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BY Mitaksh Jain

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The enticing quality of candy and confectionery is well known, and it is clear that children form an important consumer group for brands operating in this sector. However with the pandemic restricting everyone to their homes, selling candy to children in stores became a challenge for brands. Against this backdrop, Anuj Rustagi, Chief Operating Officer - Chocolates, Coffee and New Categories - Food Division, ITC Limited, details the brand’s approach for its product, ‘Fantastik’ in an extraordinary year

Q] What was the idea behind this campaign for your product, Fantastik? How was it conceived?

When we looked at this brand, we were looking at three things: there has been a huge rise of snacking obviously, and therefore, we were looking at an opportunity because consumers are spending time indoors and at home. So, we wanted to capture consumers and business along with the change in consumer habit. The second thing was obviously, this year’s IPL was one of the first live events, or fresh programming that was happening and therefore it was important for a brand, which wants to be salient, to be part of it. Thirdly, cricket is equally a festival. IPL is a festival, but it was also coinciding with the festive period, which is typically when chocolate consumption actually goes up, and snacking on sweet treats increases. So it actually connected well with the programming, and it was also the right time for us. Therefore, we decided that we should leverage this opportunity to get our category back to growth during this time.

Q] What is your marketing mix like? Has the focus been more on Digital as the trend has been across various categories this year?
So, a couple of things. ITC, as a leading FMCG player, has been over-investing in Digital. And we have been doing it over the last few years. This year it was imperative because you are seeing a huge purchase rise on e-commerce, and media consumption has only accelerated on Digital. So, this was a purely digital campaign. We thought it is best to use Digital, both because the primary rise of Digital is very metro-focused and also the second screening habit during cricket.

Q] This campaign was launched during the IPL, which has concluded. What are your plans for the brand now, and do you plan to target any upcoming tournaments?
The campaign for the product per se continues and we will continue to drive it because we see a big opportunity for this brand to be pushed. We are not looking at targeting any more events. We spent sufficient marketing money behind this campaign, obviously in an efficient manner. We met our business objectives during this time, and other elements of the mix have to also take over and propel this brand forward.

ITC’s branded packaged foods business is one of the fastest growing foods businesses in India, driven by its popular brands such as Aashirvaad, Sunfeast, Bingo!, Yippee!, B Natural, Mint-o, Candyman, Fabelle, and GumOn. The foods business is today represented in multiple categories in the market - staples, spices, ready-to-eat, snack foods, bakery and confectionery, juices and beverages.

Anuj Rustagi joined ITC as Chief Operating Officer for the chocolates, coffee and confectionary cluster of the ITC Foods Business in 2017. Prior to ITC, he was a global brand director at Unilever Plc, London.

Q] You entered the chocolate crème market last year. What has been the response like?
Candyman as a master brand is one of the Rs 500-crore plus consumer brands that ITC foods has. Within that, Fantastik has really been on a fantastic journey in the last one year. It has been one of our best performing innovations and it is handsomely contributing to the Candyman portfolio. And obviously, we got impacted by COVID like all impulse categories did. But before that, we were clocking really well in consumables, almost hitting a run rate of Rs 100 crore+. And, we are looking to get back on the growth trajectory accounting for consumer habits and the change in the context.

Q] Can you give us a rough estimate as to what has the marketing spending been like this year, and how does it compare with your spends from last year?
First of all during this period, it’s not just IPL, but also Diwali and the festive period. This has been quite strong compared to what people anticipated and compared to the last few months. So, overall I would say things are on par or slightly positive, which is quite good compared to the lockdown period, when sales of impulse category came to a standstill literally. So we have been quite happy with how specifically this sub brand has performed for us on it. Overall you could say we are almost back to the pre-COVID level with some positives.

Q] What is the kind of recovery that you’ve seen in this year’s festive season? Has the consumer sentiment improved?
Consumer sentiment definitely has improved – there is no question about it. I think you can see that in all macro-economic data and consumer purchase not only of consumer goods, but also durables and automobiles. It has positively surprised everybody in terms of the growth in the economy, or the recovery in the economy. It did not happen automatically. We had to obviously make some changes, our mix of consumption portfolio has changed, including things like, driving in-home consumption. The channel mix has changed. We had to consider the best way to leverage e-commerce and adapt to changing consumer habits. So those things played a key role in engineering that goal, and that might vary by players and by brand, but largely, I would say this period has been very good. It is important to see how it sustains. We must not forget that last year at Diwali, the economy was going down a bit. Even before the pandemic took place as well, the economy was on a downswing. So everything, including the current recovery, must be viewed in that context.

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Tags : ITC Limited Mitaksh Jain Fantastik Anuj Rustagi