Bengaluru-based MTR Foods, which was acquired by the Norwegian major Orkla ASA in 2007, recently re-branded itself followed by a plan to invest heavily in beefing up its manufacturing capacity. The new initiatives are a part of the company’s big-picture goals to distinguish itself as an innovative brand that aims to reach today’s digital-driven and younger consumers.
The company foresees a huge shift in its customer base in the next 5-10 years and is, therefore, working toward transforming its content and imagery — from product portfolio, distribution strategy to packaging and marketing communication.
“The consumers that we targetted a few years ago have undergone dramatic preference shifts. The women are no longer centered around the kitchen; they see their role as family managers and look for ways to keep the family happy and healthy. They are ready to experiment with quick, healthy and convenient meal options and we realised that ‘convenience’ has essentially become a greater driver of consumer choices,” Chief Executive Officer of MTR Foods, Sanjay Sharma, says.
“Today, more and more western food choices — like oats, cereals, among others — are entering her life. So we felt that given this new consumer, we needed to change the way we structure our products as well as how we communicate with our target audience,” he adds.
MTR traces its history to the 1920s when the Maiya family opened the first MTR restaurant in Bengaluru. Sadanand Maiya, son of MTR’s founder, broke off from the restaurant business to launch MTR Foods Pvt. Ltd in 1994 before selling it to Norwegian food maker Orkla ASA in 2007. Since then, the company has been working to change MTR’s image from that of a regional company to a national food products major.
MTR currently has 140+ products on offer, including ready-to-eat curries and rice, ready-to-cook gravies, frozen food, ice-cream, instant mixes, spices and a variety of pickles and papads. The products are retailed through 200,000 outlets in India and in 30 countries worldwide.
Looking at the dynamic consumption environment and consumer behaviour, the company launched a ‘product innovation programme’ in the last couple of years, with a sharp focus on creating products that provide ease of cooking and consuming but retain authentic Indian flavours. Over 44 product innovations were introduced over the past three years.
“Earlier we used to market only plain upma, which we have now restructured into ‘oats upma’, going by rising consumer preference for oats as a more healthy ingredient to have. Now we have launched cuppa upma, which is targetted specifically at on-the-go consumers. Going ahead, you will see more such innovations as part of our ongoing strategies,” Sharma explains.
To further augment its core product line and cater to future demand, MTR has announced plans of investing Rs.200 crore in the next 4-5 years to boost capacity from 45,000 metric tonnes (MT) to 72,000 MT at its Bengaluru facility. “The investment is a part of the task to upgrade our facilities, technology, R&D and quality assurance facilities to meet demand and manufacture products that are relevant for today’s consumers,” Sharma says.
A New Language
The reinvention cuts across the value chain. In addition to product innovation, MTR has also realigned its visual identity to the core purpose of rooted transformation. The company has roped in Pune-based Elephant Design Pvt. Ltd, one of India’s largest independent integrated design consultancy firms, to effect a brand redesign.
“We decided to retain the basic visual equity of red roundel with white fence and worked on improving the typography for ease and clarity in reproduction across variety of substrates & sizes,” explains Co-founder & Director, Elephant Design, Ashwini Deshpande on her approach to MTR’s branding rehaul.
“We created a bold sans serif brand-mark for a cleaner and contemporary presence, and also reduced the picket fence elements around the logotype to de-clutter the identity. Natural ingredients are at the core of all MTR products; therefore, a fresh green was added to the roundel to announce meaning and mission of the brand,” she adds.
“With a portfolio as large as 140+ products, the first thing to do was to discover what works as an equity for MTR and preserve — or even enhance — that.”
The next step, according to Deshpande, was to question and evaluate existing information architecture and remove redundancies to make way for cleaner, user-focused bytes.
In order to do so, the company decided to retain the strong red associated with the brand and build upon that by devising a colour code for each category for ease of purchase.
“We created three strong visual pillars for the product portfolio – pure authentic, confident contemporary and everyday celebrations. These moods were created within the master visual template to further accentuate the brand expertise and its involvement in every need and stage of the modern consumers’ life,” Deshpande states.
Since products like Sambar are available in multiple formats like masala powders, ready-to-cook mixes and ready-to-eat meals, Deshpande’s team brought the category descriptor right up followed by the consumption occasion and details such as cooking time, additional ingredient suggestions, etc. “A product shot is one of the most important factors for impulse-driven products and our team planned each shot meticulously, keeping in mind time of the day, occasion and accompaniments. Authenticity was built through right serving sizes, ingredient depiction and serving bowls,” Deshpande elaborates.
To showcase the brand’s expertise in regional flavours, Elephant also added a region of origin on the packaging. “Since there is a lot of curiosity about food from other regions, we have added a very interesting background of a region of origin for every dish. It is a subtle addition, but one we hope will be discovered to the delight of consumers and strengthen the brand’s expertise pan-India,” she goes on to add.
Alongside refreshed packaging, MTR is also aggressively tapping the digital space to communicate with its connected consumers. Last year, it unveiled a website ‘dishcovery.in’, a culinary bank of authentic vegetarian recipes from 10 regions across India. The company also has its own Youtube channel which has over 200 videos that educate consumers on the usage of MTR products for multiple recipes.
“We have invested Rs 50 lakh in building our e-commerce portal. While partnerships with portals like Big Basket and Grofers let us reach a wider consumer base, our portal allows consumers to have access to the entire range of products,” Sharma says.
“Over the next 9-10 months, we are looking to rollout our e-commerce network to major pin codes in all major cities of India. We believe that going ahead, digital channels would be a major contributor to our overall sales, although this might take a while. We would be very happy if online sales account for 2-5 per cent of our total business in the next 3-5 years,” he adds.
Along with developing a robust digital presence, the company is also looking at increasing its physical distribution by three folds – up from 200,000 outlets to 600,000 – by 2020.
With the changes in marketing and distribution strategies in place, MTR looks to hit Rs 2,000 crore in turnover by 2020, compared to around Rs 700 crore last fiscal, which fell short of the company’s FY 2015 target of Rs 1,000 crore.
“I think our goals were very ambitious and to achieve these we needed to built multiple new dimensions at MTR,” Sharma says, explaining last fiscal’s below-target sales. “We were required to take a lot of internal initiatives and there was a need to get our innovation programme to take off in a significant manner. These were coupled with external challenges of high food inflation. So yes, all these led to slower-than-expected growth last year.”
MTR has now changed as an organisation, Sharma points out. “Our strategies are in place and we are very positive about revival of the external economy and market sentiments.We are sure to achieve the target revenue of Rs 2000 crore by 2020.”