A Look at the Brand Journey from Biscuits to Bisleri

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Bisleri has conquered the Indian market with a huge product collection in terms of packaged drinking water for over two decades. Today, it not only dominates the Indian market but has also reached out to overseas, with its 103 plants across India and neighbouring countries. The green capped bottle is found in almost every store in India.

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At the age of 76, Ramesh Chauhan says, "I can run, swim and play tennis at this age, like any other youngster." To go back in time, the story of Parle starts with Chauhan's grandfather, Mohanlal Chauhan, who embarked on a journey to Bombay from Pardi, a small village in south Gujarat, at the age of 12. Within a short span of time, he set up a successful tailoring shop in Gamdevi and catered to the upper-class clientele. "Business tactics and brand building is an art gifted to Chauhan clan, it runs in our genes," added Chauhan.

When Chauhan joined business, the company was going through a rough phase and as to hone his skills as an entrepreneur, he chose to make his mark in the soft drink business and as it is said "uneasy lies the head that wears a crown'. In 1964, following the unfortunate death of Madhukar Bhai, Chauhan's elder brother, in a plane crash, the company reigns were entirely handed over to a 22-year-old graduate from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and that's how he kick started his journey with Parle. Despite holding a double major in Mechanical Engineering and Business Management, Chauhan realized that there is a huge difference between theoretical knowledge and running a business on the ground.

Under his father's guidance, at the age of 27, Chauhan introduced several soft drinks brands under Parle. In 1969, the company bought over Bisleri from the Italian entrepreneur, Felice Bisleri, to make Bisleri soda, not mineral water. The "70s was a game changer for the company. With the ousting of Coca Cola by the Janata government, he went on to become what he is known as in the beverage category i.e. "The father of the Indian soft drink industry'. "We introduced - GOLD SPOT- an orange flavoured aerated drink, LIMCA – that derives its name from "Nimbu – KA", Maaza – A mango based non fizz drink and Thumbs Up – A cola flavoured Aerated drink," says Ramesh Chauhan.

"But in 1993, our franchises gave in to market forces; they wanted to have foreign brands associated with them. Hence, we sold Thumbs Up, Limca, Citra and Gold Spot to the U.S. giant Coca-Cola." Later on, he set up his own plants in Pune, Hyderabad and Madras. Fortunately, he was able to convert the plants into a franchise in the 60s. This led to a network of 62 plants – of which four plants were owned by them. Remembering the advice from his father, Chauhan says, "If one doesn't get it from us, he will get the information from someone else." He was of the opinion that you just have to do a good job, a better job than the others, and automatically you will rise above the rest and become the best.

Challenges Faced While Establishing Bisleri
Only after sell out to Coke, Chauhan set out to make Bisleri a major brand, hence the first milestone or highlight was to create a terrific distribution network, which is primarily responsible for Bisleri's success. "There were couple of hindrances that we faced, like the weight of the product. Since the product is bulky and heavy and the price per kilo is reasonable for the 20 litre home pack, the cost of transportation becomes very high as compared to the selling price. Availability also decreased with distance," he says.

Innovative packaging and advertising are crucial elements to Bisleri's success. In packaging, they developed the breakaway seal and promoted the cap, to distinguish their water bottles from all the others. In advertising, they used a number of concepts to establish the brand as the most trusted with slogans like "pure and safe", "play safe", "with added minerals", "mountain water", "the sweet taste of purity" and "stay protected". Bisleri is my core business because I believe, "We must be market leaders, not followers," says Ramesh Chauhan.

During 2008-2009, Bisleri sold one crore cases in Mumbai alone; more than any other bottled water. The brand has always believed in eye-catching
marketing strategies and slogans, the first ad campaign for Bisleri had the slogan "Bisleri is veri veri extraordinari"; spelling was deliberately tweaked to capture the consumers' attention. Again in 2006, the colour of the label was changed from blue to green. The idea worked since it paralleled with the increasing global interest in ecology and green earth concepts and as a result, there was a dramatic increase in the sales after changing the colour from blue to green.

Launch Of Other Product
The company launched a sub-brand "Bisleri POP' - four new fizzy drinks (Bisleri Spyci, Bisleri Fonzo, Bisleri PinaColada, Bisleri Limonata) to create ripples in the world of beverage industry last year. However, in the coming quarters, the objective will be to penetrate in the rural parts of India with Bisleri POP and make it a household name.

Business Bucket List For 2017
"We've set up a factory strategically located in Fujairah. This will help to service the Oman market as the factory is almost equidistant from Muscat.
The first bottles would be available in Bahrain very soon. Other than that, we are available in Andaman-Nicobar and Bangladesh too" added Ramesh Chauhan. With four new variants i.e. Spyci, Fonzo, PinaColada and Limonata, Bisleri is ready to reach out to the rural and urban sections of India by 2017.

What's Next
At this age, how does he still manages to run the company. "My office is the place where I worship and hence I make it a point to go to work every day at sharp 10 AM. However, my priorities have changed and I have decided to reduce my workload and concentrate more on corporate social
responsibility, which at Bisleri is known as "Our Social responsibility" to help the less privileged," says Ramesh Chauhan.

When asked, how he spends his free time, the Bisleri man said, "I do not get any free time. Post work, I make it a point to have lunch at home. Later, in the day, I meet my friends and club members and debate and discuss issues around world and opportunities to keep myself self-updated on what's happening outside Bisleri office. I also play tennis, it is my favourite sport".

(This article was first published in the January issue of Entrepreneur Magazine. To subscribe, click here)