It was Pythagoras who said, "Salt is born of the purest of parents: the sun and the sea." Keeping the purity of this basic yet precious seasoning intact is Tata Chemicals. The company's brand, Tata Salt, conjures powerful images of wholesomeness, integrity and honesty — traits that have made it one of India's biggest brand successes.
The seed of the idea behind Tata Salt was sown in 1983 by the Mehta brothers, owners of Shree Vardhaman Chemicals, a Tata Chemicals distributor. The brothers recognised a business opportunity in the vast salt flats that lay at Mithapur and approached Darbari Seth, then chairman of Tata Chemicals.
Seth recognised an opportunity to create and market a product whose demand cut across social classes, regions and communities. Tata Chemicals began its salt business; Shree Vardhaman Chemicals handled the marketing. In those days crystal salt was retailed in unbranded packs in local kirana shops. Consumers knew no other form of salt, and Tata Chemicals, by launching Tata Salt, not only created the first brand name in the segment but, in doing so, leveraged the brand equity the Tata group enjoyed.
Satish Sohoni, chief operating officer, Food Additives Business, Tata Chemicals, explains the reasons for the brand's overwhelming success, "The company tapped an unfulfilled and latent consumer need, and leveraged the equity of the Tata group. That gave birth to what is today India's No.1 food brand, as per AC Nielsen Annual Brands Survey." Excellent product quality, hygienic production, good packaging and distribution, and emotive advertising played a part in creating a band of loyal consumers.
Endorsement came from other quarters too. In 2003, AC Nielsen ranked Tata Salt as the 'Most Trusted Food Brand' in India. For two consecutive years, it figured in the Economic Times Brand Equity-ORG-MARG survey of the most trusted Indian brands.
The accolades were well earned. Tata Salt has done more to combat iodine deficiency and goitre than any government initiative. The Ministry of Health and the World Trade Organization had, in the early 1980s, informed the government that the only cost-effective way of delivering iodine to the masses was through salt. Anxious to tackle the growing health problem, ND Tiwari, the then minister of industry, requested Seth to take up the cause. "In the true Tata spirit," says Mr Sohoni, "Seth assured the minister that in a month there would be iodised salt in shops." And he kept his word.
Simultaneously the company ran an awareness campaign on goitre and the role of iodine in controlling the problem. This twin strategy had a social and economic benefit. The initiative resulted in a network of packing centres set up all over the country.
Today, Tata Salt is a must-buy on the grocery list of nearly four crore households in the country. Mr Sohoni proudly says, "This is the single largest penetrated brand in the Tata group. It embodies the Tata brand, evoking respect, partnership and trust. No matter how much a consumer earns, he is able to connect with salt."
It was this bond that became the inspiration for the company's 2002 'Maine desh ka namak khaya hai' campaign. The move to establish what Mr Sohoni describes as "an emotional connect with the consumer" has strengthened the brand considerably.
In recognition of the loyalty that consumers felt towards the brand, the company launched the 'Desh ko arpan' programme to thank consumers in the uniquely Tata way. Mr Sohoni says, "Tata Chemicals chose to honour the nation by surrendering something that the nation has given us."
In two bursts on January 26 and February 26, 2002 and then on August 15 and September 15 the same year, the company set aside 10 paise on every pack it sold for the education of underprivileged children. The proceeds from this collection were shared with CRY and benefited 30,000 and 40,000 children in the first two years.
Tata Chemicals has now tied up with the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai to run a sports-cum-academic coaching camp. Here the company offers cricket and soccer coaching to municipal school students in the city. From the beginning of the academic year 2005, it will start tutoring students of class X.
In 1983, Tata Chemicals created a product category to fulfil an unmet need. Today, the marketplace is crowded yet Tata Salt remains a class apart. The brand distinguishes itself from others of its product category by simply stressing on the core values that have become synonymous with the Tata group.
Studies had revealed that consumers were unhappy with the hypocrisy of our times. The new campaign, 'Maine desh ka namak khaya hai', identified Tata Salt with honesty, caring and trust. The advertisements depicted the uprightness of ordinary Indians, like a policeman who did his duty, a railway linesman who checked fishplates even during heavy rains and a taxi driver who didn't believe finders were keepers.
The campaign beat the clutter generated by the competition. The company also reconfigured the supply chain and worked on its sales and marketing initiatives to translate the popularity of the brand into higher sales figures. Today Tata Salt has a 41 per cent share of the branded market.
Mr Sohoni declares, "Tata Salt has forged a partnership with the consumer. Salt is something you need every day in your food. By helping consumers to make their food tastier, we help make their families happier. This is one of the reasons why the brand is extremely well anchored in the consumer's mind."
The latest Tata Salt advertisement campaign talks about the wonders of 'chutki bhar vishwas'. Giving a positive spin to the age-old pinch of salt, it once again reinforces the strength of the brand that owes its parentage to the sun and the sea and the tremendous equity of the Tata group.