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Where in the food chain is your food brand?


Where in the food chain is your food brand?

Last couple of decades have seen a spurt in branded development in foods in India. From branded commodities – (rice, atta, spices, oil...) to ready to cook to ready to eat. Driven by a variety of factors – economic growth, nuclear families, singles living on their own, eating on the go…

Perhaps most importantly, a decline in the criticality of food buying and cooking skills of the Indian housewife. From the era when buying packaged and convenient food evoked guilt and even anxiety of loss of role, she has come a long way!

We wondered if the same evolution was reflected in the food branding thinking as well and took a look at their efforts.


There are three broad types of brand thinking you can see when it comes to food. Each one an improvement over the previous version. In that sense there is a hierarchy of brand thinking at play.
  1. ‘Better commodity’: It’s evident that many food brands are still at level one. Building their brand on the key
    Better Commodity
    attribute that is the sign of quality in their category. Basmati Rice brands on length and whiteness, oil brands on clarity or aroma, meat brands on tenderness and flavour, juice brands on their pure fruitiness atta brands on quality of wheat and so on…
  2. ‘Restoring Innocence’: Brands at level two show a slightly more nuanced understanding of authenticity over their level one counterpart. With food branding, packaging and mass marketing comes the notion of loss of innocence. The ‘good old days’ when everything came unadulterated travelling the shortest distance from its natural source of production. The concept of mass, industrialised production threatens these values.

    While the level one brands are fighting this notion too, they are trying it by arguing against it. Level two brands smartly employ a more symbolic & emotional restoration instead. Take the brand MDH for example. The name ‘mahashian di hatti’ (shop of the magnanimous) reeks of the innocence and authenticity of an era gone by. The presence of the grandfatherly owner further symbolises the relationship and trust shop owners had with their customers.
    Restoring Innocence
    In much the same way the legendary Frank Perdue sold his chicken by personally vouching for it’s quality many years ago.

    This approach cleverly overcomes the industrial association any mass produced food would otherwise have. By showcasing the person behind the brand it humanises it by symbolising a person to person buyer-seller connection.

    Restoring Innocence
    Often, just the right branding evokes the same associations, ‘Mother’s Recipe’ re-creates the magic of home made pickles while Haldiram’s personalises the brand’s creator as a quality halwai behind the offerings.

    What makes this approach a level above the ‘better commodity’ one is its ability to signal quality through persona that evoke nostalgic emotions. In comparison, the first level is stuck at a feature definition of quality.

    So what then is the next level of branding?

  3. ‘Transcending category’: At the top of the food chain are ideas that have the courage to go beyond the category trap even as their idea has a strong retrospective category connect. These ideas are audience first ideas – they seem to ask the question ‘what bothers my audience today? Not in my category, but in life?’ and then ask the next question – ‘how can we as ___ (category) solve it credibly?
The risk these brands take is to falter in addressing the second question. The payoff of this risk – a chance to transcend the category-commodity confines.

innocent transgressions
In a society struggling with the question – in the name of modernity and change, what new ideas and values are safe and should be allowed? Cadbury Dairy Milk upholds the flag for ‘innocent transgressions’ that you cannot, but root for.
Such ideas are also evident in ready to cook food brands, none more powerful than Maggi. Launched on the
Restoring Innocence
platform of convenience, Maggi has over time progressed to its rightful position as the provider of homely comfort and warmth through a convenient meal. As family bonds experience pressures of rising individualism and ambition, Maggi continues to be the welcoming home food experience across generations. Remarkable, isn’t it, if you consider that noodles is not a food from our culture at all!

Are such ideas more the territories of ready to eat/cook brands? Do the commodities need to stay grounded with the level one or two approach? Let’s look at what some commodities have done with their branding:
tata tea


In times where our Sid’s are deeply asleep and the days of student movements a black and white memory. Tata Tea’s wake up call to the conscience comes as a slap we all believe is a much deserved one.
Restoring Innocence

And Nescafe’s role as a companion in moments of self-doubt is inspiring much confidence.
If anything, the greater the risk your food business faces from facelessness and commodification, greater the need for your idea to transcend it. It’s time to smell the coffee and move up the food chain!