While the Bel Group has a 49 percent stake in the JV, the rest is with Britannia.S
ummer of 2018, Bengaluru. It was all about displaying animal instinct. And Varun Berry, for sure, had it in abundance. On a warm summer afternoon, a corporate herd—senior executives from Britannia, and a few from the creative agency—was squatting in an air-conditioned room. Mainly a biscuit brand, Britannia was getting ready to take the bull by the horns by rolling out beverages—thick shakes, flavoured milk and lassi. If the task of taking on the likes of Amul and Mother Dairy was like waving a red rag to dairy bulls, the job of coming up with a name for the challenger brand was equally laborious. The executive vice chairman and managing director, though, had made his intention clear: “Nobody will leave the room unless we get a name.”
After a good five hours, they ran out of ideas. Dozens of names were proposed, discussed and rejected. Reason: None had a zing and a swag. Berry finally stomped his authority. “Guys, what about Winkin’ Cow,” he asked. Everybody nodded in the wink of an eye. A cow was born, but in terms of size, Winkin’ Cow was a new-born calf.
Around the same time in Mumbai, a French cow leisurely strayed into India. The Bel Group, which reportedly has over five dozen subsidiaries around the world and a product distribution reach across 120 countries, rolled out cheese brand The Laughing Cow in Mumbai and Bengaluru. With a differentiated triangular shape and cheese fortified with Vitamin A, vitamin D, Vitamin B12, protein and calcium, The Laughing Cow was all set to start its India innings with a bang.
Fast forward to December 2022. Winkin’ Cow became the fastest Britannia brand to cross the Rs100-crore mark in three years. The Laughing Cow, meanwhile, expanded its presence across three cities—Bengaluru, Mumbai and Delhi.
What, though, is most remarkable about both the cows is that they have united after four years. Last December, Britannia inked a joint venture with Bel Foods for cheese. While Bel has 49 percent stake in the JV, the rest is with Britannia, which got The Laughing Cow in its shed. “Both the cows were destined to be together,” says Abhishek Sinha, chief executive officer of Britannia-BEL Foods, and chief business officer of Britannia Dairy.Also read: One of the big moats of our business has been our ability to drive cost efficiencies: Varun Berry
Let’s first understand Britannia’s gambit with Winkin’ Cow. For a company, which has ruled the biscuit market for decades, the move to convince people to try ‘drinking’ Britannia apart from ‘eating’ it was not easy. The opportunity, however, was massive. Have a look. India’s flavoured milk market is estimated to grow from Rs 4,160 crore in 2022 to Rs 15,860 crore in 2028, according to a report by the IMARC Group. And the combined market size of dairy-based beverages, such like lassi and buttermilk, was already too big to ignore. Here are the numbers. While the organised lassi market touched Rs 3,950 crore last year, the buttermilk market was pegged at Rs 13,310 crore in 2022. For Britannia, dunking in the dairy market with Winkin,’ therefore, made sense. Moreover, the dairy bet also fits well with the larger vision of Britannia to transform into a foods company. So biscuits alone won’t do the job. It has to be cakes, bread, croissant, milk, shakes and a lot more categories.
Now for The Laughing Cow, the move to join hands with an Indian company, which already had a sizeable presence in cheese, also made sense. Here’s why. First, the scale issue. For years, Bel couldn’t fan out deep and wide in the country. What constricted the movement of the The Laughing Cow was limited distribution and retail footprint. One of the big reasons for the success of Winkin’ Cow—now the brand has grossed Rs 150 crore in sales—in such a short span of time has been the expansive distribution network of Britannia: Winkin’ was made available across 6-7 lakh outlets. In one go, The Laughing Cow gets the reach which it lacked in four years of solo ride. Cécile Béliot, chief executive officer of Bel Group, hinted about the slow speed. “Thanks to this joint venture, we will accelerate in India after four years of presence,” he reportedly said last year. The Laughing Cow now has more ground to graze. Also read: Britannia's CMO Amit Doshi: Think like digital natives, don't bifurcate consumers between 'digital' and 'non-digital'
Second, for Britannia, having a specialised cheese brand adds more muscle in its fight with dairy biggies such as Amul, which dominate the cheese market. What The Laughing Cow also does for Britannia is help the company in democratising cheese, which has, so far, been perceived as expensive. With a single-serve sachet at Rs 10, The Laughing Cow has the potential to make the brand accessible and affordable. With over 95 percent of the cheese category in India focussed around slices, blocks, cubes and spreads, the triangular shape of The Laughing Cow makes it stand in the visually-cluttered market. Both the cows, reckon marketing and branding experts, have the potential to dominate their respective categories. The biggest plus for Britannia and Bel, underlines Ashita Aggarwal, professor of marketing at SP Jain Institute of Management and Research, is that they don’t cannibalise each other. “While Winkin’ is beverage, Laughing is cheese,” she says. Another big plus for both the companies stems from the names. Aggarwal explains. “With both the cows from the same company, there is no confusion among consumers regarding the names,” she says, adding that the ‘cow’ in one brand in fact reinforces the ‘cow’ in another brand. Also read: Must keep an eye on young consumers; they are going to change the world: Britannia MD Varun Berry
Harish Bijoor points out another interesting aspect about Winkin’ and Laughing. “Both represent the ethos of branding a commodity so deeply that people get passionate about brand names,” says Bijoor, who runs an eponymous brand consulting firm. While The Laughing Cow is the gold standard of soft cheese, Winkin’ Cow is a peppy offering well differentiated from the others in the market, he says.Can The Laughing Cow help Britannia grab a bigger slice of the cheese market? Can Winkin’ Cow make the biscuit-maker transition into a foods company at a faster pace? Well, Britannia would be eager for a quick answer than the wait for the cows to come home.