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Salty ambitions

Salt brands, led by Tata Salt, are working to wean consumers away from loose salt by adding value through health and flavour enhancements. Anita Sharan writes.

india Updated: Jul 01, 2012 21:57 IST
Anita Sharan
Anita Sharan
Hindustan Times

Did you know that salt brand Captain Cook, now owned by Hindustan Unilever, is still available in select markets in Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra? Then owned by DCW, it challenged Tata Salt in the 1990s with its free-flow proposition.

Ashvini Hiran, chief operating officer, consumer products business, Tata Chemicals, whose flagship brand Tata Salt dominates the organised national branded salt segment with a 49.7% volume market share, said that Captain Cook has a good brand equity wherever it sells.

Tata Salt, which rides on the communication planks of trust and honesty, has been active with new launches recently, adding iron to iodine to launch Tata Salt Plus in April, preceded by flavoured salts brand Tata Salt Flavoritz – lemon-coriander, red paprika and onion-garlic – and the low sodium Tata Salt Lite. Tata Chemicals’ other brand, iShakti, the salt for which is sourced from several manufacturers under stringent quality terms and which is sun-dried as against Tata Salt’s vacuum-vapourised process, adds a 14.6% market share among national brands.

For a low-involvement product category, there is a surprising amount of activity in the branded salt segment. While Tata Chemicals will continue to treat Tata Salt as its flagship brand for the next 10 years, major food brands selling processed cereals and edible oils are also offering iodised and other salts. So Hindustan Unilever’s (HUL’s) Annapurna offers iodised, low sodium and crystal salt variants to consumers. A company spokesperson said, “The salt business is under the brand Annapurna, an important brand in our packaged foods portfolio.”

ITC Foods’ Aashirvaad brand, Marico’s Saffola, Nirma’s Nirma Shudh all offer iodised salt. Nirma Shudh is also vacuum-processed. Most of the other salt brands are manufactured by the more economical natural pan dried (solar) process.

The national brands are the more recalled and trusted by consumers, though there are many regional brands too.

Mumbai-based 30-something homemaker Mitali Sawant buys Tata Salt because she trusts the brand. “My mother uses it, I use it. I wouldn’t choose another brand even if it carried a freebie scheme,” she said.

Fifty-something Shashi Agarwal buys Saffola Salt and if that’s not available, Tata Salt. “Tata Salt is good too, but I prefer Saffola because it is healthy for my family,” she said. Saffola is widely perceived as a health-oriented brand and the rub-off here is evident. Like many consumers, Agarwal doesn’t know whether Saffola salt is vacuum- or solar- processed and doesn’t really know the difference.

Not many consumers check the price of the salt brand they buy. This is more because the salt brands have kept their prices in check, in the Rs 7-20 per kg range.

Salt has a unique limitation: an individual cannot consume more than a certain amount of it in a day, though in India, the consumption is double, at 10 gm a day, than the biologically required 5-6 gm a day. “The body adjusts to the salt intake. Besides, in hot countries we sweat more, so require higher salt replenishment,” said Hiran.

So if higher consumption cannot be pushed, why are the brands interested in salt? “India consumes 55-58 lakh tonnes of edible salt annually, of which 38 lakh tonnes is branded. 13-14 lakh tonnes are accounted for by national brands,” said Hiran.

The loose salt segment, which accounts for a 35-40% market share, is shrinking as branded salts grow market share at 7-8%, against the overall growth rate of 2%.

Beyond that, as Hiran points out, there is scope for value additions based on health and taste benefits. “While iodine, iron, low sodium, folic acid and other micronutrient combinations with salt can address health issues, adding flavours to salts can also create a separate demand by catering to taste.”

He also pointed out that processed foods are taking off in India. “More than 70% of salt in the developed markets is consumed through processed foods, which, in India, is showing double digit growth,” he concluded.

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