Pradeep Poddar MD & CEO, Mount Everest Mineral Water, the makers of Himalayan, talks about the bottled market water in India, the brand’s association with Wendell Rodricks and how Himalayan talks to its consumers
Q] How does the association with Lakme Fashion Week take the brand positioning forward?
We always believe that a brand cannot be single dimensional it needs to have a surrounding environment; the brand needs to have a holistic presence in space and time. That is when you start crafting virtues around the brand, to bring to the consumer the several facets of the brand. This creates an aura of positivity around the brand and this initiative with Lakme is a step towards that principle. This association is more with Wendell Rodricks than Lakme Fashion Week. Wendell’s creations echo the brand credo and ethos of classic, pristine and pure which is why we have an association for two years.
Q] What is the desired consumer take away from this association?
It is a lifestyle alternative from a consumer’s perspective. A consumer doesn’t live life only by drinking water, he also wears clothes, etc. So the brand has a persona which blends the credo of the brand, the creations by Wendell have a classic style and can be worn on occasions; it is very much a part of your life. So if a lot of people start wearing Wendell creations, it becomes an extension of brand Himlayan with Wendell. It is another dimension to the one dimensional space of the brand to lift it up and add another facet to the brand for the consumer.
Q] What are the other affinity marketing tie-ups in the pipeline?
Not strictly affinity marketing tie-ups, but we are looking at selective surround tie-ups with the likes of Wendell for the brand, which is still to be finalized. We are also in the midst of talking to a few NGO’s to save the Himalayas and address such issues as well; all these initiatives are focused at creating an aura around the brand.
Q] How is the current market for bottled water in India?
The bottled water market came into being from the simple reality that water is not portable in this country. We take care of ourselves by boiling water using water purifiers at home, but when we go out it is not in our control. You are a victim of circumstances. Bottled water mitigated the challenges of drinking water outside your home. Post economic liberalization and increase in the disposable income, consumers started experiencing a life out of home, a bottled form of water allowed consumers to feel confident and the packaged water category catapulted and grew. Though it is a recent category, it has been growing year-on-year at about 20% CAGR over 15 years. It is now nearly Rs 3000 crore category and one of the largest FMCG categories, which is growing at a fascinating pace. It is still a branded commodity with around 500 brands including regional and local brands around.
Q] Where do you see this market five years now?
It should be a Rs 6000-7000 crore market. This category should grow by leaps and bounds which will carry on for a decade if not more. Till portable drinking water is not available, there is a huge opportunity for packaged and bottled drinking water and it will sustain itself for a decade.
Q] Water being a necessary commodity, isn’t it paradoxical that the brand is in the luxury category?
I don’t agree with the usage of the term luxury. I rather like the word aspiration. The packaged drinking water is premium, but is not the case in natural mineral water category. When you are talking about using the goodness of nature as part of your life, people are willing to spend much more because they value it. If you look it intrinsically, Rs 50 is not very high. Consumers are spending much more on cigarettes and getting away by saying that they are addicted to it. Many people smoke or drink because it is a lifestyle choice and they want to be seen doing it.
Q] Is the consumer making this choice or does the price conscious factor overshadow it?
The mindset of Indian consumers is changing drastically. The view is largely driven by the youth who are more global and committed to a different life space than the one we grew up with. The basic reason for buying packaged drinking water is completely different. It is driven by purity and trust -- a sense of comfort is given by bottled water. The purchase of Himalayan moves away from an impulse purchase. It is a much studied option and subsequent choice. That is what Himalayan is all about. If the brand was to slip into packaged drinking water, then we have lost the game. The brand stands for a lifestyle choice and that choice comes at a very, very nominal price. It stands up to scrutiny. Anything that comes out of the Tata’s, has a philanthropic side to it. I could have priced the product at Rs 100, making it profitable but our aim is to make it reachable and accessible to a large majority.
Q] If purchase of the product is a studied and well researched one, how does the brand approach Tier II and Tier III markets?
Tier II and Tier III cities also have people who love to be a part of the Himalayan social community and lifestyle. They have the disposable income and the inclination to live this lifestyle. It would be wrong on our part to say that it is only south Mumbai or small pockets across the country where brand presence is important. It maybe the starting point of a nascent category building, but as we go along, the appeal of this proposition transcends this obvious segmentation template. The challenge we face is distribution in Tier II and Tier III cities. The go-to-market strategy to carry the product to the consumer’s door steps is hindered due to lack of infrastructure. From the consumer’s standpoint, the market is ready but from a distribution stand point there could be a challenge. As more and more lifestyle options come into the country, it becomes more economically viable for the channel to open up. It cannot be a single brand trying to get there. The good news is that it is now happening.
Q] Is the Tier II consumer demanding the product or is demand creation taking place?
These are two sides of the same coin. It is a latent desire in consumers. So for the consumers, this desire turns into something he can reach out to.
Q] Have you received consumer feedback that the product is expensive?
Himalayan is value-for-money for people who have tried it. Price consciousness of consumers is the first barrier. But the trend has been that consumers have transcended from price consciousness to value consciousness. A lot of people don’t know that the water is untouched by human hands and from the Himalayas. Once they know this, they are ready and happy to pay.
Q] How does the brand talk to consumers?
Packaging the brand itself is very important as it is the first interaction with the consumer. We have a first person speak on the label itself. In the first phase, the label covers ‘Who am I?’. In the second phase, it will cover ‘What am I?’. We are looking at a cost effective medium like the social medium to leverage the brand’s presence in a big way. People should be able to interact with the brand. They should have a feeling of it. The communication is more definitive. It includes selective batches of people visiting the plant and seeing the process for themselves. I believe in the power of word of mouth. We are going to get into mobile marketing and digital in a big way. This will be actualized in the coming months. We did a lot of television when we did the rebranding four years ago. It created awareness to a high extent. We have a shifting profile of media depending on the lifecycle of the brand.