After the brand war in packaged cereals such as wheat, rice and maize, it’s the turn of pulses. While players like Future Group, Reliance Retail and ITC are already in the fray with their branded pulses products, late entrants like the Tata Group are making the competition fiercer.
The reasons are many: Pulses are in short supply in India, hence a significant part is met through imports, which affect the prices of the commodity and prompts many consumers to compromise on quality. A large consumer base and an annual demand growth of about 15 per cent is prompting industrial conglomerates to expand their agricultural products portfolio with branded pulses.
And the potential is huge. Of the total 18 million tonnes pulses market in India, only 10-15 per cent is accounted for by organised players. As the basic features of pulses remains the same, corporates look for safety and hygiene as a branding exercise to attract larger consumers.
While Future Group and Reliance Retail have already started offering ‘store brands’ taking advantage of their own retail infrastructure, Tata Chemicals is looking for an integration of its I-Shakti brand of salt to introduce a range of dals.
“Branding is very important in the current retailing formats. Label gives satisfaction to consumers, while farmers are not able to deliver quality products that can create trust. Our initiative is to provide Indian household a reliable and hygienic quality of pulses,” says Ashvini Hiran, COO (consumer products division), Tata Chemicals. The company has launched four varieties of dals under the I-Shakti brand.
The company currently markets all the four varieties from existing retail outlets including food malls and large retail chains. It also uses Tata Kisan Sansar outlets and its existing salt distribution network to penetrate further in the Indian market.
Meanwhile, the Future Group is also buoyant about its branded variety of pulses. The company has three categories of pulses under Future Agrovet. Apart from loose pulses, packaged ones are sold under the Food Bazaar label and premium quality under ‘Premium Harvest’.
Future Group also has a variety of pulses that are used by certain communities, offered under its community food brand ‘Ektaa’.
“Our USP is that we specialise in sourcing. We have understanding of local markets and have developed vendors to meet quality norms,” says Devendra Chawla, head (private brands business), Future Group (Big Bazaar).
Meanwhile, international agro commodities majors are also exploring options of entering the fray. “India has a large vegetarian population, which depends on pulses as a source of protein. This makes the Indian branded pulses business a viable proposition,” says Ishteyaque Amjad, director, corporate affairs of Cargill India. However, the company is non-committal on its future plans.
According to industry insiders, it’s still a long haul as the semi-urban and rural areas are still taking time to accept branded pulses.
“We are trying to make our presence felt across the country but the acceptance of branded pulses has been high in Tamil Nadu,” says Amit Sridharan, general manager (pulses division), Tata Chemicals. The company has joined hands with its group company, Rallis India, to leverage the latter’s strong network in the South and the West.