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Television forms more than 80% of Parle’s media spends: Krishnarao Buddha

The resurgence of Covid-19 cases in India has created dents in India’s recovery plans with states having to impose lockdown measures to contain the spread of the virus.

Parle Products came out of the first wave absorbed with learnings and preemptively took on a cautious approach to deal with the disruptions due to the second wave to ensure an uninterrupted stream of products to its consumers. The company adapted quickly to the problems and foresaw in the initial stage by modifying their manufacturing, distribution and marketing strategies.

Parle is treading cautiously as far as its direct and indirect employees are concerned, considering their safety to be of paramount importance to the company. They have asked their channel partners to maintain utmost care and make use of technology and modern means of communication to conduct business.

In conversation with Adgully, Krishnarao Buddha, Senior Category Head, Parle Products, speaks at length about Parle’s partnership with IBM for distribution, changes in consumer behaviour during pandemic, the communication and marketing strategies during these challenging times and much more. 

The backbone of any FMCG brand is a strong distribution network. With the lockdown in most parts of the country, how have you managed your distribution to ensure that it reaches the last mile? Have you looked at leveraging the chemist outlets as they are permitted to keep open?

The lessons from last year propelled us to gap the shortcomings in our supply chain immediately. Sensing our need to be prepared for supply chain disruptions with restrictions of movement in various parts of the country, we have fast tracked approvals on new suppliers, partnering up with multiple distribution networks, planning for back-up resources and scaling up our last mile delivery strategies through omni channels. We have also augmented our digital ecosystem for our retail and distribution network so as to ensure minimal contact of our workforce on-ground.

There has also been a reshuffling of the products that we are manufacturing, the focus being mostly on the fast moving brands and SKUs. Apart from the limitations in the supply chain, FMCG companies also have to battle with the set store timings, which also differ from place to place. The upside of our association with chemist shops is critical for us and gains further importance as they are allowed to keep their shops open for 24 hours. We have prioritised small and mid-sized SKUs of our fast selling products, which are ideal for a chemist shop format. 

India has been largely an offline market. But the lockdown has restricted people from going out and shopping. How much e-commerce trading and transaction have you introduced for your basket of confectionery and biscuit products?

India’s traditional offline markets were exposed with limitations and challenges with sudden increase in demand. You can’t rely on one solution channel. Ninety per cent of FMCG volumes are sold through traditional distribution channels. Today, when they’re affected, we see a surge in e-grocery channels like Grofers, Big Basket, Flipkart, Amazon and others.

In the effort to keep ahead of the curve, we have partnered with IBM to make use of their expertise in artificial intelligence, hybrid cloud services to expand our reach through online channels. With the help of such technological interventions, we are able to ensure to increase the supply volume in the Indian markets and meet the ever-increasing demands from the consumers. Parle has, therefore, seen a significant increase in its market share across categories, owing to tapping into new online channels and technology and data oriented innovation in our processes. 

What kind of distinct changes in consumer behaviour have your noticed? How have you shifted your gears for the new change of behaviour?

Changing consumer behaviour has forced companies to relook at their product portfolios and marketing strategies. With rising infections, we are seeing consumers divert their household savings to healthcare and insurance needs. And hence, they are very wary of their discretionary spending. Initial trends saw increase in demand was correlated to increase in cases in India, which led to panic buying and hoarding, both in urban and rural places. However, now consumers are more accustomed to dealing with such situations with reduced panic-buying and pantry stocking tendency. Customers are opting for larger packs and packs and food brands with higher shelf-life.

Parle Products will remain agile with strategies to adapt quickly and shift gears as per the situation. To add, we have also been investing a considerable portion of the budget on digital mediums so as to leverage the ever increasing yet fragmented online audience. 

What has been your communication strategy for the last 12 months? Any new message or tone and style have been adopted in your communication looking at the pandemic?

Navigating through the last 12 months was overwhelming and challenging with disruption of services and sales, the need to keep brand relevant became that much more important. Soon after the announcement of the lockdown, we started working over our communication strategy. It was a novel experience for the entire world to work from home. It gave the much needed opportunity for bonding amongst the family members, who were barely spending quality time together. It was just not possible to shoot a new advertisement. Hence, we decided to stitch together all our old commercials, especially the ones with indoor shots. Thus, we came up with a new commercial which said – ‘Let’s catch up with life’. The lockdown was very well interspersed with packaged foods like salty snacks, biscuits, bakery products and noodles, which played a crucial role during such times. Thus, our communication was quite well received by our consumers.

Be it the free distribution of 3 crore packs of Parle G to the police, frontline and health care workers and the migrant labour force during the lockdown or any of our communication during Father’s Day, Independence Day or Diwali, the tone and style of our message was always filled with warmth and honesty. This communication played a crucial role for brand Parle, making it an integral part in the lives of our consumers. 

What has been your media strategy? Was digital part of your overall media approach and what was the role of PR in all these times?

Conventionally, television forms more than 80% of our media spends. The broadcasters were under turmoil as they could not produce new content. We heard stories about layoffs and zero revenues for many weeks together. Thus, once we developed our communication strategy, we decided to support a majority of the broadcasters. This support was more than ‘oxygen’ for them. This gesture has helped in strengthening our relationship with all the broadcasters who are now willing to go out of their way to support Parle.

PR also played a key role in highlighting the initial challenges that we were facing in manufacturing. These messages reached the government quickly and were addressed on priority for efficient supply chain management. Our PR agency ‘The PRactice’ was also quick to advise us on initial internal communication with employees when the outbreak was detected in India, which helped us with some form of dialogue of assurance among workers.

Digital media played a pivotal role during the pandemic. The consumers had nothing to consume during the initial phase of lockdown, leading to a higher time spent on the smaller screens (mobiles, laptops and tablets). OTT platforms and cricketing events further fueled the growth in digital media. Parle made apt use of digital media, where we made incredible use of ‘moment marketing’ and use of social media and OTT platforms to reach our consumers. Our memes for many of our brands conveying ‘Vocal for Local’ message were a major hit with our consumers.

This was the time to create a deeper connection with our followers and encourage them to keep engaging with us in the future.


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