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INTERVIEW

"Options many and varied with attractive price points"
Monday, 06 August, 2018, 08 : 00 AM [IST]
Changing tastes have led consumers to prefer cookies to biscuits. Many players seem to be jumping onto the bandwagon of cookies, to capitalise on the demand. While the Indian cookie consumption is still far lower than the European / American / Far Eastern markets, it is expected to increase in the coming years. VVS Mani, director, operations, Unibic Foods, in an email interaction with Nandita Vijay speaks about the Indian cookie market and its growth going forward. Excerpts:

How would you describe the demand and growth of cookie consumption in India and globally?
Consumers have been graduating from basic biscuits to value-added cookies over the years. It is true that the cookie segment growth has been much more than the growth of biscuits. This has seen many players jumping into the bandwagon of cookies, to capitalise on the demand. Though the Indian cookie consumption is still far lower than the European / American / Far Eastern markets, it is expected to increase in the coming years. Crackers is another area which has a huge scope yet to be tapped to its potential.

What are the visible trends in this segment including online formats to drive sales?
The modern trade sales have been catching up with the traditional trade in a big way, though it  would remain the core of the business. Online formats have been useful to an extent but still has not caught up in a big way in the cookie /biscuit segment. Although much our success came in from online sales of gift packs during the festive season.

What are the challenges faced in the cookie market?
Competition is no doubt quite stiff and the options available before the well-informed consumers are many and varied with attractive price points. To differentiate oneself among the giants has been a challenge. Moreover, Unibic has successfully coped in the market with a  strategy, and the tremendous teamwork.

How has the company fared with its range of cookies in two years?
Unibic has fared very well with the range of cookies in two years, despite the heavy competition from the market leaders.

Tell us more about this wire cut technology among other advanced equipment at the facility.
Cookie is derived from the Dutch word “Koekje” or “Koekie”which means little cake. It is said that decades ago, left over cake batter was, by accident, deposited on a steel band resulting in cookies and the cookie manufacturing technology has gone up leaps and bounds in the years after that. The technology of manufacturing wire cut cookies essentially involves making a unique dough of extra soft consistency. The soft dough is extruded through the die and gently sliced with a wire in a reciprocating motion. The wire cut technology provides the luxury of using various inclusions like fruit pieces, nuts, chocolate chips, oats and the like without the fear of crushing or smashing the inclusions while forming the dough piece. The dough made with a rich recipe as used for wire cut technology cannot be formed as a dough piece with the traditional rotary moulding technique. The rotary moulding technique involves a fluted roller which makes a blanket of dough which is much drier than a wire cut dough. The wire cut technology and the associated baking on solid steel band is still not common in India. Hence special production lines are imported for the purpose. The unique dough and the resultant wire cut cookie is handled so gently akin to handling of a baby! The shape typically resembles a homemade, handmade cookie. The adage goes that no two cookies are similar!

Since 2005, what are the new changes in your production plant and what is the kind of investment made for the modernisation?
In 2008, we got our second line and then went on to invest in our third, fourth and fifth lines, in the subsequent years. With the new lines being much bigger than the first line, our Line 4 is the largest cookie capacity line in the country. In Lines 4 and 5, we also incorporated automatic packing set up and thus invested further in production lines, product development, laboratory etc.  

How are the small packs faring and is it the rural or urban landscape which is driving the demand? What age-groups are attracted to your range of cookies?
Price point is a very critical factor for selling cookies, though esteemed consumers do not mind paying premium price for niche product offerings. But to get to high volume growth, a price point is essential as competition is huge. All age-groups are attracted to Unibic cookies. However, 6 to 35 age groups could be attracted towards the Unibic range of indulgent variants and higher age groups may go for the health range including Sugar Free, Oatmeal Digestive.

What is the competition you face and how do your products stand apart?
Unibic does face tremendous competition across regions and particularly in the regions of Tamil Nadu and  Karnataka. We have been competing with bigger players in Kerala. This is a  differentiated product offering with unique products like Fruit and Nut, Jeera cookies, Chilli Butter cookies, Choco ripple etc.

Comment on the GST levy at 18 per cent and the efforts made by the company to reduce to the industry demand of 12 per cent?
Cookies / biscuits are close to staples to various sections of society and reduction of GST to 12 per cent would augur well to promote the nutritious, safe cookies range to wider population segment at affordable prices, offering more value for money.  We are lobbying legally at various levels to try and see if this could be achieved.

Provide us details of your 800 workforces: How many in manufacture, R&D and marketing? What are the hiring plans on the cards?
We have employees at different levels with various skill levels as required for the respective positions. We have good strength in R&D and marketing with well experienced people taking care of these areas.

Your company has a global reach of over 10 countries. Which are these and would you look to add on?
We export to the Middle-East, Nepal, Singapore, Australia, USA, Europe to name a few. We are also looking at expanding our international  reach to various other countries and further strengthen the regions we are currently present.

We understand that the production plant is into contract manufacture. Provide the details.
We did undertake contract manufacturing in couple of places in Hyderabad and Kolkata, a few years ago when we were hard-pressed for capacity to meet the demand. However, we decided to consolidate with our expansion plans in Bengaluru  by putting two new massive cookie lines in a span of two years to cater to the growing demand.

Share a few details on the efforts to expanding the Unibic footprint.
We have set ourselves an aggressive growth path. We would strengthen our existing regions of sales and have tasted good success in new areas as well. Snack bar segment has done well in the limited areas. New factories are envisaged in other parts of the country to cater to the growing demand.
 
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