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‘Mother’s Recipe a culinary experience in itself’


P. Rajan Mathews, VP, Sales & Marketing, Desai Brothers Ltd – Food Division, speaks to Progressive Grocer about the expanding product portfolio of his company’s Mother’s Recipe brand and strategies for further building up its brand equity.

1. As a diversified food company, let’s have a brief account of your product portfolio.

The Mother’s Recipe brand is owned by Desai Brothers Limited, now a 4th generation family owned business house with interests in food processing, tobacco, finance, logistics, specialty chemicals, health care, and hospitality. Keeping the experience of authentic Indian cuisine as a motivator, quality as a non-negotiable aim, and customer satisfaction as the end goal, Mother’s Recipe, under the leadership of Desai Brothers, began a deliberate expansion. New researched recipes and professional expertise was acquired and was supplemented with distribution strength. With aggressive media promotions, the brand was re-launched as a trusted and traditional Indian food brand. As a sequel to the launch – and its success – Mother’s Recipe introduced whole new product categories to include many components that complete a traditional Indian meal.

Mother’s Recipe is now an entire cooking and culinary experience. It includes twelve categories of products – pickles, cooking and condiment pastes, curry & gravy pastes, chutneys, blended spices, ready-to-cook mixes, ready-to-eat, instant breakfast mixes, ready-to-fry products, curry powders, mango pulp and canned foods in 150 different variants.

Mother’s Recipe strives to bring home the true taste of homemade pickles by ensuring that only the freshest, purest fruits, vegetables and spices are used. As a diversified pickle brand, we offer Andhra Avakaya, Karnataka Cut Mango, Madras Thokku, Kerala Mango, Bengali Mango, Punjabi Pancharanga, Gujarati Methia Mango, Maharashtra Mango, Gujarati Gorkeri, Choondo and Red Stuffed Chilies among 59 distinct tastes and flavours from virtually every corner of the country.

The size of the organised sector pickle market is 24,000 MT, valued at around Rs 400 crore and Mother’s Recipe has a market share of 25% based on Euromonitor estimates. Our offerings have expanded Mother’s Recipe portfolio of products, which has now come to include nine variants of papads, four variants of pastes that pack in the natural aroma of freshly minced spices, and twenty different spice mixes that add convenience to cooking. These mixes contain no monosodium glutamate (MSG), no preservatives and no hydrogenated oils – just 100% natural and 100% fresh ingredients. To complete the offerings, there are 15 classic Indian heat-and-eat dishes as well.

2. Which are the markets and demographics that your products cater to, and   what has been the pace of growth over the years?

Mother’s Recipe has a strong presence across India and the global arena, especially in the Middle East, Far East, Australia, UK – Europe, US – Canada, and Africa. We are one of the largest providers of traditional & authentic Indian taste and our products are exported to more than 40 countries around the world.

The DBL Foods Division turnover in FY 2014-15 was around Rs 200 crore and we are targeting a growth of 40 per cent in the next financial year.

3. Which are the important factors for retail pick-up of your products?

Mother’s Recipe cherishes the trust that millions of Indians have put in it. Everyday 200,000 bottles and pouches of pickle are processed at the brand’s Pune production facility. It’s the first and only Indian pickle brand to have researched and perfected 45 regional favourite pickle varieties. No other pickle brand is available in every Indian state and union territory. We are proud to share that “Mother’s Recipe” pickle has been rated as the best pickle available in Delhi-NCR on value for money, taste, and on all other sensory parameters. This independent evaluation of pickles available in the Delhi-NCR market has been carried out by VOICE (Voluntary Organization in the Interest of Consumer Education), an NGO for the benefit of consumers. Under the comparative product testing and service evaluation of Jago Grahak Jago campaign, the consumer voice team evaluated nine brands of mixed pickle in oil from Delhi and NCR market on value-for-money parameters, microbiological parameters and sensory parameters.

On all these parameters, Mother’s Recipe brand of mixed pickle had the highest acceptable rating, and has been recommended as the ‘Best Buy’.

We at DBL–Foods (Mother’s Recipe) are proud to have such high quality products in our portfolio and will continuously strive to give consumers the best products, which is the only reason for the consumers to pick our products from retail shelves.

4. What is your strategy for retail outreach and who are your top retailers?

In general trade, the expansion of retail outreach has been a continuous effort. Today we have a coverage of more than two lakh retail outlets in all the metros, tier 1 and tier 2 cities, and have a presence in most district headquarters. In modern trade we are listed and present in all the modern trade outlets such as Future Group’s Big Bazaar and KB’s Fair Price Shop, Star Bazaar, HyperCITY, Spencer’s, ABRL More and Hyper, Easyday, SPAR Hyper, Vishal Megamart, Reliance Fresh, Reliance Mart and all C&C stores such as Metro, Wal-Mart and Reliance, and discount stores such as DMart, Kannan Dept stores, Saravanna Stores and regional stores such as Heritage, Foodworld, Lulu Hypermarket, Ratnadeep stores, etc. Also, Mother’s Recipe products are present with more than 40 e-grocers in the Indian market such as Bigbasket, LocalBaniya, Aaramshop, etc.

5. What are you doing to make your products more appealing to consumers?

We spend endless months in perfecting our offerings and establishing higher quality benchmarks. At DBL Foods, we have a systematic process wherein our R&D and product development personnel visit the area of the original source of recipe and study the local mother’s methods of cooking / preparation and the ingredients. We then develop the recipe to the nearest levels of the original taste of the region for commercial production and present it in the right format and packaging.

6. How important is it for your products to have superior packaging and labeling and what steps have you taken on these fronts?

We at DBL Foods believe that in the traditional foods arena it is critical to differentiate Mother’s Recipe products from the others. We make special efforts and walk that extra mile to portray the product’s original source. Similarly, usage of natural and high-quality ingredients is given top priority so that consumers get the true taste of home-made food. Hence, packaging development is done on a continuous basis. Helping us in these new packaging developmental work are the various leading packaging and design agencies.

7. When it comes to end consumers, what has been a significant learning?

The surprising thing about most packaged food products is that the average Indian consumer was not prepared for the product and hence most of the sales have been in the export market. Also, the housewife till recently, was not willing to accept a completely or semi-prepared product to feed the family due to apprehensions of reducing her role as the family’s provider. There are also quite a few misconceptions in the minds of the average Indian consumer. They include: packaged foods contain preservatives; they are not nutritional in comparison to fresh food; packaged food do not have enough value for money; most packaged food is routine food such as dal, sambhar, palak, etc, and is not a novelty; availability is limited majorly in modern format stores. These challenges need to be addressed by the industry.

8.Which are your new products and categories in the pipeline and which existing categories are moving faster?

Mother’s Recipe, with a strong distribution in place, is ready to launch new product categories in the coming years. Mother’s Recipe RTE foods in the domestic market are slated for launch this year with 10 exciting variants. Our RTE products are easily microwavable, 100 per cent natural, have no preservatives and no artificial colours or flavours. We feel that the RTE food category has a tremendous growth opportunity in the near future due to a growing youth population, expansion of the working women segment, increasing work and study commitments, declining culinary skills, the rising need for convenience, and surging disposable incomes. These factors, along with clever and innovative marketing, will lead to a higher demand for heat-and-eat products.

In the culinary and cooking pastes category, Mother’s Recipe already has Ginger, Garlic, Ginger-Garlic and Tamarind pastes. We will be adding new products to aid consumers. These products are being prepared using the most natural methods and without adding any preservatives, so as to give the flavour of home-made freshly ground ginger and garlic pastes. The USP of our pastes is that they match both the quality and taste of home ground products. In the ready to cook spice/gravy mixes, Mother’s Recipe is a dominant player with eight vegetarian and twelve non-vegetarian variants.

We are adding new interesting products to the range. Research shows that today’s woman leads a busy lifestyle yet spends the maximum time and effort in cooking. She wants to cook for the family new dishes and is looking for cooking aids that can reduce her time in the kitchen but at the same time allows her to retain control over the taste of the final dish. She seeks help in the kitchen but does not want to be replaced. Mother’s Recipe ready to cook spice/gravy mixes off ers the right solutions for her needs. Our mixes help the woman to make interesting dishes (that she may not be aware/well versed) in a short time and yet be able to customize it for her family. In the chutney product category, Mother’s Recipe has its range of chutneys in all the export markets and these will be soon made available in the Indian market with a new range of spreads. We strongly feel that the availability of good chutneys at home is an important need, which has not been fulfilled.

Similarly, though we have a strong presence in the instant mixes category with our instant Poha Mix, Upma Mix, Dhokla Mix and Vermicelli Payasam Mix, we will be launching new on-the-go instant mixes.

Also, Mother’s Recipe has launched its food services this year and is concentrating on the large segment of catering and QSRs. We are in talks with most of the large caterers, five star properties and restaurants, and will initiate the tie-ups with QSRs as the products get launched.

9.What kind of product launch tests you conduct to assess consumer response?

Since the time we launched Mother’s Recipe products, we have not withdrawn a single product or variant. That’s because we do a lot of research and study on recipe development and test the results with consumers before launching the product.

Suggestions on the product and variants come from varied sources such as our consumers, trade partners, sales personnel and in-house consumer panel teams.

10. Which are the ways that you collaborate with retailers to drive product sales?

Mother’s Recipe products are category leaders. In most of the categories that we are present in, our market share varies from 25 per cent to 40 per cent. In pickles we dominate the category and we are the only truly national brand available across the country selling more than 43 variants, which will go up to 60 variants soon. But the challenge is to make available all the variants in each store. Most of the retailers stock local variants but don’t stock other regional variants due to low sales in comparison to the main variants.

Hence we have planned for a Mother’s Recipe pickle festival in all major hypermarkets. This collaboration will help to jointly promote the pickle and traditional foods category. The first Mother’s Recipe pickle festival was held at Magnet Hypermarket, Matunga Road, Mumbai. We will hold more such festivals in the coming days and it will generate keen interest among the retailers for the category.
The main objective of Mother’s Recipe pickle festival is to drive growth in the Indian pickle category; induce trails of authentic regional pickles among customers; create awareness and make the range of regional pickles available and visible and help Mother’s Recipe range of pickles to increase the shelf space.

Product sampling helps to provide consumers with a positive product experience, motivates them to purchase the product and encourages the consumption of cross-regional cuisines at home. Events like Mother’s Recipe pickle festival will make brands and retailers true partners for driving growth and consumption.

Retailers should be flexible and should be willing to go the extra mile for ensuring the category growth.

11. What initiatives you take to make retailers more knowledgeable about category management of your products?

Before introducing any new category at DBL Foods, we educate our category heads on the new product by giving them samples, making them visit the manufacturing locations and ensuring that our R&D personnel meet the retailers’ category personnel. This approach also creates a close bond and goodwill for the brand. We also work with the category persons for developing the decision tree for the category and deciding on the best place for the brand and category.

12. Which are your new innovations in marketing, branding and packaging?

We like to think of ourselves as the custodian of traditional taste. All our communication and promotions are centered around reiterating this unique theme. The brand strives to be a part of every festival and festivities without discriminating between religion and an individual’s economic well-being. If India is a land in a perpetual state of celebration then Mother’s Recipe is a part of it. It celebrates all festivities where food is an important part of the celebration and culture. So whether it is Pongal in Tamil Nadu or Baisakhi in the North, Onam in Kerala or Bihu in Assam, Mother’s Recipe is part of the celebrations and centered around the occasion. The brand has created a series of handcrafted micro videos, which have the customary wishes for occasions like New Year, Vishu, Baisakhi and Poila Boishakh. Like festivals, the brand likes to celebrate special occasions and topical events and we have adopted this approach as a big part of the brand’s strategy. Mother’s Day has been a major promotional day for the brand. Th is year we had an innovative promotion in Mumbai wherein we invited mothers to share or spend a day with children who have not experienced a mother’s love.

In 2013, Mother’s Recipe made a move to boost its digital presence. The brand connects with the audience online by promoting its products and also offers useful cooking tips and ideas to add value to the consumer’s life. Mother’s Recipe recently initiated a fusion food blogging challenge, inviting food bloggers to add a twist to Mother’s Recipe products and cook up something new. ‘The Infamous Foodies contest’ was well received among the online food enthusiasts across the country and it saw an enthusiastic participation.

Mother’s Recipe has won the Bronze for fusion blogging in the Best Blogs category at the Indian Digital Media Awards 2015 held at Mumbai. This is the first award for brand Mother’s Recipe in the digital space and has been awarded for “the best engagement of consumers” through innovative and effective use of weblogs.

13. How has the growth and development of modern retail helped in making your products popular?

Mother’s Recipe products such as ready to cook gravy / spice mixes, instant mixes and ready-to-eat products are mainly driven by modern retail trade. These products are introduced by modern retail and after gaining popularity they move to the other stores. The influence of modern retail on consumption behaviour has over the last two decades led to the emergence and growth of a number of product categories, primarily driven by the environment offered by the format. Most supermarkets/ hypermarkets such as Spencer’s, Reliance, More, Big Bazaar/Food Bazaar, HyperCITY, Godrej Nature’s Basket, Easyday, etc., offer over 80 per cent of the above product categories and have helped in the emergence and growth of various product categories.

14. How do you see the market moving for your product lines, what are the major trends and developments and how are you positioned to play the market?

The market for traditional foods has been localized. It has led to many local and unorganized players who dominate this sector and contribute 50% of the industry’s volume. This leads to an uneven playing field for the organised player.

It is easy for an unorganised player to manufacture today. However, most unorganised players lack infrastructure in terms of automation, hygiene, lab facilities, purchase of quality raw material, etc. Producing quality products consistently comes at a cost. Hence, an organised player ends up with a price disadvantage. The only way to fight the unorganised sector is to continuously educate our customers, from time to time. This has to be done through research on identifying consumer’s regional taste preferences and by delivering the right product. Today it is easy to manufacture but the foremost challenge faced by any manufacturer of processed foods is in converting consumers from fresh to processed foods. Affordability and cultural preference for fresh food demands huge marketing costs in converting consumers to processed, packaged foods, and we at DBL Foods have the capacity to invest in marketing, using the best expertise and knowledge.