A.K. Tyagi, Executive Director, of the country's largest snack-maker, Haldiram Snacks, claims that traditional Indian namkeens are healthier than most of their western counterparts. "All our namkeens are made out of moong dal, channa dal or besan. They are high in protein and gluten-free too," he says. Though the snack-maker is aggressively expanding its health food portfolio, Tyagi believes the market for traditional snacks will always be bigger. Health foods may grow faster on a lower base. "India has a problem of malnutrition too, so, there will be a large set of consumers who would want to consume fried food," he further explains.
Haldiram's recently entered into a 51:49 joint venture with South African health food company, Futurelife (it was earlier in talks with Kellogg's for a JV), under which it launched products such as granola, protein powders and oats. Tyagi says that Haldiram's already had a robust healthy Indian snack portfolio in the form of roasted channa, roasted peanuts, diet murmura and bhel and the JV would expand its vision to be not just a tasty Indian snack brand but also a healthy food brand. However, taste and health have never met eye to eye in India. The average Indian has always preferred taste to health and that's the reason why many food companies burnt their fingers when they got into the health food category. The food or snack they launched was not tasty enough and the Indian consumer dismissed it.
So, how would a brand such as Haldiram's which is synonymous with taste and quality make its health food tasty enough to woo its consumers? Tyagi says they will never launch a product unless they are fully sure that it will be liked by the consumers. He also says that if they could Indianise a western product like potato chips, they will be able to Indianise oats and granola too. "Indian companies such as Patanjali and Marico are already doing oats and are successful. Also, the pandemic has increased preference for oats. It's the right time to enter the market."
Mark Bunn, MD, Futurelife, says, they are working closely with Haldiram's to get a sense of flavour profiles that would be more associated with the Indian consumer. "The one thing we will never do is to dictate to Indian consumers what they should consume."
Though Tyagi agrees that the company's health food products would have takers mostly in the metro markets, he feels it is their distribution might which will give them an edge. He believes that most multinationals burnt their fingers trying to get into health foods because they did not just copy recipes that worked in their home countries, but they also didn't know how to reach consumers.
"You have to make your product available. Most brands have great products but they are not able to distribute. They are used to distributing only in modern retail outlets and in India that comprises just 10 per cent of the overall retail market. Around 90 per cent sales comes from the traditional retailers and we are available in 2.5 million unorganised outlets."
Tyagi says that the distribution has to match with their product. "We will never launch frozen products as we don't have the distribution network. We have launched products which can be stored in ambient temperature."
The Haldiram's-Futurelife products have currently been launched in the North and in the next year-and-half will be rolled out across the country. Haldiram's exports its snacks to 80 countries. In India the $1 billion company has a 20 per cent share of salty snacks market and a 30 per cent share of traditional snacks market.