Simeran Bhasin, VP - brands and new ventures, Licious
In March 2020, fresh meat and seafood delivery brand Licious almost became a victim of fake news. A WhatsApp message that linked the spread of the coronavirus to eating chicken, made its founders Abhay Hanjura and Vivek Gupta nervous.
But, as it turned out, chicken emerged as the highest-selling food for the brand when India went into its first lockdown, followed by seafood and meat. In fact, the pandemic's impact on consumer behaviour gave Licious wings.
As people are adopting safer lifestyles and looking for more hygienic forms of food consumption, demand for products like Licious’s packaged meats is on the rise. However, it's still barely a drop in the ocean of India's unorganised meat and seafood market, estimated to be worth around $40 billion.
In 2021, Licious
entered the unicorn club and the brand also roped in seasoned marketer Simeran Bhasin as VP - brands and new ventures to help with Licious’s pan-India expansion and strategic growth.
Over the past two decades, Bhasin worked across companies like Titan where she was the head of marketing and retail for Fastrack. She was also the chief marketing officer of the clothing and accessory brand Wildcraft. After years of building brands for other companies, Bhasin gave entrepreneurship a shot for four years with BRAG, an innerwear company. Now Bhasin is back and aiding other founders in realising their vision.
Storyboard18 caught up with Bhasin to understand the food unicorn's game plan
and how the lessons from her entrepreneurial stint are being put to use in her current role.
Q. Licious started with an aim to make Indians eat more meat. How are you doing that and how far along is Licious on this journey?
From the start, we believed in small experimentations from product and marketing lenses. Today, a lot of those explorations have not just developed green shoots but have built large revenue streams for the brand. For instance, the entire ready-to-cook portfolio is well more than 25 percent of our business and is our fastest-growing category too. This is happening because we keep expanding our range to reach out to the many Indians that exist within India. We took two years to research and develop our meat spread range because we wanted to perfect it to create a wholesome and ‘good for you’ product.
We are also breaking many myths around meat-eating in the country. Meat consumption in an average household was a weekend or twice-a-week affair. That was mainly because getting meat, cleaning it, and preparing it took several hours in a day. We brought in the ease factor to the category and we are also educating meat lovers about how to cook meat the right way. This has, in turn, increased the consumption basket too. Many of our consumers didn’t know how to buy fish or the right quality of chicken to serve for two. Today, they are open to trying new things and are confident to cook more than ever before.
Q. What are the important consumer insights that are informing the product and marketing strategy?
The next thing we are gunning at is adding layers of regionalisation to our products. If you look at our newer SKUs, you will see we are moving closer to the final consumed product. Cutting and prepping the meat is just one aspect of it. Now, we have different cuts for different dishes. Consumers don’t even have to waste time cleaning the meat with turmeric to disinfect it.
Our chicken curry cuts in Delhi and Chennai are totally different. Here’s why. The Delhi chicken curry cut has two leg pieces because it’s almost a prized piece for many of them. In Chennai, the chicken pieces come in smaller pieces because the kind of curries they make need that kind of sizing. When we entered Kolkata, we made sure we use bhetki for the fish fingers, because Bengalis love it.
Everything that’s packed at Licious is a by-product of rich consumer insights. We are also slowly regionalising our marketing campaigns to connect with consumers closely.
Our relationship with food is intimate, which is why in India it is never a one-size-fits-all. Every 50 kilometres, the food habits and consumption patterns are different.
Q. In your view, what are the major trends that will shape the category in 2022?
We are constantly focusing on removing the usual complications that are associated with the cooking of meat, creating a habit and a hobby that people are excited about.
Today, the average user who talks all about food on Instagram is not an expert. They are food enthusiasts who love to document their food journey. That’s one trend on social media that’s not going to die down. It has become a part of people’s social media lives. As a brand, we want to inspire them.
Consumers have realised the therapeutic benefits of cooking. There are dedicated playlists that people play while they are in the kitchen. Music is further adding new notes to this trend. The content canvas is huge, and we keep adding new colours to it.
Q. What are your thoughts on the rise of plant-based meat brands in India? Is that a threat or opportunity perhaps for Licious?
It is a new opportunity for the global market as well as India. While the meat and seafood ecosystem is open for a lot of product innovation, the ones that win ultimately are the ones that deliver great taste and quality together.
Q. You founded and ran BRAG—an innerwear brand for young women—for four years. What were the learnings of the entrepreneurial stint? If given a chance, would you build the brand and market it differently?
I don’t regret any experiments done at BRAG. However, some of our first set of failed experiments sucked out more money than we anticipated, which hampered investments in the successes we had later on. If I ever get the chance to do it again, I would plan trials better. I would also not worry about profitability too early on. I would keep some money raised aside and forget about it. I would give this tip to all the budding entrepreneurs, trust me, this will make you more frugal right from the early stage.
Q. You have mostly worked with lifestyle brands in the past two decades. What made you switch to food?
We consider Licious a lifestyle brand. Food is a large part of people’s life in India. If you see our communication and product lineup, it revolves around people’s connection with food. The way we are building the brand is leaning towards the lifestyle category.
Personally, too, my day revolves around the meals I cook and eat together with my family. Food is as much a passion as fashion is for me. I have always chosen to work with brands that I am a consumer of.
Q. What is it like to be a marketer in the post-pandemic world? What has it taught you about brand-consumer relationships?
It is an exciting time to be a marketer. Simply because the constraints that are put on us to connect with consumers are something we have never experienced before. It pushes us to come up with ideas that we never imagined before. Let me give you an example. We are planning to expand our research and insights team. I had an interesting conversation with a candidate about how things have changed in the way marketers mine insights. I come from an era where consumer studies meant going on-field and speaking to consumers up close, sometimes in their living rooms, kitchens, inside their offices, outside the shops, and so on. Now, we are in a world where we are forced to do many of these consumer studies online only. We are putting our minds together to understand how we can get to the nuances of the insights that we get online. Until a year ago, I didn’t know how we could crack this. We are constantly learning how to get better at this. Experimenting and finding newer ways to connect with consumers makes these times exciting for marketers.