As marketers we can not retort tactlessly to every claim: Rahul Gandhi, iD Fresh Food

Rahul Gandhi iD Fresh Food interview

As the demand for ready-to-cook meals increases, we speak with Rahul Gandhi from iD Fresh Food, understanding the brand’s in-depth marketing strategy & the role of brand management in social ORM.

In conversation with Social Samosa, Rahul Gandhi, CMO, iD Fresh Food India speaks about the newer market opportunities for the brand, their e-commerce distribution strategy, handling crisis, and how their CEO has been the face of the brand’s social ORM, helping drive communication at low cost.

Edited Excerpts

With the rise in ready-to-cook meals, how is the brand catering to the needs of the consumer as we come to the end of the festive season? What are the top consumer trends observed in the category at this time?

During the festive season, people like to socialize and visit each other more often. This, in turn, translates to an increase in the average size of meals consumed at home. In such scenarios, consumers prefer convenient food options.

This year’s unique trend has been that consumers are more health-conscious, even as they enjoy the festivities. Health + convenience is the mantra. In October 2021, we clocked in an all-time high sales number – nearly 80% over our 18 months’ value.

In terms of the star products, iD Parotas have been driving our sales big time, apart from our flagship idli & dosa batter. The brand aims to redefine how Indians consume ready-to-cook food at home.

iD Fresh forays into the bread category with new launches with a focus on the healthy food market. What is the idea behind the lateral shift? Key marketing trends in the sector?

The bread market in India is, currently, valued at about INR 5000 crore. Although it’s a staple in most Indian households, bread is considered to be an ‘urban’ product with a short shelf-life. The category fits the bill of iD’s distribution strength.

For the last two and half years, our team has been working on making clean label bread, without any added chemicals, a viable product. Once we were able to crack that, the next challenge was to address the issue of shelf life, while ensuring that the product is affordable for the consumer.

The brand was also embroiled in a controversy where the rumor-mills churned that the brand used animal fats in their products. How did you manage the crisis? What are your thoughts/views on marketing in sensitive times?

Honestly, it wasn’t too hard for us to manage the crisis because of two primary reasons. First, the strong trust that our consumers and the media have in the brand. Second, the claims were completely baseless, and we had nothing to hide. Our food is made in kitchens, not laboratories. We use only fresh ingredients and RO-purified water to prepare our much-loved batter.

However, it’s important for brands to be prepared to handle sensitive issues like these, especially in today’s age of false social media narratives.

As marketers, we cannot afford to be blissfully ignorant; neither can we retort tactlessly to every claim made about the brand. It is a tough balancing act!

During the recent controversy, iD adopted a two-pronged approach to counter the false claims on social media. We promptly issued a statement on social media, debunking the claims and putting forth the facts. We didn’t want our consumers to have any doubts about the safety of our products, which use the finest vegetarian ingredients and are manufactured in state-of-the-art facilities that fully comply with the Food Safety Management System.

Next, based on legal advice, iD filed an official complaint with the WhatsApp grievance cell as well as Twitter. It is important to call out malicious behavior in order to deter its alarmingly frequent occurrence on social media. Fortunately, for iD, the controversy lasted for less than 4-5 days. Ultimately, it boils down to that – trust.

How did digital experiences and social media help you keep people hooked and hopeful? Which social media platform has yielded maximum results for the brand?

For iD, the strongest social media platform which keeps people hooked and hopeful is the LinkedIn page of PC Mustafa, CEO and Co-founder, iD Fresh Food. He has over lakh followers and his posts get a million views, without any paid marketing.

PC is a great brand ambassador for iD. His personal story resonates with people across ages and geographies, inspiring deep conversations and meaningful connections with the brand.

It’s not so much about which social media platform to leverage, as it’s about having authentic and engaging conversations with people.

Apart from complementing our business strategies, we also look at social media as an effective tool to stay updated on consumer conversations and sentiments. It also helps to map out ‘moment marketing’.

iD Fresh has usually featured the common man across its social media campaigns, gamified storytelling, and animated characters. Please take us through your content strategy?

Our content strategy has been clear from the beginning – to foster a sense of community, powered by trust. We look at smart strategies to make strong connections and engage creatively with consumers online.

The content buckets that have worked best for us, so far, include inspirational posts by PC, educational content about certain health/nutrition issues, as well as promotional content about new products. Whether it’s through social media influencers or our beloved in-house brand ambassador, we strive to connect with our audience. Our evocative marketing campaigns have encouraged many important conversations, while employee and customer appreciation posts have garnered much love.

What are the tools and criteria put in place to gauge the ROI from digital marketing?

We use a combination of social listing platforms like Hootsuite and the ORM tool called ‘Auris’ to determine the ROI from digital marketing.

The metrics are, typically, accounted as cost per reach and cost per engagement. For instance, the cost per reach for PC’s LinkedIn platform is zero. The brand gets a million views at zero cost! Similarly, the quality of the content also determines the engagement level. With the right content strategy, iD ensures good engagement, ensuring that the cost per engagement is low.

As a D2C brand, what is your distribution strategy at this time? Please take us through your logistics setup. How do e-commerce platforms fit in the whole game plan?

E-commerce is an important channel for iD, accounting for nearly 25% of total sales. In markets such as Bengaluru, e-commerce is bigger than modern trade and is driven by partnerships with brands like Bigbasket, Swiggy, Milk Basket, Superdaily, and Dunzo.

This year, we are working on an exciting joint venture with Bigbasket as it holds a pioneer position in delivering fresh staples (fresh fruits, vegetables, breads) with Bigbasket Daily. The co-branding of Bigbasket’s fruit brand, Fresho, and iD, with iD Fresho, will now include iD curd and paneer, along with idly & dosa batter and Parotas.

In terms of logistics setup, at iD Fresh Food, we have complete control over our manufacturing processes and end-to-end supply chain, including the factories and temperature-controlled vehicles. With fresh foods, outsourcing the logistics can be a tricky proposition as the products need to be handled with extra care. We take proactive measures to ensure that our customers have a delightful experience.

As far as D2C is concerned, iD has a D2C platform – Shop.iDFreshfood.com – which currently retails the Instant Filter Coffee Liquid. In the future, we have plans to integrate more products, like idly & dosa batter, parota, paneer, and curd, on our online store.

While Dunzo has been picking up well, Swiggy is currently our second-largest distribution platform. It accounts for nearly 20-25% of iD’s ecommerce business.

Also read: A vernacular approach works better than dubbing a Hindi campaign in other languages: Simeran Bhasin, Licious

From a hyper-local perspective, which are your strongest markets & why? What kind of a role does vernacular play in your communication strategy?

Our strongest markets are Bengaluru (particularly South and East Bengaluru) and Dubai (particularly Central and North Dubai). As far as iD’s communication strategy is concerned, we communicate in every language that helps us connect with our consumers.

For instance, Bengaluru has a 50% Kannadiga population, 18% Malayalis, 11% Tamilians, and 10% Telugu-speaking residents. So communicating in Kannada alone will not help us reach our brand’s wide clientele.

That’s the case with most cosmopolitan markets. Vernacular communication plays a significant role because that’s how the brand is able to connect with the consumer.

For instance, when iD recently launched its ‘Super batter by iD’ in Chennai, our focus was only on Tamil TVCs. Similarly, when we air TVCs in Dubai, the primary language is Malayalam. But then, we also dub in Tamil as Dubai has a substantial Tamilian population (about 20%). Thanks to the growing popularity of OTT platforms and digital marketing, brands today are able to communicate more effectively through vernacular channels.

What does the marketing mix for 2022 look like for the brand and the budget allocated to each of the channels?

iD’s marketing mix for 2022 is a good balance between ATL and BTL, with a high focus on modern trade and e-commerce. We will be allocating nearly 60% of the budget to communication, creative and research. We invest a substantial amount in the research process because the categories iD deals in, such as batter and parotas, are new product categories that do not have adequate market data.

Both e-commerce and modern trade have played a pivotal role in iD’s success story. As the world recovers from the pandemic, brands need to be more agile with their marketing mix.

The need of the hour is to be super responsive to changing consumer demands and preferences.

Lessons as a marketer?

As a consumer marketer, here are three timeless lessons that I can vouch for:

  • Be obsessed with your consumers’ needs. As the needs evolve, be ready to cater to them in a proactive manner.
  • Listen to your consumers. Brands that have their ears close to the ground reach great heights of success.
  • Practice empathy. That’s the secret to amazing customer service and long-term customer loyalty. 

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