Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Packaged healthy snacks for weightwatching consumers



Snacking comes naturally to Indian consumers. With the mind boggling variety in mid-meal snacks, the pakoras, batata wadas or chaats have always lived happily besides the chivdas, the potato wafers and the kachoris.

In recent times, the happy co-existence has come under threat. India has already managed the dubious reputation of becoming the diabetes capital of the world.

The threat of heart diseases is also alarmingly high. These numbers are ringing alarm bells, among a section of educated urban elite, and of course, brand marketers. For this set, a well-rounded belly that was once 'a sign of prosperity', is now a call-for-action. Not that everyone jumps on to the treadmill overnight, but there's a huge intent among consumers to be on the right side of the weighing scale.

"The desire and obsession to stay fit and increase in awareness levels of health concerns have helped grow the category," agrees Anuradha Narasimhan, category director, health & wellness, Britannia. But as Deepika Warrier, executive director, marketing, Frito Lays warns, consumers need the best of both worlds. "Indian consumers are clearly looking for choices that enable them to snack smart with absolutely no compromise on great taste," she says. It's this sentiment that marketers are playing on as conscious consumers are attracted like magnets to the calorie contents on branded snack packs.

For the organised Rs 3,000 crore branded snacking segment, that's both a threat as well as an opportunity. Because, as consumers are trying to stop unhealthy eating habits, there's an overpowering urge to stray in between meals. It's that temptation that the health snacks segment that caters to your cravings for a quick snack is hoping to conquer.

According to industry estimates, the segment is currently Rs 450 crore (15% of the entire snacking category) and is among the fastest growing category segments.

Prashant Pandey, GM, marketing, Horlicks that extended the milk beverage brand into cereal bars says, "Packaged healthy snacking is a fairly new segment, still at a nascent stage." But his company has ambitious targets and expects cereal bars to be worth Rs 100 crore in three years.

That assumption is being made on the fact that with rising incomes, fast paced lifestyles and irregular food habits, the need for health snacks is getting stronger. Pandey adds that growth of modern retail formats will be another factor in growing this business.

Naturally, the latent potential is drawing the attention of the biggest names in the business and also newer players. Among those attracted to this space include Britannia, PepsiCo foods, Parle Products, Kellogg's and even beverages players like Parle Agro, GSK Consumer and consumer goods companies like Marico.

Even other established names like Nestle Maggi are offering healthier options like wheat and rice based noodles targeted sharply at the health conscious.

What's helping these entrants is the changing and erratic, eating patterns particularly of working and college going urban consumers. Marketers agree that in urban India the time devoted to a full meal is increasingly under pressure.

But if consumers are spending less time on each meal, they are eating less but more frequently. Narasimhan says, "There's an increase in the number of eating occasions for consumers from 3 main meals to 6 snacking occasions." Increasing the share on multiple occasions is what prompted players like Britannia to extend its NutriChoice range to variants like 5Grain, Arrowroot and Digestive biscuits and so on.

It's for a similar reason that Kellogg's, known otherwise as the "breakfast" cereal major decided to seek an opportunity as the afternoon snack — a space where Maggi was entrenched among school going kids. The company retails Kellogg's K-Pak, a low fat cereal at attractive price points. Anupam Dutta, MD, Kellogg India says, "K-Pak was launched to address the problem of affordable nutrition in India. The brand has grown well due to accessible pricing and widespread distribution."

While Britannia's success in digestive biscuits led to the launch of Parle Digestive biscuits about a year back, this year a clutch of companies came with interesting offerings to indulge and tempt the senses of healthy eaters.

While GSK entered the arena with Horlicks Nutri Bar, Parle Agro launched Hippo, PepsiCo with Aliva; Parle Products introduced Monaco Smart Chips and Marico extended Saffola into Zest baked snacks.

Horlicks Nutri Bar is targeting the young working adult segment for the cereal bar. Pandey claims that the early indications from the market are quite encouraging. For global foods and beverages major, Pepsico that started transforming its entire portfolio a couple of years back, the launch of Aliva in India is part of that transformation process.

Deepika Warrier, executive director, marketing, Frito-Lay says, "Aliva is the result of over 3 years of extensive consumer insight work & local product development in close sync with Frito-Lay's global product development expertise." Aliva joins Cheetos Whoosh — a wholegrain range and the 'snack-smart' Frito-Lay's range.

Parle Agro with Hippo and Parle Products with Monaco Smart Chips are the newest entrants in the health snack market. While Hippo was launched in June this year, Monaco Smart Chips came in this November.

Monaco Smart Chips is looking at expanding the consumption base of the mother brand Monaco, which "is a salted biscuit and snacks in India are predominantly salted," explains Shalin Desai, senior brand manager, Parle Products.

Parle has signed on Aamir Khan to endorse Smart Chips, as his health-conscious image lends well to the brand. Like Aliva, Smart Chips is also a cracker, baked and available in four flavours. Meanwhile, Hippo that marks Parle Agro's entry into the snack food category is shy of calling itself a health snack, to counter the danger of alienating a certain set of notso-conscious consumers. Nadia Chauhan, CMO, Parlo Agro says, "Health has different effects on different people's mind.

Many are scared by the preposition and most think it is expensive." She adds that Hippo's made a conscious attempt to steer away from health talk in its communication. "If someone finds out that it is healthy, they will be happy to know that they are eating healthy," she says. Apart from not harping on the health plank, Hippo is also looking at enhancing its distribution in hotels and to be stocked in mini-bars, so that it reaches the right audience.

Of course, many are picking up lessons and making changes. Saffola which had entered the health snack category with Zest early this year has taken the product back to the drawing board to make changes based on customer feedback. "To attract large segments of consumers to this market, the right range of product offerings at the right price will have to expand as well," explains Pandey.

That pricing is key, is a fact that everyone agrees. Most brands are in the price band of Rs 5 to 10, with Aliva being the exception at Rs 12. Right price, perfect taste and healthy too — for consumers, this is clearly a case of having one's snack and eating it too.

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