Marketing in the times of Covid-19: Tata Consumer Products
Sagar Boke, Head - Marketing, Tata Consumer Products – FoodsBI India
How brands are navigating the new normal

Marketing in the times of Covid-19: Tata Consumer Products

How brands are navigating the new normal
  • In our latest interview series, we talk to brands to understand how they are coping with the new normal and their strategies towards navigating these difficult times.
  • Sagar Boke, Head - Marketing, Tata Consumer Products – Foods shares how the last few months have been for the brand and how things are slowly getting back on track with each passing day.
  • He also tells us all that the brand is doing to stay connected with its consumers.
More than 2 months after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the nation-wide lockdown to contain the spread of the Coronavirus, we have now entered its fourth phase. However, this fourth phase has come with some relaxations wherein e-commerce firms have been allowed to deliver essential and non-essential products in red zones along with orange and green zones.

While things are slowly getting better with delivery platforms also getting used to this new normal, the initial few weeks turned out to be pretty challenging. While issues around supply chains are slowly getting smoothened, there is now a stronger adoption of digital across the value chain, higher efficiency in utilising the resources, and stronger collaboration across partners – be it logistics, distributors, MT chains, etc, shares Sagar Boke, Head - Marketing, Tata Consumer Products – Foods.

The products under Boke’s portfolio that include Tata Salt and Tata Sampann are all essential items and therefore as a marketer, he had an interesting experience and a few important learnings in the last few months. He shares with us all that the brand is doing not only to ensure there is no disruption in supply chain but also to make sure they are connected with their consumers. In terms of communication, the brand’s focus has been to create educative and engaging content rather than on advertising and hard sell.


Q) Products under your portfolio are essential items. However, how challenging has it been to maintain the supply chain during the last few weeks of the lockdown?

It has been quite a task to ensure supplies during the lockdown. Just like the police, medical professionals & bank employees, the people involved in the supplies of essential items have done a commendable job. It’s a truly heroic effort.After the initial lockdown where everything was slower, the situation now is improving each day. However, it has definitely altered how marketers sell and consumers buy across the nation.There is a stronger adoption of digital across the value chain, higher efficiency in utilising the resources, and stronger collaboration across partners – be it logistics, distributors, MT chains, etc.

Q) As a marketer, what has been your priority in these days of lockdown?

Staying connected to the changes in the Indian consumer landscape and their buying patterns is a top priority for us during as well as post the national lockdown. In addition to this, there are a few more things which are critical-

The Relevance of Advertising: Post COVID-19, the question that every marketer was having – whether to advertise or not; if yes, what should be the communication.Our stance is to advertise only if we are able to add relevant value to the consumers’ lives. Being in the middle of a global health and economic crisis, empathy with consumers is more important than ever. The brands which have forged meaningful relationships with consumers would seldom hard sell and instead look at offering genuine solutions that add value to their life. We have shifted our focus towards more content-driven communication and acts vis-à-vis the regular advertising during this time.

Innovations to meetemerging Consumer Asks:This global health crisis haspushed every business to rethink their offering to the customers. There is a definitive change in the way consumers buy and the way companies sell. We too are focused on creating offerings that address this new shift and new consumer needs. Our focus currently is to innovate our product offerings, channel strategy and go-to-consumer models to become a truly customer-centric organisation.

Q) What kind of communications have you been putting out? How have you been ensuring that whatever you put out is relevant to the times we're living in right now?

Our communication strategy during this time has been to partner the consumers during these hard times.

For Tata Sampann, Indian nutrition backed by science is at the core of the brand. We always aim to provide ‘Sarvagunn Sampann’ i.e. wholesome nutrition to our consumers. The conversations around physical, mental, and emotional well-being during the on-going lockdown are critical to helping consumers remain unscathed. With digital becoming a primary medium to connect with consumers, we launched two digital-first communications for our consumers during the lockdown. The first, ‘Beat the Lockdown’ was aimed at helping consumers stay fit and nourished throughout the lockdown help of a nutritionist, yoga coach, and psychologist. This was a three-week digital forward campaign for us, with expert lives almost everyday around issues people are facing during lockdown related to nutrition, mental and physical health,and giving out simple remedies to it.

Our second campaign was ‘Har Din Haldi, HarGhar Healthy’ that focused on helping consumers building Immunity through the everyday Indian spice- Turmeric.We created cool, new ways of using turmeric every day. This was followed by around 375+ recipes curated from user- generated content. We also sampled Tata Sampann Turmeric with Pride of Cows mil in Mumbai. Idea was to stress the importance of haldi-doodh for immunity. The response has been terrific- with over 6.7 crore engagements on various social media platforms for Tata Sampann.

In these changing times, we understand that parents are constantly looking for interesting ways to keep their children engaged and productive at home. Hence being ‘DeshkaNamak’, we launched Tata Salt IQL (India Quizzing League) - a daily format quiz to keep kids mentally active and helping them learn more about ‘Bharat’ positively. This initiative met with success as we on-boarded 350,000 participants in a span of just seven days.

While these campaigns were our mainstay communications during the lockdown, we will also be launching further communications for Tata Salt and Tata Sampann alike in the coming months.

Also with sanitation being one of the key focus across, we have amplified conversations on products like Tata I-Shakti Cooking Soda that helps in cleaning fruits and vegetables thus aiding hygiene.

Our focus is to create educative and engaging content than on advertising and hard sell.

Q) Have you witnessed any interesting consumer trends during this period?

With the growing concerns over food safety and quality, there is a revival in the traditional Indian food wisdom. Be it haldi doodh, home- cooked meals, etc.There is a higher awareness about food safety and hygiene. We are also witnessing a consumer shift towards products that are not just convenient and easy to store but also healthy and nutritious.

Q) Did you tweak your media mix during the lockdown? Have your digital investments gone substantially up during this time?

The proportion of investments on digital has significantly gone up during this time. Digital plays a key role in Tata Sampann specifically, as it is an important growth medium for us. Post COVID-19, our focus will continue to be able to connect with our consumers across digital platforms but in newer and more experimental ways. Tata Nutikorner is our nutrition platform that talks about Indian ingredients and their nutritional value through expert voices in the food and health arena. Television again is a platform that is making a strong comeback during this time and is a definite watch out when it comes to the consumption of brand communications.

Q) How are you preparing yourself as a brand to function efficiently in the new world?

Adapt and Adopt: With the situation changing almost every day, the ability to be agile and adapt will be crucial for a brand.

Hygiene and safety above everything: As for the consumer’s safety, nutrition, health, hygiene, and value for money will be a deciding factor when making any purchase.

Rethink the Go-to-market strategy:Though E-commerce has become the preferred choice for buying even your essential items, your neighbourhood retail stores will still play an important role. Hence, collaborating with the Government to train the neighbourhoodkirana stores to improve the level of sanitization is going to be equally important.

Q)Will the way you market your offerings change in the future?

Definitely, the trends and learning during the times of pandemic cannot be ignored and will continue to impact for the next couple of years. We think, given the current market scenario and the fear of this pandemic, the products that focus on nutrition and immunity will be in high demand over regular offerings. Demand for products built on traditional Indian wisdom will increase and as said earlier consumers will take to more of home-cooked meals.

In the last two months, e-commerce has grown to the level it would have otherwise taken at least five years, in many markets. India will be no exception. E-commerce and direct to home distribution models will get more prominence over the traditional retail stories due to deep-rooted safety concerns. New-age options, such as selling through AI bots/teleselling, will get more prominence. Human intervention would be encouraged only where it is indispensable. Many of these things were unthinkable in the past, but will become the new normal for many brands.

Q) What have your key learnings from this experience been so far?

Declutter and focus on what matters:One of the starkest but obvious revelations for us has been how consumers have begun de-cluttering their lives and focusing on only what matters. I think even when it comes to information, consumption of information might be high but I believe they are retaining only those information that matters to them.

Safety and Hygiene ruling the roost:In terms of the way they consume products in the post-lockdown era, we expect safety, hygiene & immunity to rule the roost as social distancing has made these factors almost a part of everyone’s daily lives.

Acing the digital life: We also are seeing stronger & faster adoption of digital in our lives be it for work or personal needs. Digital will continue to play a critical role for us in the coming days and months.

Q) What kind of impact did you see in sales during this time? Any interesting stats to share?

Sales have been influenced by how consumer consumption patterns have shifted in the past eight weeks or so. Consumers want to move to the brands that they can trust. We have also seen a significant spike in demand for both Tata Sampann and Tata Salt. Tata Sampann Products like Turmeric and pulses which are high on nutrition and essential in nature have seen a very significant spike during this phase. There is also a stronger demand for nutritious ready -to -cook products too and we have seen sales for those from our portfolio increase in accordance as well.