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Retail will witness an overhaul, but traditional outlets won’t lose their position on the network map: Anil Viswanathan, Mondelez India
Anil Viswanathan, Director – Marketing (Chocolates), Mondelez India
How brands are navigating the new normal
brands

Retail will witness an overhaul, but traditional outlets won’t lose their position on the network map: Anil Viswanathan, Mondelez India

How brands are navigating the new normal
  • Like most businesses dependent on retail and delivery, Mondelez India's business was impacted too in the first few weeks of the lockdown, considering the complete closure of retail stores, super markets and e-commerce.
  • However, with the gradual relaxation of the lockdown, things are slowly picking up.
  • Anil Viswanathan, Director – Marketing (Chocolates), Mondelez India tells us how the importance of agility has been one of his major learning from this experience. He also tells us all that the brand is doing to ensure business continuity and the safety of all its stakeholders.
  • He also tells us the brand's broad marketing strategy and how things will be different in the post-Covid world.

Dirk Van de Put, Mondelez’s global chairman and chief executive officer (CEO), during a recent investor call, spoke about the impact of the initial phase of the lockdown when the confectionary major saw almost zero sales, according to reports.

Mondelez, like most other organizations, experienced disruptions in the initial phase due to strict lockdown which led to widespread trade closures and operational and distribution difficulties.

However, with the easing of restrictions, shops opening up and online grocery platforms delivering again, people have been ordering more and more snacking products. As people spend more time at home and with family, there has been a steep increase in the demand of chocolates, biscuits and beverages.

According to Anil Viswanathan, Director – Marketing (Chocolates), Mondelez India, there has been a perceptible shift in buying patterns of consumers. “There has been an increase in demand for packaged food items. As most of us are stranded in the confines of four walls, in-home munching is gaining momentum and we foresee a spike in demand for snack items,” he said.

As things are slowly falling back in place, we caught up with Viswanathan to understand how Mondelez as a brand, dealt with the adverse situation. We also try to understand how the rest of the year looks. We also try to understand how the brand was able to stay connected with its consumers, and how things will be different, in the post-Covid world.

Excerpts:

Q) Considering the initial weeks of lockdown was a complete closure of trade and production units, how were the past few weeks for you as a brand? What has the brand’s focus been?
Over the last few months, we have all experienced the importance of availability, safety and convenience of packaged foods in times of lockdown. Our products are an integral part of the consumer’s grocery basket. We’ve seen consumers seek out our trusted brands like Cadbury, Oreo, Bournvita and Tang – especially as they spend more time with family at home and need treats like their favourite chocolate, biscuit or beverage.

Like all companies, we did experience some disruptions in the initial phase due to strict lockdowns that caused widespread trade closures as well as operational and distribution difficulties. However, we’re seeing significant easing of the situation on ground as our manufacturing scales up and our sales and distribution network can more easily service the market. I’m very proud of how our teams geared up to meet these unprecedented challenges - so, while we have experienced a short-term disruption, business is getting back on track.

Our focus through all of this has been on our people – firstly, protecting our sales and manufacturing colleagues who have been at the frontline even during the lockdown and ensuring they stay safe and secondly, through continuous engagement with our colleagues working remotely. Our utmost priority has always been to build a resilient system that will enable us to maintain good service levels across channels. Understanding that time and safety are the essence of the moment, we have cautiously configured ways such as direct to consumer storefront, strategic partnerships etc. We are also working directly with hypermarkets to negate any possible time lag or safety risks for the consumers.

As far as the exigent demands are concerned, we’re leveraging the strong relationship we have with our suppliers in order to maintain consistent supplies of critical raw materials and packaging. Additionally, we’re constantly working with the central and local government bodies to keep our factories open during the lockdown and have reconfigured our supply chain network to fortify our routes to reach the consumers. Correspondingly, our staff across factories and our agile workforce at the back-end are all working dedicatedly to maintain good service levels. Considering the pandemic and the challenges that followed, it is important more than ever to have consistency in production and a well-thought-out RTM (Routes-to-market) strategy to ensure shelf visibility across channels.

Q) As the pandemic led to people stuck inside their homes, did you witness any interesting consumer trends? Were people ordering more chocolates during the lockdown, maybe to tackle the stress?
We are starting to see a steep rise in demand for chocolates in the last one month after a slow start at the beginning of the lockdown. This is at the back of increased in-house snacking which has taken precedence as part of the ritual of spending more time with family or with oneself. Amplified social media influence has also triggered a trend wherein homebound consumers are now increasingly looking at ways to indulge in or create-at-home eating experiences and in doing so, they are predominantly relying on brands like Cadbury, for superior quality and the assurance of safety. This has resulted in increased demand which is further fuelled by the rise in online shopping. With lockdown and the new norms of social distancing, the market and the consumption pattern of consumers are significantly leaning towards e-commerce, as health and safety has become a non-negotiable priority for people.

Q) With people getting more time to stay at home, almost everybody is experimenting with cooking/baking. We have seen a lot of brands take up this opportunity and use content marketing as an effective tool to stay connected with consumers by hosting cooking classes/using chefs to share recipes etc. How have you been communicating with your consumers during the lockdown?
Considering the ongoing scenario, we have reconfigured our communication strategy to adapt to this lockdown phase. We are leveraging our innovation arm to connect and communicate with our consumers in a light-hearted manner. With Cadbury 5Star, we directed the proposition towards a larger purpose of encouraging consumers to stay indoors by creating a distraction in the consumer’s life and help them breakaway from the monotony of daily life. We curated a Cadbury 5Star campaign namely #5StarDoNothingOutside challenge in order to generate some light-hearted content and at the same time equip consumers to better live the new way of life by reimaging their outdoor activities in the indoor space.

Cadbury Dairy Milk released a heart-warming film encouraging consumers to stay in and celebrate all those moments of joy with your loved ones.

On the other hand, with Oreo where playfulness was always a part of the brand’s DNA, the lockdown provided an opportunity to naturally advance the legacy and help consumers steer away from the pandemic gloom. Through the ‘#AtHomeWithOreo’ campaign, the brand wanted to showcase to the world that even if you are locked-down, the world is as playful as we make it.

As the lockdown continues, we aim to amplify our connect with the consumers through our campaigns and provide them avenues to keep their innovation plug sparking.

Q) How are you, as an organization, preparing to tackle the post-Covid world? The retail space might see a complete overhaul, so will you increase focus on online/e-commerce channels?
Although we are already complying with the new normal where daily processes and operations have significantly changed, we believe the reconfiguration in the coming months will be even more rigorous. However, any change in plans, partnerships and processes will be undertaken keeping the interest of our people and consumers at the core.

The retail space will witness an overhaul, but traditional outlets will not lose its position on the network map given the system’s ability to reach the deepest pockets of the country with convenience. However, the spotlight will be on e-commerce. There is a definite shift in the traditional shopping habit of individuals fueled by the fear of stepping out into crowded places, which favored the growing appetite for online shopping in the country. A trend which will be taking precedence even in the post COVID-19 world considering that health and safety will be a non-negotiable priority for people going forward. Keeping this in mind, we are strengthening our efforts in this space by changing the nature of our partnerships and pushing several of our sales and marketing activities through e-commerce platforms.

Having said that, we believe the role of physical retail stores cannot be negated and the traditional route will retain primacy in our layout, but the key to success will lie in building a resilient system by adopting a balanced approach amongst all conduits.

Q) Cadbury Dairy Milk has been using 'Generosity' as a global theme in its communication. You also launched limited-edition Thank You bars during the lockdown. How else have you been spreading this message to your consumers?
Purpose resides at the very core of our business which we are fostering today by evoking the spirit of generosity with Cadbury Dairy Milk.

Since the progressive journey of Cadbury Dairy Milk in India has been nothing but a blend of emotions for close to 75 years, the cultural infusion that the brand holds only made it a natural choice for us to push our generosity agenda. The aim was to address social issues by conceptualizing purpose-driven campaign. We started with the campaign ‘The Wrapper that Gives’ to address the issue of lack of resources in the rural areas. Through this campaign, consumers could click a photo of an empty wrapper of Cadbury Dairy Milk and choose to either keep the data offered for themselves or donate to Pratham Education Foundation who ensured that the collected data reached the right schools to carry out the internet enabled learning activities among children. The Purple Heart Campaign addressed the impending issue of cyber bullying. It was based on the idea of standing up for each other and expressing solidarity with victims by replying with the ‘Purple Heart’ emoticon in response to every troll comment on the victim’s timeline, along with the hashtag #HeartTheHate. And the recent example of infusing generosity has been the launch of limited-edition Cadbury Dairy Milk ‘Thank You’ bar in recognition of the relentless spirit of health care workers who are battling it out at the frontline, as well as the ancillary staff, whether ambulance driver or IT personnel, who are enabling seamless operations at hospitals, at all times. The campaign came full circle with the part of sale proceeds committed towards health insurance policies of the daily wage earners, via a partnership with Nirmana, an NGO that works with the unorganized sector.

Q) While it might still be difficult to predict, do you anticipate business to get back on track within the next few months?
In the initial days of the lockdown, most industries witnessed a slump in sales and production, as consumers predominantly focused on staples and essential items. However, the packaged food industry has weathered the storm and has slowly started observing signs of an uptick in consumer demand. At Mondelez India, we have witnessed a perceptible shift in buying patterns of consumers and an increase in demand for packaged food items. As most of us are stranded in the confines of four walls, in-home munching is gaining momentum and we foresee a spike in demand for snack items. Consumers have started becoming more vigilant and cautious about safety and hygiene, hence naturally leaning towards brands they have trusted for years.

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

We have learned that agility will be the primary factor dominating all operations for brands to align themselves with unanticipated challenges and opportunities that influences the consumer’s consumption/demand graph. Case in example being the increased in-home consumption which has not only led us to reinvent our supply chain network that now includes direct deliveries to housing societies,but also change our communication directive considering many consumers are taking reference from social media to create new eat experiences at home. Therefore, even the communication plans require a re-haul where with drastic change in customer’s motivation and paths to purchase, it has become imperative to adopt a focused approach to ensure that every message is relevant to the current times with empathy residing at its core. This will further help in reinforcing the emotional connect with our consumers who are closely observing the brand’s reaction and their critical role in combating the pandemic. Consequently, paving way for purpose-led marketing which will command better impact and resonance.

Hence, the need of the hour will be to innovate every step of the way, be it externally or internally,to keep the business engine running hot.