Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Economic Times – ET Edge Insights, its management, or its members

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What are the 5 things you would suggest brands to adopt to evolve out of this pandemic?

While a “consumer-first” strategy had sufficed in the pre-pandemic era, companies need to now apply a more holistic approach. Each stakeholder – the consumer, employee, and distribution partner – plays a key role in driving growth. Channel partners have become key in bridging the gaps between on-ground demand and the organization. Meanwhile, as work culture changed significantly, remote-working and adapting to technologies contributed to the overall performance of the company. For us, it became important to increase communication, ease up any challenges for our employees, and focus on creating a supportive environment for their growth. These two aspects, coupled with our deep understanding of consumer tastes and preferences, helped us grow exponentially, even during challenging times.

Brands will thus need to focus on five key aspects: staying relevant to consumers in times of need, building employee advocacy through a sense of shared belongingness, building strong relationships with business partners, innovating on product profiles as per consumer preferences, and leveraging newer technology applications in manufacturing to reach out to consumers.  

How do you visualize the impact of coronavirus on the FMCG sector and do you think by 2021 the demand will start reviving?

At Capital Foods, the demand for various food products grew rapidly, over the last few months. We have always believed in the motto of bringing excitement to everyday meals. As home-cooking rose due to the lockdowns, there was also a need for restaurant-style food. Our products like Ching’s Secret’s Schezwan Chutney, Desi Chinese masalas, and flavoured instant noodles catered to this growing need and hence witnessed a steep rise in demand.

Moreover, as consumers became more conscious about the hygiene and safety of the food they eat, they chose branded products over loose, non-branded variations. Finally, consumers also wanted food that matched their taste preferences. Our products are created with a deep understanding of consumers’ evolving trends of taste, which fuse global flavours with local tastes. On the back of such trends, we witnessed a steady growth of over 70% in H1FY21. Interestingly, we also witnessed growth across channels like modern and general trade and even online sales, reflecting that consumers were actively seeking out our products.

In 2021, we expect demand to grow further as some level of normalcy is reinstated. As a company that is focused on agility, we are already preparing to meet consumer needs more proactively in the coming year, while expanding our production capacities and growing our distribution network. We have added new facilities in North, South and West India, owing to rising demand.

As a result of restricted economic activity that has cast uncertainty over household finances and future employment, do you think consumers will be more careful while spending on the brands they love?

As part of necessary items, food products will be consumed, irrespective of any uncertainties. People no longer view daal-chawal alone as “staple foods”. Many other foods like noodles, pasta, paneer dishes, homemade sweets and baked foods have also become an equally important part of people’s everyday meals. In fact, these foods were hence categorized as essential items within the first phase of the lockdown. Consumers are hence seeking out brands that bring variety to their meals. Over the lockdown period, we witnessed several consumers becoming loyal to our brands – Ching’s Secret and Smith & Jones – since our products were readily available across the country and in various channels. Today, even as consumers are becoming more cash-strapped, they are prioritizing those brands that bring excitement and cater to their taste preferences.

Owing to the COVID-19 outbreak, FMCG & consumer goods companies have been facing multiple challenges to get goods to reach consumers. Manufacturing, supply chain breakdowns and labour challenges have been some key issues that the companies have been facing for a long time and this forced organizations to remodel their strategies. Are these strategies short term or long term?

Over the last few months, we have been quick to adapt to the changes across two key areas –labour management, supply chain efficiency. To tackle the availability of labour, we made provisions for workers to reside in our factories, ensuring their health and safety. We even arranged for lodging, food, and entertainment.  To maintain our supply chain efficiency and ensure that we meet the demand, we worked closely with both central and state government authorities and integrated automation in our distribution management operations. This helped us keep our employees and distribution partners abreast of the latest developments and eased up their work.

Even as things revert to normalcy, the administrative policies and guidelines will continue to evolve in the long-term to keep up with the “new normal.” Similarly, technology will continue to play an important role in optimizing supply chain efficiencies.

Today, labour issues have eased up and administrative policies are also reverting to normal. In the long-run, companies will need to have strategies that are flexible and easily adaptable, so that they can manage uncertainties effectively.

What will the future of work, jobs and careers look like after COVID19?

The Future of Work will be distinctly different from what we have been accustomed to so far. Virtual working will come with its own set of opportunities and obstacles. It will provide employees with flexibility and independence to bring a better balance in their lifestyles. The focus will also shift significantly from manhours to productivity, which synchronizes well with the current workforce’s expectations of ownership and accountability over micromanagement.

However, on the flipside, in-person interactions could reduce the ability to influence the workforce directly. This is where intangibles like empathy and culture will take centre stage, driving employee experience and performance. Drawing on the best of virtual working and in-office operations, the hybrid working model is likely to continue well into the future.

Will rural India revive better than urban India?

At Capital Foods, we look at markets from availability, distribution, and consumer preference perspectives rather than geographical divide. For example, while the taste and method of preparations of most dishes change every few kilometers in India, “Desi Chinese” is the only cuisine that runs through the length and breadth of the country. Ching’s Secret specializes in this and hence our products are popular in most states. In some parts of both rural and urban India, families consume macaroni like a sabzi. Noting this trend, we came up with the Smith & Jones Pasta Masala.

Similarly, we worked on other aspects – enhancing our distribution network, increasing our presence across channels like modern and general trade, and partnering with online delivery platforms – to reach as many consumers as possible. These efforts put together have led to an increase in demand for our products over the last few months and we expect it to grow stronger in the coming year as well.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Economic Times – ET Edge Insights, its management, or its members

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