It is the most common thing on every dining table and yet it is the most important. To the richest and the poorest, salt provides basic taste to food; and if it is Tata Salt it also provides the requisite daily dose of iodine.
Launched in 1983, Tata Salt pioneered packaged iodised salt in India. It offered millions of housewives an opportunity to move away from the loose, unbranded salt of suspect quality to the reassurance of clean, pure salt, guaranteed by India’s most trusted business house. Today, Tata Salt touches the lives of 40 million households in India and is one of the two Tata brands (the other is Tata Indicom) which directly impact a large part of the Indian population.
Tata Salt enjoys market leadership in the branded salt category with a 44 per cent market share. As a brand, it is extremely popular, enjoying 100 per cent awareness among customers, the highest for any food brand tracked in various studies. The trust that consumers have in the brand is reflected by the fact that since 2003, it has been consistently ranked the number one food brand (except in 2007 when it was at number 2) by The Economic Times Brand Equity ‘most trusted brands’ survey.
Quite an impressive achievement, especially when one considers that Tata Chemicals — the company which manufactures Tata Salt — had no experience in marketing consumer products. It was essentially a company producing soda ash. And salt was merely a by-product of using steam to make soda ash, at the company’s Mithapur plant in Gujarat, India.
The decision to brand and sell this by-product as iodised table salt was adventitious. It so happened that in early 1980s the Indian government identified iodised salt as the most effective vehicle to deal with iodine deficiency diseases rampant among the masses. Concerned with the widespread health problem, then industry minister ND Tiwari approached Darbari Seth, the then managing director of Tata Chemicals, to find a solution. It was a worthwhile cause and Mr Seth decided to support the government’s health campaign to eradicate iodine deficiency disorders through iodised salt. So, desh ka namak (salt of the nation) is not just a marketing slogan; Tata Salt actually came into existence to serve a national need.
However, for a company focused on bulk manufacturing, the move to consumer products was not easy. Tata Chemicals had to learn lessons in packaging, distribution, branding and marketing. It also had to face the challenge posed by loose, unbranded salt, which dominated the market then. Added to this was the reluctance of consumers to pay more for a commodity as common as salt. With no knowledge of how the market would work or respond but with the intention of helping the Indian government in its cause, Tata Chemicals went ahead with the launch of Tata Salt in 1983, pioneering the cause of iodisation in India.
The product was revolutionary by all standards. It was branded. It was iodised. And it was vacuum evaporated — a technology never used before for making salt in India. Plus, because of the technology used, it was white, pure and consistent, and free from any extraneous matter unlike the solar salts in general use then. As awareness of health issues has grown and consumers have become more discerning, the Tata Salt brand has also grown from strength to strength.
In the food business, where companies spend a fortune on brand building, this is no mean feat. So what’s the secret? Ashvini Hiran, head, consumer products business, explains: “The word Tata lends the value of trust and quality to Tata Salt. The functional benefits and unmatched quality, coupled with the emotional connect the brand has with the people of India, has positioned it as the most trusted food brand of India.”
Tata Salt clicked with the consumers from the beginning. The purity positioning, supported by the government campaign to promote iodised salt, established it as a favourite with housewives in no time. It was only in 1990 that other players joined the fray and Tata Salt had competition. Captain Cook, with its promise of a “free flowing” salt that doesn’t become soggy, swamped the market. In 1996, Hindustan Unilever (then Hindustan Lever) launched Annapurna salt, positioning it on the health and iodine platform. Other brands such as Nirma and Dandi followed.
This competition was something new for Tata Salt, so used to being the sole brand in the market. To combat this sudden onslaught on its supremacy in the market, a revolutionary new strategy was needed. So, in 2001, moving beyond the ‘health’ and ‘purity’ platform, Tata Salt launched the highly emotional Desh ka namak campaign, which reinforced its leadership position in the marketplace and the consumer’s mind and elevated the brand forever from the mundane to the sublime. This strong connect with the national good remains, to date, the key differentiator between Tata Salt and other brands.
The latest ad campaign Ghul mil ke, carries the ‘salt of the nation’ positioning forward by establishing a connect between salt and the way Indians celebrate festivals, putting aside religious and cultural differences.
Each pack of Tata Salt is Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) certified, which is the most respected food grade certification globally. To consumers it means that they get safe, pure and hygienic salt in every pack of Tata Salt. Interestingly, the HACCP certification for food safety is not a requirement for salt, and probably nowhere in the world do companies HACCP-certify their salt. Then why does Tata Chemicals do it? “Because,” says Mr Hiran, “we go the extra mile to ensure quality. And because we want to be future ready.”
On the ‘lite’er side
Lite aims at wellness and is packed with the triple goodness of 15 per cent less sodium (good for management of hypertension and heart-related diseases), potassium enrichment (good for maintaining the potassium-sodium balance in the body) and iodisation (to counter iodine deficiency and related problems). Since its launch, Lite has grown to four times that of its nearest competitor. The challenge for the marketing team now, according to Mr Hiran, is to “make Tata Salt Lite as big as Tata Salt”. Wellness is the new focus for Tata Chemicals and its research efforts are directed towards developing products that have far-reaching health benefits for the masses.
Salt of the earth
For the last two years the programme has extended educational support to 1,500 underprivileged girl children through the Nanhi Kali project. The 2009-10 programme funds and supports four hostels run by the Cohesion Foundation Trust for the children of salt pan workers in Gandhidham, a major salt hub in Gujarat. The seasonal hostels ensure the kids stay back and continue with their education, even when their parents migrate in search of a livelihood.
Looking ahead, Mr Hiran is confident that Tata Salt will continue to innovate and to contribute to the public health of India. In a market flooded with branded salt, innovation does seem to be the best bet to keep ahead. However, the need to innovate for Tata Salt is not driven by competition. Mr Hiran explains: “Most salt brands in the market are solar salts and compete with I-Shakti (Tata Chemicals’ solar refined salt brand for the rural and semi-urban markets). Tata Salt is on a different platform.” The competition or challenge, if any, is to keep the brand modern with new, healthy offerings for the nation. He adds: “Tata Salt will remain the umbrella brand and in the coming years we hope to bring more variants, each with a story of its own.”