Storyboard18 | Brands cannot be cautious of people; you never know where the next insight will come from: CMO Rahul Gandhi

Making everyday food products that have a short shelf life without preservatives has been at the centre of every iD product. Now the brand is innovating and expanding. Gandhi tells us how

Updated: Nov 18, 2021 05:40:11 PM UTC
Rahul Gandhi, chief marketing officer, iD Fresh Food

iD Fresh Food is hungry for growth. The company that commenced operations in a few cities in the US this year, including New York, New Jersey, Dallas, and San Francisco, aims to achieve Rs 450 crore revenue target this fiscal, up from Rs 294 crore in FY21. It also plans to expand to the Middle East soon.

Founded by Musthafa PC and his four cousins—Abdul Nazer, Shamsudeen TK, Jafar TK, and Noushad TA—iD Fresh Food is adding new items to its menu, but the idli-dosa batter will remain its star product. After adding Malabar parota, wheat parotas, paneer, curd, and instant filter coffee liquid blends to its product portfolio, the company now wants a slice of the packaged bread market with its new clean-label product.

In the midst of this expansion, however, iD Fresh Food is also dealing with a case of misinformation and malicious content on social media about its products and the brand.

In September 2021, the company filed a complaint with the WhatsApp Grievance Cell and Cybercrime, Bengaluru, after fake news that claimed its products contain cow bones, surfaced on social media platforms. The WhatsApp forward further stated that the company only hires Muslims and that their products are halal certified. According to the Whatsapp forward in question, the Rs 35 crore that the company raised in 2014 adhered to strict Sharia Islamic Law. The message was circulated on social media platforms, including Twitter and Facebook.

Musthafa, who is popularly known as the company’s ‘chief customer officer’ among his peers, posted a personal note on social media to call out the fake news and clarify the matter. In a statement, he said their products use the finest vegetarian ingredients, and are made in a facility that complies with the food safety management system. He added, "We need to step up and stop the spread of misinformation, particularly in today's times, when the reach and effects of information spread on social media occur at such a rapid pace".

A plague of our times, misinformation and fake news cause real world impact with disastrous consequences in many cases.

“Whether it is about iD products or Covid-19 vaccines, harmful claims not backed by sound evidence need to be called out. It is important and necessary,” he said in the statement.

The company has come out of the situation quickly and confidently.

Rahul Gandhi, chief marketing officer, iD Fresh Food, tells us that the brand is “built by consumers.” In such a situation, "consumer trust is all that matters."

In an interaction with Storyboard18, Gandhi talks about the brand’s strengths, creating a clean-label product, conscious consumers, the "woke" culture, and more.

Edited excerpts…

Q. How has the brand innovated at scale?

Before coming on board, I was a close observer of iD. I was curious to know how the company is innovating everyday products one after the other. When I came on board in April 2020, the first thing I gathered was that the urge to innovate products in the company stems from the simple fact that there is always an opportunity to serve something better to the consumers.

Making everyday food products that have short shelf life without preservatives has been at the centre of every iD product. However, having just a host of innovative products is not enough. The brand is also successful because of its strong research and development team, solid supply chain, and deep understanding of market demands.

Q. What’s the strategy for iD Bread? From a consumer point of view, clean label products come with a higher price tag. What's the right pricing strategy?
Bread is a natural extension of our portfolio. The inspiration behind the making of the product was that if we can make batters that taste homemade, then making bread with clean ingredients shouldn’t be an impossible task. It took us two and half years to crack this. I do agree that clean label products come at a higher price point—we will also be about 25 percent higher than most mass bread brands in the market but we are still affordable.

Over the years, we have understood that you cannot go overboard in creating niches that can’t be scaled up in the long term.

Q. What are Indian consumers really looking for from food brands? In your view, what are the major trends that will shape the category going forward?

Consumers are always looking for tasty, healthy, and convenient packaged food brands. Then comes the price. Indian consumers look for value. However, value changes as per economic factors and changing lifestyles of the consumers. With health taking centre stage, consumers don’t mind spending more money on clean products. We will continue to see this as a major trend shaping the category in the long run too.

Q. Not so long ago, iD Fresh Food was a victim of fake news and malicious rumours. As a marketer, what are the lessons from that episode?

With the boundaries blurring between information and misinformation, marketers need to be vigilant. All of this is not a recent phenomenon. I have seen brands from close quarters bearing the brunt of it. As a modern-day marketer, you need to constantly be on top of your social listening game. Once you understand the situation, always be in touch with your consumers. Talk to them. Do not wait too long. That’s exactly what we did. iD is a brand built by consumers and not advertising. Our quick response helped us gain more consumer support. We then reached out to the social media authority to understand the crux of the matter. The learning was, if your brand is loved, nothing can stop you from growing.

Q. Do you think brands should be politically correct on social media to stay away from controversies?

Businesses and politics have different roles in society and should be kept away from each other. Businesses need to keep the economy going, making sure consumers buy goods and services, and keep the transaction wheel moving. Politics is a function of regulation. In my view, brands should talk about what they stand for, they should be sensitive and, most importantly, be aware of consumer sentiments.

Q. What’s your view on “woke” culture? Do you think it has made marketers cautious and conscious?

Today, consumers can freely express themselves, whether they have anything to do with the subject matter is immaterial. Everyone is entitled to openly talk about their views, especially in the social media universe. Of course, it cannot be of harmful nature. Listening to consumers will only benefit marketers.

For instance, internally, we call Musthafa PC (iD Fresh Food's co-founder and CEO) the chief customer officer. He goes through all consumer complaints, and trust me, not all are pleasant to read. Some of these consumers have nothing to do with the product, but he still goes through them. Brands cannot be cautious of people. You never know where your next insight will come from.

Q. You were at a major homegrown FMCG company, ITC, before joining iD. What are the major differences between the two from your vantage point of a marketer?

Working with both ITC and iD Fresh is a different yet similar experience. At ITC, where business processes are set up over years, decisions that come out are sometimes well thought through. However, sometimes that could slow down the decision-making process. On the other hand, at iD, the risk appetite is very high. Many a times, decisions are taken on the fly. Sometimes, ideas and execution happen overnight. It is prone to failures, but at iD we encourage that. That’s the only way we will learn and get better. It is exciting to be a part of taking a homegrown startup to its next growth phase.

The thoughts and opinions shared here are of the author.

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