D S SACHDEVA, CEO of Weikfield Foods Private Limited, says the brand rode the DIY cooking and baking trend of lockdown with high demand for its products, and its recent foray into the ready-to-eat desserts category is part of a strategy to provide convenient solutions to consumers who will continue to seek comfort food in their own kitchens
You just entered the ready-to-eat dessert category. Please take us through the brand’s journey from setting up shop in Pune in 1956, to where it is today. What is the core philosophy of the brand?
Weikfield Foods was founded in 1956 by three brothers who came to India after Independence - Late Shri S P Malhotra, Late Shri Harish Kumar Malhotra and Late Shri B R Malhotra. The company had a simple motto – to manufacture food products of extreme purity and quality and to bring the food products industry of India to the forefront of the world food industry. They began with manufacturing and selling three products to the local market in Pune - cornflour, custard powder and baking powder. Soon, they spread their wings to all parts of the country. Weikfield now has three state-of-the-art manufacturing facilities – two in Pune, Maharashtra and one in Nalagarh, Himachal Pradesh. Over the past 64 years, Weikfield has been creating wholesome products, adding to its iconic portfolio of custard, cornflour, baking powder and cocoa with recent entries like pasta, falooda, sauces and cake mixes. Weikfield is the No. 1 brand for custard powder, cornflour, baking powder, cocoa and vegetarian jelly crystals in India. Apart from packaged food products, the company also produces and sells fresh mushrooms under the EcoValley brand name. It is also sole distributor of St Daflour fruit preserves in the Indian market since 1999, under license from St Dalfour, France.
We have been a niche player in the overall food category, typically focusing on segments not targeted by large companies and trying to own a large share in such niche segments. Another unique aspect of our business strategy is that we offer 100% vegetarian products. We were the first company to launch vegetarian jelly mix in India while most of the players use gelatine derived from animal sources. Now, in line with our innovation and niche play philosophy, we have launched ‘Weikfield custard - Ready to eat’ as we look to drive consumer penetration of custard in India.
You underwent a brand refresh last year with the tagline ‘Weik up Life’s Little Moments’ – tell us what it entailed and how has it impacted your customer base and revenues?
While great taste and quality is a given for our products, we want the brand to stand in the consumer’s mind for something more important, something that’s meaningful in consumer life. We want to become a companion in the joyful moments of consumers’ lives and this is what we have tried to capture through our promise of ‘Giving life to life’s little celebrations’. Apart from the new logo and packaging, our rebranding and repositioning exercise also included a new sonic identity. We launched a 360-degree media campaign to communicate our new promise to our consumers. Our efforts have helped us increase not only brand saliency and affinity, but also brand penetration as per the bi-annual brand tracking studies commissioned by us.
How has your TG evolved?
Our core target audience has always been the woman of the household as she knows what best to feed her family. However, there have been slow changes in consumer behaviour, predominantly in the affluent households, that’s important for marketers like us to note. The man of the household spends more time in the kitchen, while time spent by women has reduced, and domestic helpers have started playing the role of influencers. Still, women continue to be the chief decision-maker about what’s made in the kitchen.
With the onset of the pandemic, and work-from-home and school-from-home schedules, the man of the house became more involved in the kitchen, not only in cooking but also occasionally whipping up a dessert or snack. Many people, mostly the younger generation, got exposed to cooking for the first time. ‘Quarantine cooking’ saw just about everyone heading to the kitchen to try out different dishes that they would earlier order from outside. All turned to food for comfort and sought reliable brands that could assist them in their culinary experiments. At a time like this, Weikfield, with its wide and versatile range of products, emerged as a hot favourite. We believe the consumer will continue to seek more convenient solutions. That’s one of the reasons for us to get into the ready-to-eat dessert category.
Tell us about Weikfield’s distribution and retail network as it stands today, and your focus areas going ahead.
We are looking to expand our capacity in the Pune manufacturing units to cater to rising demand in Western and Southern markets. Our pan-India distribution network includes 19 depots covering all States of India and a network of approximately 1200+ distributors and super stockists. The company today directly reaches over 90,000 retail outlets and roughly another 1,50,000 outlets through indirect channels throughout India. We are also listed in all major modern trade chains across India, and this contributes to more than one-third of our business. Digital channels form a very important part of our growth strategy, as consumer shopping behaviour is omnichannel today. We are aggressively building our capabilities to leverage this enormous opportunity. We have more than doubled the contribution from e-commerce channels to our business in the last 12 months. We are also looking to build a direct-to-consumer business.
Which segment would you be looking at if you were to expand further or launch new products? Are any more acquisitions on the agenda?
While we can’t make any specific comment about our acquisition strategy, we are always looking for both organic and inorganic growth opportunities to achieve our ambition of doubling our revenue in the next three years.
How did the COVID-19 pandemic affect the business and growth over the last 1.5 years?
One of the silver linings of the pandemic is that consumer mindshare for the brand has been positively impacted in line with the surge in demand for packaged foods. During lockdown, as a lot of consumers took to cooking, Weikfield with its wide portfolio of products became the kitchen companion for them. Categories like custard, pasta, desserts and baking saw a significant lift across markets during the lockdown period. As more and more consumers got hooked to baking, we struggled to keep pace with demands for items like baking powder and cocoa powder. We significantly scaled up our brand investments as well, predominantly through digital media and recently through TV and Print. A big trend that took off is search for recipes to make restaurant-like food at home. We leveraged it by creating recipe videos and distributing them through our social media handles.
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