Nikhil Sen, managing director, Unibic Biscuits India, has spent the better of this year answering questions on whether a stake sale at his firm is in the offing. The Bangalore-based speciality biscuit maker was close to sealing a deal with Mumbai-based Marico Ltd earlier this year. But end-moment glitches ensured it fell through. In an interview with Viveat Susan Pinto, he speaks about Unibic’s way forward in India. Edited excerpts:
In recent months, Unibic is said to have begun the stake sale process again after its last aborted attempt. Your comments?
I cannot comment on market speculation. Yes, we did have some talks with Marico. But that was a year ago. Beyond that I have no comments to offer.
Given that (private equity player) Lighthouse Partners will look at an exit at some point. Won’t a stake sale become imperative?
I cannot comment on it.
What is the way forward for Unibic in India? You have been increasingly focusing on the health & wellness segment.
That is true. In the last one month, we have launched a Chawanprash cookie. This is in addition to a sugar-free cookie we launched earlier. This is the first time a cookie player has launched a Chawanprash offering. It has the goodness of a number of natural ingredients. This was also a product that was developed entirely in India. You can expect more such differentiated offerings from us in the future.
What you doing to strengthen your mainline product range?
We continue to offer innovations in those categories. We are broadly in three mainline segments — butter, chocolate and kids. Already in butter and chocolates, we have a number of variants. In kids, we have jam cookies and other offerings. In totality, we have over 50 products in all segments, including health & wellness. On an average, we are launching at least one product per quarter. We intend to keep this pace going.
What are you doing to improve reach? At the moment, you remain largely South-centric.
That is true. Much of our sales volumes come from the four southern states. Our presence in Mumbai and Delhi/NCR is small. But in the next year-and-a-half, we will be increasing our presence in these cities. Eventually, we want to be present in the top 20 per cent towns of the country. That is because, we play at the premium end of the market, which lends itself to the profile of consumers present in those towns. So yes, expanding distribution will be critical.
Also, your distribution strategy has been largely restricted to modern-trade and high-end standalone stores. Are you looking to broadbase this?
Yes. Our direct coverage at the moment is about one lakh outlets. We propose to take that up. Plus, we are also investing in people, so that there are more feet on the street. This is important as you need people to visit visit more stores. We are also looking to improve on-ground visibility of our products, so that brand saliency is better.
Will you also increase your manufacturing facilities as you go forward?
We are not looking at additional manufacturing facilities at the moment. Our unit in Bangalore is capable of handling production for the present as well as future requirements.