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Serving up a lemon

business Updated: Feb 07, 2010 22:33 IST
Anita Sharan

They’re at it again and this time it looks like it’s going to be a lemony clash. Winter’s yet to fade in India and Coca-Cola India and PepsiCo are building up already towards summer. This year, the emphasis seems to be on the lime and lemon segment which, both companies agree, has been the fastest growing among all packaged soft drinks in the recent years. PepsiCo puts the growth at over 30 per cent while Parle Agro places the growth at a more precise 34 per cent.

Last year saw new launches in the lime and lemon segment, with Pepsi extending its 7Up brand to lemon juice drink Nimbooz in February 2009 and Parle launching its own brand of a nimbu drink in LMN, positioned as an “Emergency Lemon Refresher”.

Coca-Cola has started 2010 with its own nimbu extension in Minute Maid Nimbu Fresh with a very Indian appeal. Launched in Tamil Nadu, the brand will be distributed and promoted across India progressively this year.

Even the sparkling lemon drinks from Pepsi and Coca-Cola are seeing heightened lemon-flavoured connection building. Pepsi has just unveiled a new 360-degree campaign for 7Up that emphasises its lemon ‘experience’ through sensory visual memonics of lemon slices and splashes. The packaging has been changed accordingly.

“Last year was good for 7Up — it has become one of the fastest growing brands in Pepsi’s portfolio,” says Alpana Titus, executive vice president – flavours, PepsiCo India. “This year, we are starting early for summer, taking the lemon ‘connection’ we established for 7Up last year forward.”

The outdoor campaign for 7Up has used an unusual photographic technology. Spanish production house Garrigosa Studio took a month to develop a unique fresh, natural effect created by taking over a thousand pictures of water splashes in the shape of lemons.

With Nimbu Fresh too, Coca-Cola is rolling out what Avinash Pant, director marketing – stills, Coca-Cola India is calling “a high-profile campaign. By the end of summer, Nimbu Fresh will have rolled out across India.” Consumer activation efforts will see widespread sampling and road shows.

What’s interesting is that the two multinationals have created nimbu drinks to specifically appeal to the Indian consumer and are also strengthening the lime and lemon connection with their existing sparkling (carbonated) drinks in the segment. Last year saw Coca-Cola’s cloudy lemon drink, Limca, establishing the lemon freshness through advertising. “Limca’s communication is about physical freshness and emotional rejuvenation,” says Srinivas Murthy, director marketing – flavours, Coca-Cola India. “The brand is targeted at 20-to-29-year-olds.”

The reason for so much lime and lemony activity is the sheer magnitude of the opportunity the segment throws up. As Titus points out, “In India, lime and lemon drinks have been growing at the rate 30 per cent per annum or more. This has been at the cost of colas.”

Adds Pant: “In the unpackaged juices market, 50 per cent of the consumption is nimbu paani. That’s a huge opportunity for us, though it will not be at the expense of any of our other segments.”

According to industry reports, Indian consumers drink 120 billion litres of beverages every year, only four per cent of which are ready-to-drink packaged beverages. This indicates tremendous scope for packaged drinks growth in India for both sparkling and still beverages. Add to that Indians’ marked preference for lime and lemon drinks and it’s small wonder the segment is seeing such hectic activity.

Nadia Chauhan, Parle Agro’s MD and chief marketing officer says, “The fruit-based packaged beverages market is over 700 million litres. In literage, nimbu paani could be equal or more than the total fruit-based beverages market size, considering its homemade and local vendor consumption routes.”

So to Minute Maid Nimbu Fresh’s advertised claim of “Bilkul Ghar Jaisa” in its strapline, PepsiCo’s Titus is quick to point out that “Nimbooz is like homemade lemon juice.” And Chauhan insists LMN is “a natural lemon drink, closest to home made nimbu paani.” This summer will see additional pack sizes for LMN to expand its consumption.

With so many lime and lemon drinks choices, won’t the products cannibalise on each other? No, says Titus, adding: “The consumer is looking for different forms of the flavour. Sparkling or still, it’s the same promise in different formats. Over the next couple of years, we will, in fact, extend the lime and lemon appeal further with diverse choices.”

As for this summer, Chauhan says, “With even the carbonated majors entering the fruit based lemon drink segment, this summer will see big growth in it.”