Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

Storyboard18: MTR Foods fires first salvo in the battle of the batters

The knives are out. MTR Foods, which entered the fresh idli and dosa batter segment, took a dig at existing products and brands in the market in its latest ads. Are we witnessing the opening of a new frontier in brand wars?

Published: Dec 22, 2021 07:01:31 PM IST
Updated: Dec 22, 2021 07:02:47 PM IST

Storyboard18: MTR Foods fires first salvo in the battle of the battersAccording to Market Research Future (MRFR), the Indian ready-to-cook food market is projected to reach $754.82 million by the end of 2022. Image: Shutterstock

When packaged food products company MTR Foods, a subsidiary of Norwegian conglomerate Orkla, released a print ad stating “Idli and Dosa are not the same. Why is your batter the same?”, people got pretty stirred up. Several food enthusiasts claimed their mothers and grandmothers have been using the same batter for idli and dosa for several decades. So what was the problem now?

Others were strictly in favour of two different preparations and shared why it’s important, verifying their claims with their mothers’ and grandmothers’ secret recipes to make crispy dosas and fluffy idlis. Connoisseurs say the secret is in the little things that go into the batter. Like methi seeds, a little tur dal and a mix of basmati and parboiled rice, to get the colour and texture of idlis and dosas right.

From the brand’s point of view, it seems MTR’s primary target is iD Fresh Food and its hottest-selling item, the idli-dosa batter. iD Fresh Food claims to sell 65,000 kg of its idli-dosa batter daily. The Azim Premji-backed company valued at Rs 2000 crore posted a revenue of Rs 294 crore in FY21.

Batter guns

MTR Foods’ foray into fresh idli, dosa batter with its sub-brand MTR Minute Fresh isn’t surprising. MTR, which started as a restaurant—Mavalli Tiffin Room—in Bengaluu in 1924, diversified into packaged food with products such as rava idli and jamoon mix five decades later. Today, the company has a three-minute breakfast range, masalas, mixes, and fresh batters. It recently invested Rs 25 crore to expand its production facility and set up a cold chain network for the fresh batter range.

According to Market Research Future (MRFR), the Indian ready-to-cook food market is projected to reach $754.82 million by the end of 2022. MRFR’s analysis indicates that the current market is segmented by regional focus, which is what MTR Foods is after.

Ashwini Deshpande, co-founder and director, Elephant Design, who has been working closely with MTR Foods on its products’ packaging, says the company wants to “nationalise regional cuisine”. By getting into the fresh batter segment, MTR Foods is “staying authentic”. Deshpande and her packaging structure design eliminated pain points to store, open, scoop the batter out, and created a sturdy pouch, convenient handle, and spout to ease the process of making these South Indian breakfast items.

All-in-one batter to rule them all

The fresh idli and dosa batter category is largely unorganised and ruled by neighbourhood food stores or home-based businesses. In parts of many metro cities, stores even sell all-in-one batters that one can use to whip up popular Gujarati snacks like dhoklas and South Indian breakfast items like idlis, uttapams, dosas, and paniyarams.

MTR Foods, it seems, wants to change the all-in-one habit.

However, people who really care about batters are the ones who “would have a table-top grinder to make batter on their own,” observes Bengaluru-based communications strategy consultant Karthik Srinivasan. According to him, the target group for ready-made batter “is those who look at the convenience of open-make-eat, and this is a step above order-eat since they want something made at home (homely food) instead of being made in a kitchen elsewhere.”

Spot the difference

iD Fresh Food has been in the fresh batter business since 2005. It established itself in this segment and is almost synonymous with ready-made fresh batter today. Apart from the regular batter, the brand has ragi and Udupi style idli and dosa batters too.

But, what iD Fresh Food lacks is legacy, says Kalyan Karmakar, a food writer and brand consultant of Finely Chopped Consulting. That could push MTR Foods' new proposition, he believes. However, iD Fresh has the first-mover advantage. With MTR Foods heating up the category it will open up opportunities for more national and regional brands, adds Karmakar.

Srinivasan has similar views. He shares that “the advertising salvo from MTR seems to be aimed at creating dissonance in the buyers' mindspace. It's considerably better than pitching themselves as a yet-another player and would definitely lead to interest and trials”.

But whether it could also lead to catching up with iD Fresh Food depends on factors beyond advertising. “Availability (when in need), offline distribution prowess of iD vs MTR, cold storage delivery network, and perceived difference between idli made in dosa/idli batter vs idli made with idli batter,” he concludes.

We've seen the Cola wars, toothpaste wars, detergent wars, and even honey wars. Now that MTR Foods has fired the first salvo in the battle of the batters, the question is will we see the opening of a new frontier in these brand wars?