Amul butters its way into cookie market, takes on rivals over their fare

The Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation (GCMMF)-owned dairy brand Amul is adding bluster and outrage to its marketing arsenal as it looks for a larger footprint for its relatively nascent cookie brand. It is calling out rivals, Britannia, Parle and ITC over the butter content in their cookies and claiming to be the only one that lives up to its name.

 

The playbook is a familiar one for the GCMMF, one that it used a couple of years earlier when it went head-to-head with Hindustan Unilever over ice-creams. At the time it had claimed that Amul was the only ice-cream worthy of being called one, as it used milk and cream and not vegetable oil as its rivals did. This time around, a similar charge has been levelled against rival brands  as part of the GCMMF  #AmulButterCookieChallenge. The name “butter cookies” used liberally today is misleading the company has said, because these cookies are low on butter and high on vegetable oil. The challenge asks customers to check out the claims being made by their other butter cookie brands and bust them. The idea is to create awareness on the differentiation between butter-based and vegetable oil-based products said R S Sodhi, MD, Gujarat Co-operative Milk Marketing Federation.

 

“It (the use of vegetable oil) is impacting the image of all butter cookies, and in turn Amul’s brand that is why we decided to come out with this campaign,” Sodhi added. So far the rivals have kept silent; ITC and Britannia did not respond to emails, while Parle declined to comment.

 

Two years ago when GCMMF took on Hindustan Unilever over ice-cream, the multinational had reacted with belligerence and the two had dragged each other to court over claims and counter claims. The matter resolved itself eventually, but it did help create a distinct positioning platform for Amul ice-creams.

 

This time the intention is the same. For the Rs 41,000 crore Amul brand, considered an unrivalled leader in the dairy market in the country, the Rs 15,000 crore biscuit market was a dark spot until recently. It entered the market just a couple of years ago with Amul butter cookies and is currently present only in Gujarat, Maharashtra and Rajasthan. The plan is to go pan-India in the next 2-3 years. Not only is Amul looking to build familiarity with the brand in the cookies market, it also wants to perch itself on a ‘pure-and-authentic’ platform to justify the higher price that its cookies command.

 

Sodhi claims that Amul Butter cookies are baked with 25 per cent butter and zero per cent vegetable oil, but the rest have vegetable oil content as high as 20-22 per cent. Once Amul posted the challenge on its social media timelines, customers began sharing pictures of rival cookie packs, highlighting their butter content. GCMMF even announced a reward for the first 100 posts,  thereby adding momentum to the posts and the result is that the brands have been sharply differentiated. Amul, the challenger brand, stands separate from the older and well-entrenched brands. 

 

“The world of marketing is one of claim versus counter-claim. USPs are countered with counter-USPS. For brand Amul, it’s a matter of protecting the equity of butter-space. In some ways this is also a tangential high-ground question that Amul is asking,” said Harish Bijoor, founder of Harish Bijoor Consults.

 

For Sodhi, the ‘butter-challenge’ is not a one-off. He sees continuity in the brand message. The aim, with everything that the Amul brand is extended to, he explains, is to support its core dairy business and protect farmer incomes. For 10,000  tonnes of cookies Amul needs 2,500 tonnes of butter, which absorbs the increasing supply of milk in the market and helps add value to the farmers’ portfolio, he elaborates.  Using butter is expensive and hence Amul cookies are priced nearly two times more than its rivals. It is imperative therefore the brand differentiate itself from the rest in the category said experts.

 

While Amul’s claims made in the challenge thrown out to its competitors have not been countered yet, it is unlikely to go unchallenged. All brands are playing for high stakes here, especially since the cookie market contributes close to 40 per cent in value terms to the Rs 35,000-crore biscuit market in the country, pointed out experts and everyone is looking to protect their turf. The battle lines are sharply drawn.

 



Business Standard is now on Telegram.
For insightful reports and views on business, markets, politics and other issues, subscribe to our official Telegram channel