What are leading players in Indian food retail industry doing to pull together their operations out of the dark penumbra cast by the raging coronavirus pandemic? What are their plans and strategies to navigate the complexities arising out of ongoing lockdown and from the onerous shifts in the industry and consumer landscape?
In a series of one-on-one interviews with some of the stalwarts of the food retail industry whose products and brands are veritable household names in the country, we bring you today our chat with Angelo George, CEO, Bisleri International Pvt. Ltd.
He shares his thoughts and views on the steps and measures that Bisleri has taken to protect its business and its marketshare amidst the disruptions caused by the COVID pandemic and the ensuing lockdown. He also talks of his company’s blueprint to chart its way ahead in a world that will continue to battle the lingering after-effects of the currently raging contagion for some time to come.
On the impact of the lockdown on your business: These are unprecedented times. COVID-19 has impacted us in more ways than we have ever imagined. Our families, our work and the way we conduct business – all have been impacted. It has been a testing period for companies like Bisleri – the crisis has tested the resilience of our supply chain and distribution network. It has been also a period that has tested our ability to adapt and respond dynamically to the constraints and how we keep evolving to these challenges and constraints on almost a daily basis.
In response to the COVID crisis, and as a provider of essential services, we have transitioned to a remote working environment in offices; and yet have had to keep our operations running strong. In fact, I would say that we have been connected to our teams closer than ever before. Consumers place enormous trust on Bisleri as a brand and on our ability to provide timely service. We have worked closely with all stakeholders to sustain the production and distribution despite the constraints. The government officials have been helpful in facilitating permissions on the ground for our services under essential goods.
The supplies have been maintained across all markets, and we have ensured that consumers have access to safe mineral water. Our sales teams are taking appropriate safety precautions, braving the risks and delivering Bisleri mineral water to the doorsteps of consumers. The segments of our business that have been adversely affected are those related to ‘Out of home consumption’ – Horeca, Offices, Entertainment & Travel. However, there has been a surge in the consumption of mineral water at homes led by the large packs.
On how much time would it take for business to recover and offset the losses during the lockdown: Bisleri has always followed the ‘consumer first’ approach since the last 50 years of its operations. Even during this current crisis, the biggest challenge has been to ensure that consumers get access to their uninterrupted supply of Bisleri mineral water. The reassurance of being there for consumers at a time when they need us most to build on the trust they have reposed in us. The current situation will take time to stabilize and some sectors like travel, entertainment, banquets, etc., will continue to suffer for longer. Consumer sentiments and shopper behaviour will be altered and will pose its own challenges. However, the crisis has also created new opportunities in brand and service offerings to engage with trade and consumers. I am hopeful that we are nimble footed in crafting responses to these opportunities and can mitigate the adverse impact to a large extent.
On steps and measures being taken to ensure the safety and hygiene aspects of employees and customers: At Bisleri, we have a very comprehensive health and safety framework already in place across our offices and plants, and this is being strengthened further continuously. Our rigorous 10 step manufacturing processes are completely contactless. Bisleri mineral water goes through 114 quality tests to reassure safety requirements. Social Distancing and other hygiene practices have been put in place much before the lockdown announcement. Only 50 percent of the staff is allowed to work in offices. Sanitizers are placed at each entry and exit points. We have installed Ozone tunnels in the factories to sanitize employees as they enter the premises. Our distributors, plant workers, forklift operators, truck drivers and loaders are continuously sensitized and trained to adhere to the guidelines. All distribution vehicles are washed externally with soap and sprayed internally with IPA to sanitize after each trip. We have provided protective gear to delivery teams, including face masks and sanitizers and have instituted processes to ensure safety for themselves and for the consumers and trade.
On ways to work with trade and channel partners to ensure that business operations are optimally leveraged and supply chains are not affected: We are working hand-in-hand with our distribution partners who have supported us despite the immense challenges on ground. Our sales teams are regularly meeting with them to guide them on operations, and we are using digital platforms to connect in those locations with travel constraints. Bisleri has over 135 manufacturing plants, which enables us to service our consumers across all parts of the country.
Bisleri has partnered with Retail and Delivery service providers to scale up our servicing ability. Bisleri mineral water is made available across all e-commerce grocery platforms and Modern trade retailers. We had worked closely with local housing associations to ensure service to the nominated stores, within even the notified containment areas. We had serviced not only consumers, but also provided free Bisleri mineral water to the police forces who were enforcing controls and also to the isolation centres for COVID-19 patients.
On any fresh ideas or innovation worked upon during the lockdown: Consumer behaviour has undergone a dramatic change with the COVID-19 pandemic, and there is a heightened concern on safety and health. Water being one of the most essential needs, there is an emphasis on hydration as a critical aspect for building immunity. We have gathered valuable consumer insights to develop appropriate offerings. The lockdown has also posed challenges on the supply chain in terms of packaging and raw material linkages, which could get disrupted with unforeseen local developments or transport restrictions.
We have learnt to quickly align alternate upstream vendors to support our network of manufacturing facilities across the country. With social distancing becoming the new norm, there was a lot more shift to online shopping and digital platforms. To encourage consumers to stay at home during the lockdown, we have launched Bisleri@Doorstep campaign where consumers can place orders by calling our customer service number or by visiting our website. The order will be delivered to their doorstep within 48 hours. Our e-commerce platform facilitate consumers to do their shopping online. The response to our reassurance of Bisleri mineral water delivery at doorstep has been overwhelmingly positive.