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With a pinch of salt
Buisness Line, Catalyst, New Delhi, April 08, 2016

When a user on Quora asked, "Why is the candy Pass Pass Pulse so popular?" members of the community went into a tizzy. Some reminisced about the first time they had popped the candy while others took to describing the various stages of their Pulse journey.

Over the last few months, the powder-filled candy priced at Rs.1 has garnered much word-of-mouth. Even as manufacturer DS Group, which created brands such as Baba, Rajnigandha and Pass Pass is yet to launch a formal marketing campaign for Pulse, the brand's sales have touched Rs.105 crore in January 2016, less than a year after launch.

DS Group entered the hard-boiled candy segment with the Pass Pass Kaccha Aam Pulse, early last year. The company test-marketed the brand only in Rajasthan and Gujarat. Given the good response, the company had to speed things up to make it a formal launch. In less than a year, the company expanded its presence across India.

Shashank Surana, Vice-President, New Product Development, DS Group, said, "It took us about a year to perfect the taste, recipe and the powder-filled formulation." The group was eyeing a presence in the candy segment, the fastest growing segment in the confectionery category. It narrowed down the choice to the mango flavour as it is already the top selling flavour in the country. According to industry estimates, mango and raw mango flavours constitute more than 50 per cent of the organised hard-boiled candy segment, whose size is estimated at Rs.1,800 crore2,000 crore.

However, the company did not want to stop at replicating the regular mango flavour, but also offer something different. The company executives claim that the R&D team tried many formats and did extensive taste sampling before finalising the tangy powder twist to the raw mango flavour. "Consumers, especially the younger lot, are looking for different formats and flavours. Our tangy powder format offers innovation in taste," says Surana.

But what is the tangy powder that makes Pulse so addictive? Is it just black salt? "The centre is not just black salt. It is a mixture of spices that gives the powder just the right amount of tanginess," says Surana.

While company executives say it's early to estimate the total potential of Pulse, the brand is estimated to currently contribute about 40 per cent to the Pass Pass brand portfolio.

At present, the confectionery segment contributes around three per cent to the company's revenues and Surana hopes it will contribute at least 10 per cent to the topline over the next three years. "We want to double our confectionery product sales by next fiscal," he says.

Industry experts believe that the Rs.1 pricing is an important shift for the entire hard-boiled candy segment. With more than 80 per cent of the hard-boiled candies priced at 50 paise, some believe Pulse's success could be one of the factors that leads other biggies to start looking at the Rs.1 pricing more confidently. For instance, Perfetti Van Melle India recently launched Alpenliebe Gold priced at Rs.1.

DS Group knows it's all about the volume, so quickly expanding Pulse to the entire country was very important. "Instead of locking up capital in setting up our own manufacturing units for Pulse, we decided that it was best to tie up with contract manufacturers. We just had two partners initially, which we have expanded to seven to be able to cover the entire country and we are in talks to tie up with another," Surana says.

The other distinct advantage for the company was the countrywide distribution channel that it has built over the years through its paan masala and mouth fresheners. This includes the large unorganised retail segment controlled by the paanwala kiosks. But the company has faced some challenges. With the demand outpacing supply at times, many copies of the powder-filled candy have emerged.

But Surana believes with ramped up capacity the company is in a position to fulfill demand. "Whenever it comes to our notice that some local manufacturer has violated the trademark in terms of copying our design logo or font, we take action through our legal department. When a product is successful the market gets flooded with imitations and most of these are very small local manufacturers," he added.

With the raw mango flavour catching on, the company has gone on to launch a new guava flavour. It plans to launch two additional flavours in the market and will continue to leverage the tangy powder that fills the centre of the candy.

The company is also expected to launch an ad campaign in this quarter. Surana claims that consumers have loved it so much they have created some ads on their own and put them up on the Internet. "We have numerous social media fan communities that have come up.

We will need to come out with a campaign that matches up to our consumer's expectations. So a lot is riding on this campaign," Surana adds. When a product is right, advertising has a tough time catching up.