sustain and the lines of Zudio and Max and capture a larger market especially in smaller towns,” one of them said. “The first store, sizes anywhere between 7,000 8,000 square feet could open in the next three months.”
Shoppers Stop is foraying in to the mass-priced segment after three decades of selling premium apparel and lifestyle merchandise. Experts said India’s consumption structure has been skewed in the past over a narrow base of richer consumers accounting for a large chunk of the overall market. However, as the economy is broadening across many more cities and the impact is reaching further down the income ladder, the opportunity for value-formats and value-brands is expanding.
“Shoppers Stop’s competitors have demonstrated mixed success in the mass segment. and servicing this segment needs merchandising agility to respond to varying customer preferences across markets, as well as the financial ability to sustain and scale,” said Devangshu Dutta, founder of retail consulting firm Third Eyesight. “In the diversity of India’s market, scale alone isn’t enough to guarantee success.”
Shoppers Stop may open first few of its value format stores in tier 2 cities before taking them to metroci ties, people cited above said.
The company did not respond to the email query till press time on Sunday.
“The value format segment is growing and during Covid 19 we have seen consumption increasing in Tier-2 cities,” said Shriram PM Monga, cofounder at retail consultancy firm SRED.
“These cities also have grade A malls now, offering retailers quality space.” Tata Group firm Trent had earlier indicated that Westside accounts for 70% of its standalone business but Zudio, an affordable fast-fashion brand, has the potential to outpace the department chain due to the size of the opportunity in the value segment.
For Lifestyle International, its value brands Max and Easy Buy have already outpaced the department stores by sales – back in 2019 – indicating that consumers are increasingly seeking either lower-priced merchandise or opting for global brands such as Zara and H&M for fashion apparel instead of department stores.
Shoppers Stop has 296 stores spread across 3.8 million square feet, which include 91 department stores, 11 HomeStop home furnishing shops, 139 beauty stores, and 25 airport doors. It is on track to add 12 department stores and 15 beauty stores during this fiscal year.
According to Retailers Association of India (RAI), overall retail sales in October 2002 grew 15% year on year and by 19% when compared to pre- pandemic sales level (October 2019).
(Published in The Economic Times)