Inside Gemini's 'cholesterol cutter' campaign and rice bran oil strategy

Synonymous with sunflower oil, Gemini—Maharashtra's biggest cooking oil brand—is using its recent rice bran oil rollout to enter the North Indian market and attract the health-conscious millennial. Forbes India speaks to Subin Sivan, marketing head of Cargill's oil business in India, about how it will counter competition

Published: Jan 14, 2020 03:23:42 PM IST
Updated: Jan 14, 2020 03:31:22 PM IST

g_126469_bg_subinsivan_280x210.jpgSubin Sivan, marketing head of Cargill’s oil business in India

Positioned heavily on functional ground-oil that cuts cholesterol, Gemini is banking big on the proposition to make massive inroads in the North India market dominated by the likes of Fortune. In a free-wheeling interview with Subin Sivan, marketing head of Cargill’s oil business in India, Forbes India tries to find out whether the gambit would pay off for Cargill. Edited excerpts: 

Q Cooking oil has made a transition from ‘taste’ to ‘health’. How do see this shift?
Overall, health and wellness is a very small percentage of the overall edible oil market. The edible oil category is valued at 22.5 million metric tonnes and is growing at about 3.5% to 4%. The health and wellness sub-segment is growing at about 14%. This sub-category is broadly a combination of olive, blended edible oil and rice bran oil. Of these, rice bran is has not just a higher growth rate compared to edible oil, but also the opportunity to become an everyday choice for consumers.

There are two parts of this narrative. One is to look at factors driving the sub-segment; this will help explain the size-versus-ambition disparity of the brand.

Q Why do all such brands target the ‘homemaker’?
The homemaker is still seen as the gatekeeper of the main meals, making her the decision maker of food consumption choices. As such, she is also the gatekeeper of nutrition, especially when oriented at kids. However, we see that there is a sweet-snacking window around 4 pm to 5 pm, where people consume Nutella and other chocolate spreads, for example—80% of such consumption happens in this sweet snacking window.

Q Do you think rice bran will succeed where olive oil failed in becoming a mass choice?
Olive oil operates at a super-high premium. Blended oil also has niche margins. Rice bran oil, however, is operating at approximately 60,000 metric tonnes in terms of volume.

The price point at which Gemini rice bran oil operates is closer to that of Gemini sunflower oil, which makes us keen to further invest in this. Gemini, as an overall brand, has a 44% market share in Maharashtra. Pune is our strongest market, where we hold 65% market share. We are a legacy brand. We are present in Karnataka too where we are No. 5 player.

Q What Gemini is to sunflower, Fortune is to rice bran oil. How do you plan to change the narrative?
Gemini rice bran oil will have multiple roles. One is in health and wellness; how do we tap into that and do so sensibly? It’s a blind spot if we go and talk about cholesterol, as people have been speaking about it for a long time now. Besides, we are not the first rice bran oil. Fortune launched first with very strong investments. So making inroads is a big marketing challenge, but we have great product development stories with us.

The second agenda to launch this product was to ensure Gemini’s prominence in markets such as Bengaluru and Andhra Pradesh. West Bengal, at a cheaper price point, could be a potential market. While Gemini sunflower oil will be the volume driver, rice bran could drive value as well as make the brand relevant for the consumers of today. 

Q Saffola has the cholesterol fight as its brand positioning. How do you tackle this challenge?
That was a clear question for us too. Beyond Saffola, everybody is on rice bran, which has an active ingredient called Oryzanol—this reduces bad cholesterol and acts as an anti-oxidant. What we are doing effectively is to focus on Oryzanol, offering 40% more than others, translating to better cholesterol reduction than any other oil.

You can’t buy oryzanol straight from the market and add it in. It has to be fundamental to the quality of the oil and through the way it is processed. We have a much stronger story that we are now communicating with our audience now. To stand out in the cluttered market, our campaign is called ‘Cholesterol Cutter’.

The larger opportunity lies in consumer awareness that the fundamental penetration of the problem is cholesterol. Is the oil for someone who wants everyday oil at Rs 80? No. But, if you really want to do something to manage your cholesterol? Then yes, it is for you.

Q Why did you launch a new product under the parent brand, versus creating a new brand, since Gemini is synonymous with sunflower oil?
It’s a multi-oil strategy, preferred when building a brand, and ensures greater efficiency from a media standpoint too. Modern trade is a larger ecosystem and we are banking more on digital media too.

Q Is it also a strategy to make legacy brand look younger?
It makes the brand more relevant. Our target audience doesn’t define herself as a homemaker, or a mother—she is a progressive traditionalist. Her identity is beyond the kitchen. We are also reinventing our brands basis the changing demographics.

Q What are the challenges for Gemini, and its rice bran oil?
Gemini has one key marketing challenge: How it should evolve for its changing consumers. There is a very strong traditional Marathi-speaking consumer base who has bought into the Gemini narrative. But, we have to decide how Gemini talks to younger, nuclear households.

Our focus is to continue building the Gemini sunflower brand, along with adding more meaning as we add more products and variants. We have to ensure a sync between the overall brand and new product launches. 

Except Fortune, all edible oil brands have their consumer loyalty base specific to regions. The critical challenge for rice bran oil is to ensure our rate of growth remains consistent, to continuously reach out to media (with tertiary trials happening) and to deliver 2x growth. There are more enablers than challenges on the category level, and many opportunities in the larger ecosystem.

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