Mars, the company behind Snickers, Wrigley and Milky Way, has spent more than Rs 1,000 crore to set up initial assets in India. The $35-billion company in collaboration with Tata Trusts launched a lentilbased snack GoMo nearly three years after announcing a partnership to work for advanced agriculture development, address malnutrition and improve food safety in India. The country holds extraordinarily high priority in terms of markets, Stephen Badger, chairman, Mars, told ET in an exclusive interview. ( Edited Excerpts)
Your new product will compete directly with PepsiCo and local companies such as Haldiram’s and ITC. How will Mars’ product be any different from what is already available?
The businesses that will succeed in today’s environment are those which are agile and learn from changes that happen in the marketplace in real time, rather than following a playbook written on day one.
So, we know that this is a product that will not solve all nutritional issues in India for 6-18 year olds but it is a point of intervention and we believe it can have a positive impact. And in terms of regional differentiation, we will see what is required for success and then do the needful.
What does Tata Trusts bring to the table?
Tata Trusts is the knowledge partner in terms of distribution and relative market, and reaching the whole of India where so much malnutrition exists. I think what we bring to the party is the real knowledge of taste, and manufacture products that do taste great, and it’s the bringing together of those tools so that it’s affordable, enjoyable and nutritious. We are incredibly excited about the learnings that we are going to get from this that will have relevance to other parts of the world because malnutrition is not solely an Indian problem, it’s a global problem.
Is it a CSR initiative or are you looking at the partnership purely from a business lens?
It is a business initiative, which is why we think it has real possibility for success, for an ongoing impact in the future. We are a 100-year-old business, some of our brands are just that old and so we hope that this indeed has that kind of potential to be a sustained ongoing business. One that will also have a positive impact on the nutritional availability that people throughout the economic spectrum have access to. It might be starting small but we have our full focus on it at the India level and from Mars, as a whole, because of its business opportunity and a potential impact on children.
How difficult is it to operate in a market where rival brand Cadbury is synonymous with chocolates?
Cadbury has a long history and that cannot be ignored. We would be foolish to do so. In terms of entering the chocolate market, or going head-to-head with Dairy Milk would be a challenge. What we have is a range of brands that satisfies different consumer needs. Snickers is doing really well in the market and we are extremely proud of the vegetarian green dot that it carries as a market assurance to consumers, and different portion sizes that give them a range of options. We have respect for Cadbury but the market is growing, it is big and the Indian consumers are looking for different kinds of products and we are eager to bring them that.
Do you regret entering India much later compared to rivals such as Nestle or Mondelez?
Yes. I agree it would have been great to have entered the Indian market sooner, but its better late than never. I think the market isn’t closed to us and it is evolving and changing, given its dynamic nature.
Consumers are constantly evolving as they haven’t been set in their ways as to what they want and what we can provide in the form of packaged foods. Also there is a significant innovation that we are bringing with GoMo, in terms of what the product is and how are we bringing it to the market. We could have entered India sooner, but we are still pretty excited about this entry.
Mars is the world’s largest chocolate company. By when do you reckon its India business will reflect strongly on your global balance sheet?
All of our segments are represented here. So whether it’s confectionery, pet food, health food, as well as our newest segment, Mars Edge. All of our businesses are growing their brands out there in the market place. There are only few of those who are equal to India in terms of growing. It’s a critical market for us. We are poised for growth now.