Sugar Free, the market leader in the sugar substitutes category, has launched ‘The Sweet Breakup’, a web series conceptualised and executed by Maxus Content and an extension of the brand’s innovative marketing drive. For a brand which is synonymous with the category it belongs to, innovation is the way forward, says Tarun Arora, Chief Operating Officer and Director, Zydus Wellness, whom we met on the sidelines of the launch of ‘The Sweet Breakups’.
Having spent much of his career working on FMCG brands, Arora believes Zydus and its wellness proposition is a unique space to be in right now.
Sugar Free commands 94 per cent of the market share. The brand is synonymous with the category. How challenging would it be to expand it since it rules the segment?
For us it is not about the market share. Although it has 94 per cent market share, it doesn’t have sufficient penetration. First of all, I don’t think there are enough people using Sugar Free. So, there's an opportunity to expand there. Also, we see that only 50-60 per cent of our consumers are diabetics. The remaining are the people who are going through a change in lifestyle and are seeking healthier alternatives. They are choosing Sugar Free because they want to cut down on the calories but at the same time also maintain the same taste in the desserts and beverages. That is where our new consumers are. We believe that is the path for us to grow, by getting more consumers who want to make a healthier choice. Sugar Free is one of the foremost brands to drive that. Consumers are already using our product in the form of pellets for their tea and coffee but when it comes to desserts they are either cutting down on sugar or consuming sugar with guilt. Sugar Free as a substitute will allow them to enjoy their desserts guilt free.
Close to a year back, you had said that you want to move out of coffee and tea cups. Does that mean you see a huge opportunity in the dessert category where Sugar Free can replace sugar?
Culinary is the way forward and we believe a lot more consumption can happen around this. Tea and coffee in itself involves a large amount of sugar that one consumes and switching to Sugar Free is a great thing. But a lot of sugar is also consumed through dessert. So, the culinary route is a huge opportunity and that is one of the reasons why we are here for this ‘Sweet Break-up’, which is our journey into the culinary space where we engage consumers by partnering with Chef Kunal and food connoisseurs Rocky and Mayur. Here, we are talking about re-creating iconic sweets with sugar free.
How has the response been to the Sugar Free dessert challenge?
The Sugar Free dessert challenge, when we launched, was fantastic because it was getting consumers to make their own recipes. It did extremely well. We had four legs of it with the consumers once we got the entries. We then got them to one place where a well-known chef would shortlist those entries and the final round was with Chef Sanjeev Kapoor. We saw a huge amount of participation and a good response from that.
Sugar substitute, as a category, has been controversial and has been in the line of fire from various bodies for not being as healthy. How do you handle that?
We have seen criticism across categories and we can’t shy away from them. Excess of anything is bad. There is criticism for sugar itself. I have read articles that say sugar is next to tobacco. But if you go into some real space like US Food and Drug Administration (US FDA) or European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), they have specified how much of Sugar Free or equivalent sugar substitutes can be had. To give an example, say their recommendation is 70 kg sugar so that is 150 pellets of Sugar Free, one pellet being equal to one spoon of sugar. A consumer probably uses 4-8 pellets of Sugar Free in a day, so you see the number is huge. A lot of the negative discussion is driven by myths. Today, social media allows you to be an activist without knowing the details and sometimes these things do cause some stress in terms of people thinking the product is bad but by that logic a lot of things that we consume every day is bad. The good thing here is sugar substitutes are approved by WHO, US FDA, EFSA. In fact, EFSA mentions that it is safe for expecting mothers and children as well. So, we believe in sharing our understanding openly and that helps us address the problem wherever we can.
How are you taking your brand to the younger generation?
The brand, because of the legacy, was seen only for the people who had diabetes. But today a lot of people are choosing it out of lifestyle and therefore, it is no more a diabetic’s brand.
We are not interested in being a brand that is reactive by nature. We don’t want people to consume our product because a doctor has asked them not to consume sugar but we want people to choose us as a healthy alternative. A lot of people today are making the choice to cut down on sugar and salt because they want to remain healthy. It is important to have a healthy lifestyle, do regular exercise, eat in moderation and consume calories in moderation but all of it is not possible in today’s lifestyle. Processed foods and a sedentary lifestyle are a part of everyday life for many people and this forces us to re-look at what we consume and Sugar Free fits every well into that space. While we would recommend people to have a healthy lifestyle, if you can’t then at least this is good way to cut the calories without compromising on the taste.
The country is becoming increasingly health conscious. In such an environment, where does Sugar Free see itself standing?
As this trend grows more and more, we see a lot more people accepting Sugar Free as a part of their regular food choice and that would be great for us.
While Sugar Free is the leader in its category, your other brand Everyuth is in a highly cluttered category of face cleansers. How different is the marketing strategy for both brands?
Both these products are in completely different markets and our marketing strategy for them differs. Both brands have their own challenges. For Sugar Free, our challenge is to grow the category. For Everyuth our challenge is about being more relevant and differentiate vis-à-vis other products. Even in Everyuth when it comes to scrubs, we have 32 per cent market share and in peel-off we enjoy a market share of around 85-90 per cent.
Facewash is a market where we are competing. There, we are looking for differentiated offering. For example, we launched a Tulsi Turmeric Facewash in the beginning of this year. We have launched Everyuth Neem and Papaya Scrub for people with sensitive skin. So, we are trying to offer innovative products which address consumer’s needs. Innovation is our fundamental approach to each of these challenges that we face.
Himalaya was already becoming a tough competition for Everyuth. How has the entry and growth of Patanjali in the face wash segment affected you?
Facewash is already an overly competitive category and I don’t think Patanjali has changed anything. For the last four to five years Everyuth was struggling in the facewash segment. It had nothing to do with Patanjali. It had to do with our own actions which we needed to correct and that we have done and are seeing some revival. So, we don’t worry too much about Patanjali or Himalaya or any specific player. We are more concerned about our actions and we are able to differentiate ourselves and offer a differentiated proposition and superior products to our consumers. That is something that we have worked on for the last eight months or so.
Your brand Nutralite too is in the ‘health and no cholesterol’ segment. But again, the butter, paneer and milk product segment is too cluttered with a lot of players claiming to be ‘healthy’. How does Nutralite stand out in its offering and communication?
Recently, we launched Nutralite in different flavours like garlic and oregano, pudina and coriander, etc. So, we are moving from just health to the joy of food. One, we are saying that it is a healthier alternative and two, it also helps you to enjoy the joy of food. We also intend to take Nutralite beyond the current spaces. We are looking at it as a breakfast and snacking brand. Therefore, there may be more spaces that you will see us occupying in the near future.
You have largely been into the FMCG category for most of your career. Is Zydus’ ‘wellness and pharma’ angle any different (in terms of marketing, distribution and operations) or is it very much like the FMCG brands?
It is a consumer products business. The difference is that all our brands have a wellness proposition or wellness positioning which is great because we are differentiated, we have leadership, we are profitable and we have enough money to invest behind the brands. We are growing the category. So, instead of a fight for share, for us it is about growing the category and driving the market. So, as a professional and as a marketer I see great opportunities for this business going forward and opportunities to create value for the consumers as well.