Har Mausam Mae Tafree!
MePS Packaging recently launched disposable straws and paper cups under the brand name ‘TAFREE’. This launch brings home the importance of how branding is essential because branding can mitigate a crisis for the business. It is a classic case of marketing renovation after the market suddenly bottomed out on existing product range.
MePS has been operating in the market for disposable thermocol cups which has traditionally been cyclical and price sensitive. It is a tough, unorganised and complex market where advertising and sales promotion are considered redundant. Estimated at Rs 5,000 crores, the market for disposable cups is very competitive, with nearly 500 manufacturers spread across regions. 10% of the market comprised thermocol glasses that are considered efficient and environment friendly. Manufacturers rely on whole sellers for redistribution and sales to bulk purchasers with retail sales accounting for a marginal volume. It is a commodity market where demand exists but is highly elastic. Products are not branded and therefore, even a 0.5% drop in price could shift volumes.
The market for thermocol based disposable cups recently got hit by government legislation. ” We have been innovating, renovating and running a very successful business for disposable cups made from moulded thermocol. However, recent government legislation forced us to stop production and we needed to either quit the business altogether or re-establish ourselves in the market with some other product,” Ajay Mittal, director MePS said.
He further added that the company’s instinct was to diversify into a completely new line of business. “We realised that while our company had built some personal equity with the trade channels, it was not going to be easy to extend this equity to a new line of products. We chose to stay in our field of expertise but we needed a brand that could help us cross over,” he added.
The reality of consumer behaviour is that consumers associate values with brands and not so much with the product itself. Unlike the disposable glass, a straw is even lower in the value chain because it would typically be just another component of an RTD pack where the brand on the RTD pack dominates the choice and not the straw attached to it. This is the real challenge for marketing. It needs to highlight the slip between the cup and the lip, literally, because that is the gap that depends on the straw.
“We later realised the importance of creating strong brands. Fortunately, even before the new regulations were imposed, we had already started work on branding for the earlier portfolio. Our focus groups, extensive consumer contacts and discussions had zeroed in on the insight that ‘consumers today are very stressed and there is a sense of guilt that is building up towards the environment. They need to feel happy and relaxed.’ The other insight was that ‘Consumers want to be associated with brands that connote some benefit or values’. Using these insights we have launched the brand ‘TAFREE’ for our product range because TAFREE denotes a state of mind that is relaxed. TAFREE is committed to provide guilt free products and convenience to facilitate responsible consumption, is responsible for the environment, and supports efficient use of resources,” Ajay Mittal said.
The range of products that the company plans under the TAFREE brand are all environmental friendly, enhance convenience for the end consumer, and are safe. The brand will, however, have to work hard to enter the comfort zone and be preferred as the last mile connect with consumption, because their customers are not the end consumers. Ajay Mittal is confident that the brand will be a game changer. “We may be selling to third parties but we are the final link between their brand and the consumer. Whether it is safe and convenient drinking straws for Frooti or environmental friendly disposable paper cups for Nescafe or McDonalds, we intend to be the Trust Plus factor for each of them. TAFREE will be the brand they can trust for consistency in quality and concern for the environment. This will make purchase decisions simpler for them”.
The market in India for disposable paper cups and paper straws is almost entirely unorganised with 15-20 regional players cornering the bulk of supply. The only real choice is to build a brand. Consumers trust brands and sales transactions happen by the transference of trust. The road ahead for MePS will be challenging but building the brand TAFREE is good thinking and good strategy.