Balki Radhakrishnan, Vice President & Managing Director – Asia, Middle East, and Africa, General Mills, recently spoke to BW Applause and EE about the impact of covid on the packaged food industry and the challenges facing the category. He also spoke about how General Mills is fast re-aligning its market strategy to meet the new consumer demands.
Here are some edited excerpts from the interview:
How have the last almost five months been for you?
It has been quite a journey. You know first of all everybody focused on the organization - ensuring that our business processes work to deliver products to our consumers. As a company, our purpose is to make food the world loves, but in the past three to four months this has evolved to making the food that the world needs because there’s been a significant shift in consumption from away from home to at home.
We have seen strong growth in our business and our greater consumer demand. We have had the ability to remain agile in our ways of working to be able to meet our consumer demand in a dynamic market.
With Covid-19, there is a lot of focus on safety, and hygiene and packaging. How are you addressing this new demand?
The General Mills business in India has two arms, we’ve got a consumer retail business and we’ve also got a business that services the bakery industry in India. In both areas there has been a strong need for greater hygiene, laddering up to good nutrition, and that’s what all of us are looking for in the brands and products that we choose.
The trust that consumers place in our brand is something that we don’t take lightly, and especially during the time of the pandemic. As consumer behaviour is changing, it is even more important for brands to deliver on that consumer trust. This is something that we do day in and day out as a company of great brands like Pillsbury, Nature Valley, Betty Crocker and Häagen Dazs.
Even though they don’t come out and overtly say it, consumers are looking for the element of trust in a brand that drives the belief and rightfully so that they’re getting a certain standard of hygiene, quality and nutrition that they expect from it.
General Mills also has a strong business supporting the bakers, the bakery business in India. We reach close to over 7000 bakeries across the country with our baking mixes and solutions that help the bakers deliver good products.
As you think about the bakery solutions that we're delivering, as they come back to business as they're reopening, that element of trust becomes even more important. You as a consumer, you as a shopper, you would trust and go to a baker that you believe has that hygiene standard, which is why General Mills through our Pillsbury brand is doing something called to Pillsbury Suraksha, a program to help bakers get back to have a vertical startup after a shutdown over a 100 days, but at the same time helping them deliver the right juggle of hygiene, sanitation, health, nutrition, being they're running their operations. So that consumer trust is re-established, that you're confident to walk back into their store and buy something from them.
Every brand is going through a certain dynamic in the sense that they are re-aligning themselves when it comes to connecting with consumers in these challenging times , what is your story like?
We're seeing a lot more engagement on social media, especially during the lockdown, in terms of how consumers are connecting with our brands. Instagram is a good way for us to connect, interact and have that direct linkage with home bakers in India.
There are a lot of Instagram bakers and we want to be a part of their journey as they experience food differently. Similarly, when we think of our bakers as the industrial bakers and the business customers that we have, we are helping them reach consumers in different ways. So, we have a pilot that's running in Bangalore right now in partnership with Swiggy where we are bringing the bakery and the cakes and desserts section into more prominent work consolidating that.
. Your product Pillsbury is a major player and has a significant presence in India, but what about some of the other global products which are not in India? Is there a plan to introduce some more products which are there in the global front but not in India?
We see a great opportunity for one of our global brands like Nature Valley. Nature Valley is a great product that's with over a billion dollars in sales globally, it brings that wholesome snacking into our consumers’ minds. We already have Nature Valley to a certain extent in India but we see greater opportunity for a brand like Nature Valley in India.
Today it's in the wholesome snacking section in the form of a granola bar. It is also in the form of a nutritious biscuit. We see Nature Valley playing a bigger role. Häagen Dazs is the gold standard in ice cream globally. Häagen Dazs created and has led the super-premium ice cream category globally and Häagen Dazs has a presence in India through our shops in different parts of the country.
This is something that you will see growing over time as well. So we have products in the portfolio beyond Pillsbury and of course Betty Crocker, the other product, again, a global brand with over a billion dollars in sales, and Betty Crocker, it's a 100-year-old brand offering great solutions for at home cooking globally. Betty Crocker is helping Indians find new ways to make pancakes and have a good breakfast at home. So there are tons of opportunities we see these global brands helping us grow even further.
What would you call the factors that keep you ahead of the competition? Also, what's your vision for the company over the next 2-3 years?
Consumer packaged goods and consumer food is a competitive space but at the same time in a market like India, I believe there are opportunities for growth for everybody.
I think it comes down to a strategy of being consumer first, understanding the core needs of a consumer and helping find solutions to consumer problems. That’s the sweet spot and that's where we think we replay best and we see significant opportunities for us to be able to do that in India as well.
As I look to the next two or three years, we see a vibrant consumer. One of the things that Covid-19 has led to is a lot of behaviour change amongst consumers.