‘Need, but don’t want’ – Solutions from a Microenterprise
Urja, a fledgling Soya products brand in Udaipur that manufactures and sells soya paneer and soya milk. As most of us know, soya paneer is much healthier than regular paneer made from milk. One, in terms of protein content, and two, in terms of a reduced fat content (soya paneer has 30-45% less fat than regular paneer made from milk). In addition, the soya paneer sold by Urja has one other benefit, it is about a third cheaper than the regular milk paneer available in the market.
Yet, in spite of having a lower-priced healthier product to offer, Urja initially struggled to grow. There were two main reasons for this – one, most people in Udaipur were not aware of the health benefits of soya paneer and were not sure how it would benefit them, and two – the taste of soya paneer is different from that of paneer from milk, which is what people are used to. There is also a third problem of a reduced shelf life (2-3 days for Soya Paneer vs. 2 weeks for milk paneer), but this is less of an issue. Thus the key challenges facing Urja were to raise consumer awareness of the health benefits of paneer and to make the health benefit relevant, also to overcome the barrier of taste.
The following paragraphs describe how the Urja folk faced these challenges and the basic lessons we can learn from their experience.
Steps taken to increase sales: With a long term focus, invested in PR (articles in newspapers) and promotions in order to make the general public aware of the health benefits of soya paneer. For the short term, focussed on increasing awareness amongst specific customer segments that were most likely to buy, thus using limited resources for maximum impact in terms of sales
- Targeted schools and colleges, where the administration is concerned about giving students healthy foods and beverages. Instead of soya paneer, Urja sold soya milk here and added flavours such as mango, chocolate etc to mask the taste and make it appealing to children. In the production process, soya milk is produced first and then converted to paneer, so selling soya milk did not impose any additional operational complications
- Targeting large hotels which have a lot of foreign customers. These hotels often buy items such as expensive organic pulses and lentils because this is something their clientele values and is willing to pay for, and this helps build the hotel’s reputation. Hence large hotels are a potential target segment that could be interested in soya paneer for its health benefits.
Steps taken to overcome the barrier of difference in taste : Reduced the height of the barrier
- Modified one step in the production process so that the taste of the soya paneer improves. The team ensured that all marketing collateral they created mentioned the nice taste of the soya paneer.
- In addition, before meeting some key institutional customers, they got some quantity of soy paneer cooked by the chef of a restaurant and took the prepared dish along for the customer to taste. As they say, the proof of the pudding (and paneer) is in the eating !!
The solutions found by the Urja business could apply to any company and situation :
- Evaluate various target segments, identify those that value the benefit your product provides and that can provide the maximum sale volumes (Ideally, create the product after checking which benefits customers value, but if not……………..)
- Communicate the benefits to the target segment
- Reduce height of barriers, if any
(Note : Observations about the Urja business were made during the Sales and Marketing Module of the CREAM training program conducted with Seva Mandir in Udaipur)