Kellogg’s upma: is it really a victory for the desi way?

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The launch of Kellogg’s Upma has attracted a lot of media attention. It has been reported as a change of strategy to conquer the Indian market and to suit the Indian palate. Many have commented on the development suggesting that it’s a victory of sorts for Indians having made an MNC change their product strategy. But is it really?

Multinationals operating in the food & beverages category such as Nestle, PepsiCo, Coca-Cola and Kellogg’s have always seen India as a market with great potential – given our market size, especially that of the middle class. Many, including Nestle and Kellogg’s entered India in the 90s with an aim to play the long term game. Their avowed strategy was to launch global product lines here and over time change our food habits. Instant noodles as a snack option was a totally new concept in India. A cold breakfast or even cornflakes with hot milk was a habit that needed to be cultivated in India. We love all our meals hot and until the introduction of ready-to-cook and packaged food, most of our meals were freshly cooked. Unlike America where it is common to cook food enough for a week and store it in the freezer to be heated later, we kept our food overnight in the fridge at best.

MNCs have invested vast amounts in changing our food habits and I believe have succeeded in a big way. Maggi and instant noodles are as mainstream as idli or parathas. The association with Maggi especially is very positive and the it has a strong equity. It is seen as a life-saver among many – housewives, working moms, students and more. It evokes a nostalgic ‘those were the days’ kind of emotion in working professionals when recalling their hostel days where Maggi was the all-weather friend. The industry communication has moved beyond educating the consumer and projecting competitive advantages over each other.

Corn flakes may be a different story and perhaps has remained a niche market, adopted by a small section of the society. But, like Maggi, Kellogg’s have been trying hard too.

In the two decades since then, Kellogg’s launched various products under its seven ranges: Corn flakes (Corn Flakes Original, Corn Flakes With Real Honey, Corn Flakes With Real Honey and Almond, and Corn Flakes With Real Strawberry and Puree), Chocos (Chocos, Chocos Fills, Chocos Moons and Stars, Chocos Crunchy Bites and others), Oats, Muesli (Crunchy Fruits and Nuts, Nuts Delight, Fruit Magic, Muesli No Added Sugar), Special K (Original, Multigrain Oats and Honey, Protein and Fibre Cranberry Flavour), All Bran and Cruchy Granola.


The difference between Maggi and Kellogg’s in my mind is that the former successfully elevated itself from being noodles brand to a ‘tasty, easy to cook, anytime hunger-buster’ whereas Kellogg’s remained with a residual imagery of corn flakes and cold milk which is not very appetising to Indians.

However, MNCs (and other Indian corporates) have been catalysts to a change in our food habits where we have come to accept ready-to-cook, out of a packet option for our meals. Home grown brands such as MTR (which is now part of Orkla Foods of Norway) and ITC Foods have played a role sensing the need to offer product options which meets the needs of an evolving consumer. Time-poor urban families saw such options as a win-win situation of having the familiar taste of desi food without the trouble of preparing them the traditional way. Rava idli and gulab jamun mixes, rasam powders and frozen snacks are widely accepted now. Global brands such as McDoanld’s and Pizza Hut too have adapted their product range to suit Indian preferences. McAloo Tikki, Tandoori Paneer Pizza and other such ‘innovations’ are a result of localised strategies.

The advent of food delivery apps has also been a game changer in our food habits. Ordering in from a restaurant, even during festive occasions (where home cooked food or eating out was the norm) is common now. Some half-jokingly say that future homes may not need a kitchen at all. And less said about carbonated fizzy sugared drinks the better.- they have been part of our lifestyle for decades now. Ditto with potato chips and other packaged snacks.

So deep down, have food & beverage companies changed us or have we changed them to suit our needs? I would say it’s more of the former aided by our changing lifestyles, time pressure and urbanisation. Brands can only flourish if meet a real need as we have seen in the case of fairness creams. The freshly cooked meal at home is being replaced by the convenience of a packaged food – beyond just snacks. They are now replacements for a whole meal such as breakfast. Yes, consumers have gained too but at what cost? The home cooked meal will increasingly be seen as a chore not worth following as the available options are far too attractive to ignore – familiar taste, convenient and ‘bought’ with a belief that they have all the goodness ‘packed’ in them.

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