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Q] What is the first thing on your agenda after taking over as the MD of Perfetti Van Melle?
We have some really iconic brands and would like to see how we can build them further, make them even more relevant to consumers and get them to play a more meaningful role in the life of the consumer. That’s one clear task where the journey continues. The second is, we have an extensive distribution footprint, and opportunities to further expand that, especially with several new products coming in. And last but not the least, I think we are in a fun category, and have some really talented people working with us here, so we would like to continue to build on the talent and the organization culture in such a way as to push innovation and have a culture where people enjoy doing what they do.

Q] What percentage of your overall revenue is spent on marketing and what is the market-share you currently enjoy in the gum and candy category?
The marketing spends comprise close to double digits of our revenue. We are market leaders in India. And we hope to build on that strength to take it to the next level.

Q] The company recently launched the #AlpenliebeGhuleyTohDilMilein campaign… what was the insight behind it and what kind of response has that got?
The general feedback we are getting is very good. The ad is based on a few fundamental insights. The first one is that a kid in a typical Indian household would be the one who brings the family together in times of stress. Second is that globally the brand is positioned on the philosophy of ‘Brings hearts closer’ which the ad brings out in a very nice way. And the third and the most important aspect is that it is rooted in the product truth. So, you need the insight, the brand promise and the product truth to come together to make a successful ad. Boman Irani has managed to elevate the whole communication to the next level. We are all happy with the outcome now, let’s see how it fares in the market.

Q] How important is it for an Italian brand like PVM to give itself an Indian touch while operating here?
If you take the communication that was done for HappyDent 25 years ago, they were all rooted in local culture and relevance. So, it’s a given and will continue to be there because it is required for the brand to work, otherwise you have a danger of alienating your consumer. Also, from a product perspective, when it comes to food and related categories, there is always a need for local relevance. So, you tap into locally existing rituals and habits and give it a bit of a twist. For example, if there is a practice of people eating guava with chilli powder on top of it, I might offer a jelly which has got a spicy guava flavour, which reminds you of the same experience but in a very contemporary and modern format.

Q] Talking about presenting local culture with a twist, what are the new products in the pipeline?
There are quite a few of them. As we speak, we are rolling out Center Fresh Mints in parts of India. These are compressed mints and happen to be the first extension of Center Fresh outside of gums.

Q] Perfetti has witnessed one of its slowest growth in sales in the past two years - less than 1%. How do you plan to set that right?
I think the last couple of years have been a bit challenging, both from an environment point of view, and other factors like GST, demonetization, etc, which have had a significant impact because a lot of our products get sold as currency - instead of exact change, shop-keepers give customers candy. However, while that has had an impact, our overall business is performing consistently and the intention is to see how we can take up the growth to a higher trajectory as we go forward.

Q] International brands like PVM and Nestle are said to have suffered because of moving away from the 50 paise price point to Rs 1, while the bulk of the market stayed at 50 paise. Do you plan any change in strategy on account of that?
Unlike other categories, the fact is that when we take price increases, they have to be necessarily and literally a doubling of price, in most cases it’s 50 paisa to Rs 1, or Rs 1 to Rs 2 increase. When you do that, there is obviously an impact on business as well. But what we also believe in is making sure that we offer consumers the right proposition in terms of the product and the experience so that we are able to justify the prices. Now, of course, some local players manage to find ways and means of still managing to keep their prices at a certain level by working around several factors. That’s something they are able to do and something that we wouldn’t look at doing.

Q] Who do you consider as your biggest competition?
There are quite a few brands by way of competition; some international, some local. Local competition would be Parle, ITC, those are two big ones, and then there is Wrigley. DS Group has got one product right, the Pulse Candy, which brings me back to the local relevance point, the ‘chatpata tangy’ flavour with powder inside it. That has worked really well for them and they managed to get a good share going because of that. Although I hear that recently, there is some softening on that. But yes, they have done well.

Q] Last year, Perfetti launched the Chupa Chups brand in India, and also introduced gum-filled lollipops and extruded jellies, both new for the Indian market… how are they faring?
They have done extremely well. Chupa Chups has had a good run in the Indian market so far. It’s early days yet but it’s doing well. And I think, again it goes back to the point of offering consumers differentiated products which give them unique experiences, and that’s what we have tried to do, be it having a chewing gum inside a lollipop so that you have multi-sensorial experiences, or the extruded jelly, which is all about a completely different texture with a nice tangy sour flavour. These innovations have worked very well for us. A great testimony for it is also the fact that Chupa Chups won at the Effies.

Q] Along with innovation, are you also focusing on health and nutrition?
We want to play a meaningful role in the life of consumers, so we have ‘Just Jelly’. In a large cardboard box-like packaging, we have small sachets which contain jelly bears enriched with 45% fruit pulp, they provide 10% of your child’s daily requirement of Vitamin C. A mother can easily slip it into a tiffin box for her child and because it is tasty, the kid will be happy to eat it while getting the nutritional benefit. So, the whole idea is to try and constantly look for innovative ways of addressing the various needs of consumers, and making sure that we are able to deliver that in the most relevant manner.

Q] Will we see a high-on-nostalgia brand like Big Babol make a strong comeback as far as powerful advertising is concerned?
Not at this point of time.

Q] Also how are you planning to further increase popularity of your marquee brands like HappyDent and Mentos?
We need to focus on a few brands and do it well. Second is making sure that each brand has a unique and distinctive positioning to occupy the minds of the consumer, because otherwise, candies are just candies. We need to make sure what role each brand has to play within that space and that they address certain needs of the consumers and lastly communicate it effectively to the audience.

A veteran with more than 24 years of experience in General Management, Sales and Marketing, Rajesh Ramakrishnan was appointed the Managing Director at Perfetti Van Melle India, the country’s leading confectionery player on July 2, 2018. Ramakrishnan is responsible for the overall operations of the company for India and Nepal.

Ramakrishnan joined Perfetti Van Melle in 2014 as the Managing Director for Bangladesh. Under his leadership, Perfetti Van Melle, Bangladesh delivered sustained growth and achieved market leadership in 2016. In August 2017, Ramakrishnan moved to India as the Chief Transformation Officer.

Prior to joining Perfetti Van Melle, Ramakrishnan was the Marketing Head of HT Media Limited. Earlier, he worked in various companies including PepsiCo, Marico Industries and Reckitt Benckiser.

Ramakrishnan, a graduate of XLRI Jamshedpur and BITS Pilani, is an award-winning photographer. His work has been featured at Cannes and has also been published in several publications in India and outside. An avid travel enthusiast, he has been on expeditions to Everest Base Camp and Kilimanjaro. Along with his wife and teenaged daughter, he started an initiative - My Daughter is Precious (MDIP) - in March 2015, to raise awareness about gender equality and support the education of the girl child.

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