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Keeping up in the 'Oats' race: it is all about finding the right positioning

In a new but fast growing category, oats brands such as PepsiCo’s Quaker Oats, Horlicks Oats, Saffola Oats, Britannia and Kellogg's have been trying various positioning in their advertising to build the category. A detailed review of oats advertising trends over the years

Sohini Sen | Mumbai | October 30, 2013

Gone are the days when a plate of yummy Alu Paranthas would make for a wholesome breakfast. Poha and Upma might be the go-to solution for people on the move, but more and more Indians are waking up to the health benefits of packed, branded cereals. Making the most of this awareness, and creating an altogether new category, are the various oats brands.

PepsiCo's Quaker Oats was the first to enter the country around seven-eight years ago. Quaker prides itself in being the world's No. 1 brand. It is through Quaker's launch that oats began to be viewed as something more than just horse feed – at least in the bigger cities and metros. Quickly catching on to the euphoria of a new breakfast menu, Marico, Britannia, Kellogg's and GSK Consumer launched their own brands of oats. Together, they are now trying to bite off a share of the nearly Rs 200-crore oats market in India. This makes it roughly 28 per cent of the Rs 700-crore breakfast cereal market in India.

Starting with health positioning Do a Google search and you will come across the earliest oats campaigns in India. The 2009 Quaker Oats campaign shows a bunch of office-goers suddenly being told that by 2010 around 46.9 million heart disease cases would be reported in India. With this data, the company urged people to change their eating and living habits and take to a healthier lifestyle.


BBDO, which at the time was handling the Quaker account, came up with a campaign named 'Mission to make India Heart Healthy', in association with Apollo Hospitals and The Times of India. Oats was still an unknown concept to most Indians and the agency took the opportunity to tell consumers about the new product. A portal was developed for the same called whereby one could do an online heart check and get customised diet plans. More campaigns followed, all on the same lines – pushing for a healthier heart and showing the benefits for individuals and families. This, along with more steps taken by the agency and client, led to an increase in sales.

Josy Paul, Chairman and National Creative Director, BBDO India, explained, "Oats advertising was low key until 2009. In September 2009, Quaker Oats launched a national campaign announcing that 60 per cent of Indians will suffer from heart related diseases. The brand created a platform for Indians to take an online heart health test and introduced apps that advised Indians on how to control and reduce cholesterol. The integrated campaign was called 'The mission to make India heart healthy'. The campaign created a national buzz and raised awareness and interest for oats in India. What followed was a spate of new launches by various players in the packaged foods business. Variations like ‘Masala oats’ and ‘Fusion oats’ were introduced to appeal to Indian tastes. The collective noise has helped develop and grow the market resulting in differentiated positioning. But the underlying theme across all brands is still health as wellness has become the new mantra of a hurried and harried urban India."

For any new product to work, the brand or company has to communicate to consumers a good reason for change. The increasing number of cardiovascular diseases at an age when everyone has to reach office early, travel long distances, attend meetings out of station every week, has social commitments, has led to a highly self-propelled growth for the oats market. Oats brands have also done their bit by playing the health card to introduce the benefits.

Oats has several benefits: cholesterol, sugar and weight control; easy to digest; filling and energising; fibrous; and easy to prepare, says a Nielsen India report. On top of that it is affordable for Indians living in cities, being sold at Rs 140 per kg. Most brands have also introduced 28 gram, single-serve packets for Rs 10.

Moving away from health platform "People are becoming more and more cautious about their health and understanding the need of leading a healthy lifestyle and manage it within the pace of their life and lifestyle. I am not a great fan of advertising which scares consumers. The earlier brand positioning of oats brands around heart health benefits was scary and hence was limiting the brand’s reach and consumers were decoding the brand messages as 'if you are concerned about your heart/have heart problem… you should look at oats to manage it better.' In contrast, the current healthy breakfast brand positioning of oats brands is friendlier and is helping the brands attract a larger consumer base,” said Sanjeev Singhai, Business Director - Indian Sub Continent, Buchanan Group India. Buchanan Group has worked on Horlicks as well as Quaker Oats at different times.

Indians are mostly used to eating home-cooked, steaming hot food for breakfast. More than a light bite, these have been meals in themselves. Paranthas, Puri-bhaji, Masala Dosa, etc. Oats, which is in the hot and cooked cereal segment, is more attuned to the eating habits of Indians. However, with more and more players entering the market, just the health card was not enough.

"Oats was introduced in India through the health platform. But they quickly realised that health does not sell in India. What sells is fun and good taste, with health in the background. That is why brands started to experiment with different flavours. Oats is essentially a western concept, which has been tweaked to suit the Indian taste buds and sensibilities," pointed out Harish Bijoor, brand domain specialist, Harish Bijoor Consults Inc.

Saffola Oats’ taste punch Saffola Oats which was also marketed with a healthy twist decided to add the flavour punch to its tagline. In 2010, it added Curry & Pepper Oats and Masala & Coriander Oats to cater especially to the Indian consumers. The campaigns, especially down South, where they soft launched the product, centred round the taste factor while also showing the health benefits. The marketing efforts included on-ground activations with local celebrity chefs, festival-themed cooking shows, trial packs, in-store promotions.

Saffola's Masala Oats took a risk which has paid off. While plain and regular oats have to be cooked by boiling it in milk, the masala oats variety has to be prepared by boiling it in water, thereby making sure that the spicy taste remains.

"We realised that the consumer sees health and taste at the opposite ends of the spectrum – consuming healthy means a compromise in taste and vice versa. We believe that growth can be unlocked only if there is no tradeoff. And hence our R&D team was given a simple brief: How can we make Oats not just acceptable but relished by Indians? The challenge was to get a ‘universal tasting’ product keeping regional nuances in consideration. Indian taste preferences across regions were decoded and a common thread was identified, which gave universal taste appeal. We realised that Indians are used to a very ‘masala’ sort of taste palette and came up with Saffola Masala Oats – a product that brought together the goodness of oats along with a dash of masala and vegetables. The objective was to arrive at a product which could be cooked in no time and consumed,” said Sameer Satpathy, Executive Vice-President and Business Head at Marico Limited.

Talking about the success of the strategy, Satpathy said, “We were the first in the country to launch Savoury Oats and they are now available in six flavours as an entire meal by itself, satisfying all the breakfast needs of a consumer – taste, health and convenience. Saffola customised oats to suit the taste palate of different regions in the country. Saffola Oats has done exceptionally well in a very short period of time since it was introduced. It has achieved almost 16 per cent value market share and has catapulted as the No. 2 player in the oats category nationally."

Beyond breakfast 2010 also saw the launch of Kellogg's 'Heart-to-Heart' oats. The entry of Kellogg's meant that the business was serious as Kellogg's is the market leader in the growing breakfast segment. The company, already a household name thanks to its cornflakes range, promised that its oats were made especially for the Indian palate with its offerings of Tomato and Pudina flavours. Their campaign strategy was to highlight the fact that now tasty food will also be allowed, unlike the junk that most of us have to grudgingly say 'no' to.


In 2011, Horlicks and Britannia entered the oats market in India with their own brand of oats. While Horlicks, the well known company making health beverages, emphasised health by playing up weight management, blood pressure control and cholesterol reduction, Britannia's claim to fame in the segment came with the introduction of more fun flavours such as strawberry, savoury, multigrain, etc.

Newer flavours are always welcome in India, it seems. The recent campaign by Quaker shows a family, initially not at all taken by the idea of having oats, actually licks the bowl clean because the new, tasty Lemony Veggie Mix variety.

The taste factor reflects of Saffola's oats campaign as well, which shows a young wife trying to eat a bowl of boiled vegetables for lunch. However, after a mouthful or two she gives up. Instead, urged by her husband and son, she tastes the Saffola Oats which, while being tasty, is also a good weigh loss option. The campaign explains how oats is good for the weight conscious. Oats absorb fats, help in reducing cholesterol and its high fiber content makes you feel fuller for longer thereby reducing the urge to eat often.


Saffola had earlier already tried its hand with using oats as ingredient in different dishes. Under the 'Do more with oats' campaign, it showed viewers how using oats for porridge, idli or upma can be healthier. On their YouTube channel, Saffolalife, they tied up with Chef Saransh on 'My Special Recipe' where recipes for Oats Tikki, Sev bhaji, chaat and more snacks were shared.


Kellogg’s convenience factor

Kellogg's decided to take it one step further. The brand which is well known for its ready-to-eat range of cereals - Cornflakes, Wheat Flakes, Frosties, Special K, Muesli, etc. – made oats into a convenient ready-to-eat breakfast cereal as well. Packaged as 'Oat-Bites', these are small cubes of oats which can just be had with cold or hot milk, or even on their own. The brand however hasn't brought in their internationally popular Oat Bran Flakes to India so far.

Innovation becomes all the more important when so many players are involved. Buchanan Group, which had two clients from the oats segment – GSK's Horlicks Oats and PepsiCo's Quaker – received the same brief: Show how Indians are adopting oats as a part of healthy lifestyle. In the TV ads, Horlicks Oats used the route of an expert (Nutritionist) whereas Quaker Oats communicated the same using a grocery store authority (brand power).



Other companies have also taken the opportunity to make an entry into the market. The country's first breakfast cereal maker, Bagrry’s India, has Quick Cooking White Oats, Rolled Oats/Jumbo Oats, Oat Flour in its portfolio. Bagrry's, however, has always been absent from the advertising space. Bagrry's is betting on increasing awareness and innovation to hold off competition in the breakfast cereal market.

Southern conundrum: Breakfast or dinner

Awareness has increased for sure. According to the Nielsen India Report, nearly half of the families in Kerala have oats not as a breakfast item but as a meal for dinner. Many of them used oats in traditional Indian dishes like Idli, Dosa and Paratha. This means that branded and packaged oats has moved on from the breakfast item it was originally introduced as some seven years ago for the time-starved office-goer. Now it is being viewed as a meal – one which has its health benefits, is tasty, non-fattening, can be made quickly and is available easily.

"The incidence of oats being eaten in the evenings or as a light dinner/snack would be relatively higher in the southern parts of India, especially in Kerala and Tamil Nadu. The residents are traditionally used to eating kanji (gruel), which is consumed as a light meal at other times of the day. In Kerala and Tamil Nadu, oats are seen as a modern and convenient form of kanji and hence are consumed outside breakfast.

“From Marico’s strategic perspective, this fits in well as Indians are becoming more health conscious by the day and the market for branded healthy products is growing rapidly. Breakfast is one of the key occasions where health can be easily incorporated into one’s lifestyle and we believe that the category has good potential in the coming years. Marico would like to increase its presence in the health and wellness category and we are currently well poised to do so with brand Saffola," commented Satpathy.

With more and more companies entering the market, the price points are also being kept attractive. However, just pricing will not suffice for the oats brands to survive, especially as there are talks of heavyweights Hindustan Unilever and Nestle making plans to enter the oats market. That could be a game changer given the enormous marketing and distribution muscle at the disposal of these FMCG giants.

"One who will educate will be the leader. Continuing consumer education and innovation is the key. This category is yet evolving and consumer education is very critical as a majority of Indians are still not sure or aware of the benefits that oats offer. All-India consumption of oats is at 13 per cent of TG as per recent Nielsen data. Penetration is tilted towards South India with Chennai and Cochin having penetration rates of more than 30 per cent. The best part is that oats are generally positioned as breakfast option but 49 per cent of families in Kerala consume oats for dinner! When I say innovation, it’s not only related to product innovation but also how marketers position their brands and increase consumption of oats through creating different forms of eating like Idli, Dosa, Roti, etc., in the overall food chain of consumers or create more oat eating occasions of eating," said Buchanan’s Singhai.

Concluded Bijoor, "Why should oats be eaten as porridge only? As more and more brands enter and crowd the segment, expect more interesting products to emerge. While oats flakes are niche, oats biscuits can be broad ended. There might be oats noodles or even oats based shakes, meant especially for an after workout drink. Inventing new products will be crucial in coming days."

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