Thursday, April 21, 2011

How Private is the affair of Store brands?

Walk into any supermarket and you are bound to come across new products / brands adorning the shelves every week or fortnight. And these new products/ brands are not always the popular consumer brands which we could easily buy from any kirana store aka mom and pop stores in our neighbourhood, all this while. These brands, you will notice belong to the super market stores that you regularly visit for shopping and are available nowhere else but only within those stores.
A lot has already been written about the store brands/ private labels and a lot of marketing science and strategy has been applied to make them popular like the other consumer brands. We have also come across the logic of having store brands and how they are profitable for the store marketers. Price is usually on top of the facts and how the intent is to provide great value at reasonable prices. Reasonable is often articulated to mean discount or priced less than the other competitive brands for the budget sensitive Indian household.
But mind it, it is just the beginning. There will be more and more private labels / store brands in the days to come bringing with it a lot of tension for the categories and regular consumer brands.
Cut the chase for a moment. For me this whole phenomena and the way it is going, rings very different bells. I get reminded of very different things and wonder how we could draw inspiration from it as a piece of insight for the private labels.
This experience and observation that I am going to share will be more familiar and reflective with people who have stayed in smaller towns, especially with their grandparents or visited their home town/village during holidays or vacation. But otherwise also I am sure there would be people who would have experienced it in some way or the other.
My grandmother had this very unique intellect of recipes and talent of home-made snacking. During summers when we used to go to our native place we could see how engrossed she used to be with the preparation of as many varieties of pickles, papads, dry snacks and so more. She knew how to make pickles from chilly both red and green, mangoes, amla, garlic etc. and varieties of products that I don’t even know what they are called in English ( I am sincerely not making an effort also to know now). All that she prepared used to get divided between her children and my mother used to get back with her our share for the season. My dad naturally was addicted to his mother’s recipe and so my mother had to either learn it or simply outsource, like in this case.
My grandmother would have her day clearly planned out and keep almost all the kids busy with work. The kids used to be appointed as guards/monitors around the place where these specialities were laid out in the sun for drying or getting marinated. Our playground for some days used to change completely and our presence had become more vigilant.
Examples like these are plenty and even today I see reflections of those activities at our home in a metropolitan city like Mumbai. My mother when she is visiting us in Mumbai, never forgets to prepare kilos of ghee before she boards her train back home. And we do have an important role to play in these magical creations. We have to keep collecting the ‘malai’ or the cream of milk everyday without fail, so that when she comes we have collected  couple of kilos of cream for making ghee. As a daily chore she will never forget to prepare dahi at home over night, lassi in the morning or chaas in the afternoon.
She is also skilled to make pastes and purees for her cooking. She never recommends to buy any garlic, ginger paste or even masala’s. She likes to grind them herself after buying the spices raw from a very particular kirana store. She will not mind going a distance to procure and carry back home. The only difference between her and my grandmother is that my grandmother was well equipped with human resources who would do all the peripheral activities and she would do the main course. Unfortunately I cannot afford an army of servants and so I/we pitch in when its a weekend or a holiday.
I would like to call these ‘home brands’, the brand being ‘Maa ka Jaadoo’. I am sure something went down your spine and struck a chord. Any day this brand is more like able and affordable - ‘sasta’ than any that we would buy from a store. It lasts longer and evokes certain feelings or nostalgia every time we consume. It reminds us of them who would otherwise be absent sometimes.
Something very similar to what store marketers have adopted in their pursuit of happiness (profits) by calling it private brands or home grown labels. But similarity is only in the manner we are asked to consider, otherwise there is no similarity. They are also packaged like the other popular consumer brands and have a shelf life. The taste would certainly be good but not as good and enduring as a ‘Maa ka Jaadoo’ recipe. There is something about MKJ brand which cannot be explained and has more value than any VFM brand that is constantly waiting to entice us.
I wonder what could be the learning and insight from our very own MKJ brand and the tradition.
I am not as knowledgeable as the gurus with mantras but I certainly feel that there is an entire mystery which the private labels or store brands are yet to uncover.
To share my point of view I will create hypothetical situations as we go ahead. Only time will tell us if they can be realized in practise.
‘Gharana’ is a 21st century supermarket in a metro. It’s almost two years since Gharana opened its first store in the city. It is doing well with above average footfalls. It is located on a busy road in a densely populated area which works as an advantage.
Recently Gharana has introduced a range of products that are similar to the ones I have mentioned above. What catches my attention is the way these products are being marketed. The brand is called “Yaadein” and its portfolio comprises of products that are home-made preparations. Yaadein is about pickles, papads, chutneys, spices, condiments, pastes, dahi, ghee etc etc. The difference is that these products are made by the Indian housewives themselves. There are a group of women, housewives to be precise, with whom Gharana has tied up to prepare recipes for such products and even make them. The same is collected from these women across cities/towns and then packed and labelled at their warehouse. From the outside it seems that these women work in groups and have been appointed by Gharana after a screening process.  The process would have involved their demonstration of skills to prepare such home-made products and inclination to engage as a producer of such products. The other belief is that these women are asked to prepare what they are best at. Everybody is not making everything. There are groups or departments on the basis of their expertise and interest.
Coming to the brand, this brand is a people inclusive brand. It is there because there are these highly skilled women who take the onus to nourish it. These women are the reason for its existence and it portrays a very simple outlook. Everything about it is warm and very passionate. Quality is not even a subject for contention. It is what you would otherwise have at your own home.
The other good thing about the brand is that it is an empowering agent or catalyst for making housewives more self reliant. And it is not a charity but about ownership and participation. It is not an NGO or institution about upliftment of women, it is about bringing alive living a rich tradition and discovering the many magical talents hidden in our home makers. All these women are partners in progress for the brand.

Likewise there are many categories in which these women are the producers and Gharana is spending heavily to identify newer segments in which it could engage and partner with more and more women across India.
The other interesting thing about Yaadien is that it brings the producer upfront. All Yaadein packs have a protagonist or the main person behind the scene/making of the product. So while the other products that we buy, we only come to know about the manufacturing company’s name and address, with Yaadein you actually get to know the person who has made an effort to prepare something for you. You can speak to them, meet them and interact with them, share your experiences and give your inputs for improvements if at all. There is certainly more connectivity and more networking. It is a cult!
These women are engaged in activities like tasting sessions, sampling etc where they test their new preparations with other women before selecting and freezing on the one that would be produced in scale.
It is an inside out approach. Normally, what we want, we go and buy from outside, without much thought. We probably read the brand label, see the familiarity, past knowledge/experience, pricing, packaging etc. Now what we want is coming from somewhere that is like our own house, our own kitchen, someone who is like our own grandmother, mother or homemaker. There is more appreciation and comfort.
What Gharana needs to develop going forward, is a way to store and package them for a decent shelf life. Sourcing and collection system has to be more efficient and cost effective. Providing raw material and supplies have to be in advance so that the orders are fulfilled without any delay and disaster.
The brand should not consider doing things to beat or heat competition. This is not about who is best, as we know, who are the best. It is about providing a whole new way of enriching the skills and talent that resides in all the home-makers. And there can several ways and opportunities for all kinds of women.
Someone says, even the shampoo and hair care products are being produced and marketed in a similar fashion.
I am sure there will be more newer products in the days to come, once Gharana has figured out how to source and pack. There are certainly going to be challenges of SCM but like every other situation, a solution will always be within the problem itself. Its only about time that we turn the problem upside down.
I don’t think Gharana is looking at any big super market for inspiration and expansion strategy. I don’t think Gharana even needs to keep what others already have.       
Currently the store brands are struggling with the regular consumer brands and trying to etch their own script in the minds of customer. They are trying to be everything that a popular brand is all about, by looks, by name and by quality.
If it is a private brand, be something private about it, with the help of the store brand essence. Try to be in the personal space of people. Don’t emulate the popular brands in communication or positioning. Identify something more private in emotional quotient. Don’t name private labels like any other consumer brand, have a very personalized approach. Don’t get carried away by the glitz and glamour of the popular brands, be simple and warm. Be social and inclusive, rather than public and exclusive.
Keep the truth! Keep the faith!
Remember its after all Yaadein of our own Gharana.

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