Decathlon FY23 sales shoot up 37% in India

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October 26, 2023

Sagar Malviya, Economic Times
26 October 2023

Surging demand for fitness wear and sports equipment for disciplines other than cricket and football helped Decathlon’s India unit expand sales 37% to Rs 3,955 crore in FY23. With more than 100 large, warehouse-like stores selling products catering to 85 sporting disciplines, the French company is bigger than Adidas, Nike and Asics all put together in India.

In FY22, sales were Rs 2,936 crore, according to its latest filings with the Registrar of Companies. The retailer, however, posted a net loss of Rs 18.6 crore during the year ended March 2023 compared to a net profit of Rs 36 crore a year ago.

Experts said a host of factors – from pricing products about 30-40% lower than competing products to selling everything from running shoes, athleisure wear to mountaineering equipment under its own brands – has worked in its favour. “They have an extremely powerful format across different sporting activities and have something for both active and casual wear shoppers. For them, the market is still under penetrated with the kind of comprehensive product range they sell for outdoor sports beyond shoes and clothing,” said Devangshu Dutta, founder of retail consulting firm Third Eyesight. “Even their front end staff seem to have a strong domain knowledge about products compared to rival brands.”

By selling only private labels, Decathlon, the world’s biggest sporting goods firm, controls almost every bit of operations, from pricing and design to distribution, and keeps costs and selling prices low.

Decathlon uses a combination of in-house manufacturing and outsourcing to stock its shelves. In fact, it sources nearly 15% of its global requirement from India across sporting goods. And nearly all of its cricket merchandise sold globally is designed and made in India.

(Published in Economic Times)

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)

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)

Starbucks brews up cheaper India drinks as domestic rivals expand

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June 7, 2023

M. Sriram and Aditya Kalra, Reuters (MUMBAI/NEW DELHI)
June 7, 2023

Starbucks is revamping its strategy to lure Indians, including children, with smaller, cheaper beverages as it looks to expand in small towns amid a fierce challenge from domestic startups in one of its fastest-growing markets.

Among the first foreign coffee brands to enter tea-loving India, the U.S. giant has taken almost 11 years to open 343 stores, in contrast with private equity-backed chains Third Wave and Blue Tokai that opened about 150 in the last three years.

“As you grow in size, you need to get new consumers,” said Sushant Dash, the chief executive of Starbucks in India, adding that the chain’s “pricing play” would help shatter a perception that it is expensive.

The company has launched a six-ounce drink, “Picco”, which starts at $2.24, and milkshakes for $3.33 as part of its revamp to target affluent Indians who prefer smaller servings.

Starbucks plans to open more stores in smaller towns, said an industry source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Both its new offerings are unique to India and unavailable in China, Singapore and the United States.

India’s small but fast-growing specialty tea and coffee cafe market is worth $300 million and set to grow 12% each year, Euromonitor estimates. Canada’s Tim Hortons and Britain’s Pret A Manger are also expanding, but have only a handful of outlets.

“Excessively large portion sizes are an American phenomenon,” said Devangshu Dutta, head of retail consultancy Third Eyesight.

“Indian consumers are value-conscious. If adjusting portion sizes down to what is more normal helps make prices accessible, that’s a double win.”

He was among the analysts who felt the move by Starbucks, operating in India in a joint venture with Tata Group, could further boost its sales, which hit a record $132 million in fiscal 2022/23.

Although Starbucks still dominates in India, rivalry is fizzing in the capital, New Delhi, and the technology hub of Bengaluru, where many Third Wave cafes are often as crowded as Starbucks outlets.

“We’ve lost 30 cups a day to them,” said a barista at a Starbucks shop in Delhi that sells 7,500 drinks a month, referring to a Third Wave that opened nearby months ago, but already sells 3,700.

Starbucks has faced homegrown challengers elsewhere, most notably in China, where its 6,200 stores service the biggest market outside the United States.

There, in just the last five years, Luckin Coffee has used discounts to lure customers to its 10,000 mostly pickup or delivery stores.

Bet On Chai

In India, where Starbucks has added domestic touches to its offerings over the years to boost their appeal, it is now stepping up that game, just as global giants McDonald’s and Domino’s have done.

It estimates that just 11% of Indian homes drink coffee, as opposed to 91% drinking tea. Hot milky tea, or “chai” as it is known in Hindi, is sold at roadside stalls by the hundreds of cups each day for as little as 10 rupees (12 U.S. cents).

Starbucks, which offered for years just one milk chai “latte” made with tea syrup, has launched “Indian-inspired” tea offerings laced with spices and cardamom, both favourites in many Indian homes, which start at 185 rupees ($2.24).

The drinks were introduced to attract those who do not drink coffee and shun Starbucks, said Dash, adding the company would retain its focus on coffee and not make chai a primary offering.

The launch of smaller, cheaper beverages in India indicates Starbucks may have seen “a decline in traffic related to a pushback” on higher prices, said Chas Hermann, a U.S.-based restaurant consultant and former Starbucks executive.

Competition, Small Cities Push

In May, people lured by a one-for-one offer queued in a street outside the first Starbucks store in the western city of Aurangabad, a YouTube video showed in scenes reminiscent of when it first opened in India.

But its rivals are catching up and a price war has begun.

Soon after Starbucks’ May launch of $3.33 milkshakes, designed to attract children, Third Wave launched its own range, a fifth cheaper at $2.71.

In Bengaluru, startup investors and founders hold meetings in Third Wave outlets. It has more than 40 stores there, exceeding the 35 of Starbucks, data from real estate analytics firm CRE Matrix shows.

Third Wave’s chief executive, Sushant Goel, said he planned to add 60 to 70 stores every year, with a focus on big cities. He saw Starbucks’ cheaper, small-sized drinks as a response to competition in “an incredibly price-sensitive market”.

Matt Chitharanjan, chief executive of Blue Tokai, said it had “seen success in converting customers from Starbucks”, partly because of lower prices.

While Dash said he was undeterred by competition, Starbucks recognises the threat, although privately.

In one lease deal for a Bengaluru mall reviewed by Reuters, Starbucks inserted a “cafe exclusivity” clause barring the mall owner from allotting space on the same floor to rival “premium” brands, including Third Wave and Blue Tokai.

“Going deeper into smaller cities, beyond the metros, is the only way to grow,” said Ankur Bisen, head of retail at India’s Technopak Advisors.

(Reporting by M. Sriram and Aditya Kalra; Additional reporting by Anushree Fadnavis in New Delhi, Varun Vyas and Euan Rocha in Bengaluru, Miyoung Kim in Singapore, Sophie Yu in Beijing and Hilary Russ in New York; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

Emami-backed The Man Company plans offline expansion; eyes new categories

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December 23, 2021

Devika Singh, Moneycontrol

December 23, 2021

Male grooming products startup The Man Company, known for its online-first strategy, is looking at offline expansion for its next leg of growth. The company, which operates 28 exclusive brand outlets in the country, plans to launch 60-70 more stores by the end of this fiscal to gain presence across at least 100 locations.

“A lot of growth will come from the offline channel for the next one year at least, especially in Tier II and III cities where launching exclusive stores is a good way to introduce the brand to the consumer as shopping malls are weekend destinations there,” co-founder Hitesh Dhingra told Moneycontrol.

The company, backed by fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) major Emami which holds a 48.49 percent stake in it, is also looking at introducing its products in more multi-brand outlets. The Man Company is present in 1,200 multi-brand outlets which include lifestyle stores such as Shoppers Stop, Central and Lifestyle as well as hypermarkets, supermarkets and pharmacies. The company plans to be in 2,500 multi-brand outlets by the end of financial year 2022-23.

It currently draws about 70 percent of its sales from online channels including its own direct-to-consumer (D2C) platform and online marketplaces and 30 percent from offline channels. The startup’s strategy is focused on expanding its base in Tier II cities and beyond, which account for 50-55 percent of its sales even on online marketplaces.

“Out of our 28 exclusive brand outlets, only five to six are in top 10 cities and the rest in Tier II and smaller towns. For the new store openings also, we are going to adopt a similar strategy and only 10 percent of the new outlets will be in large cities,” said Dhingra.

The offline way

Several D2C brands have been eyeing the physical retail channel as they try to scale up and tap a wider set of consumers. Brands in the women’s beauty and personal care segment such as Mamaearth, Sugar Cosmetics and Plum Goodness are expanding their presence in the offline retail format. Plum, for instance, is looking to launch 50 exclusive brand outlets in the next two years.

Male grooming startups, too, are following a similar trajectory. For instance, Bombay Shaving Company and Baeardo are launching their products in more and more offline stores.

Devangshu Dutta, chief executive of retail consultancy Third Eyesight, said it makes sense for digitally-native companies that have achieved some brand recognition to launch in offline format for the next phase of growth. Brands in the 1990s for example, he said, who wanted to establish an identity, entered new formats or channels besides the existing ones. Similarly, digitally-native brands need not restrict themselves to online platforms alone, he added.

But he pointed out that these brands will have to address challenges such as ensuring availability of their products in offline channels. “In the online segment, companies can cater to customers with limited stocks. However, in the offline channel, they need to ensure availability of products across stores,” he said.

New categories

Apart from new retail categories, The Man Company has plans to enter categories such as sexual wellness and personal appliances. It has tied up with a marketplace for the launch of personal appliances such as beard trimmers and shavers and the category will be launched exclusively on the platform. The sexual wellness products, too, will be introduced on its D2C platform and later to other marketplaces and offline stores.

“We always launch a product on our platform to test it and get consumer feedback and, based on the response, we introduce the product to the wider market,” said Dhingra.

Launched in 2015, The Man Company caters to the men’s grooming segment and claims to have developed more than 65 stock keeping units. According to Dhingra, the company which competes with Beardo, Bombay Shaving Company and Ustraa will double its sales to Rs 100 crore by the end of this financial year.

Male grooming startups have of late attracted attention from FMCG companies. Marico last year completed the acquisition of Ahmedabad-based Beardo by buying an additional 55 percent stake in the company. It had acquired an initial 45 percent stake in 2019. British consumer goods giant Reckitt Benckiser Group invested Rs 45 crore in Bombay Shaving in February 2021. LetsShave and Ustraa are backed by Wipro Consumer Care.

According to industry estimates, the male grooming market in India was valued at Rs 15,806 crore in 2019 and is expected to cross Rs 36,402 crore by 2025, growing at a compound annual rate of 15-14 percent. Though growth was hit by the pandemic, experts are still bullish about the segment.

(Published in Moneycontrol)