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Will sports drinks survive in India?

April 19, 2006 10:11 IST

A child throws a tantrum in a Delhi supermarket. He is pointing towards a bottle of sports drink, Gatorade. Another little boy apes him. The stubborn kids attract a few impulse buyers to the sports drink.

But not all of them are buying it. A store attendant comments, "Shoppers prefer juices. Only those who've bought it once tend to come back, though infrequently."

That remark could bother Gatorade, which is cola major PepsiCo's international sports drink brand, and Stamina, a sports drink that belongs to the Gujarat Co-operative Milk Marketing Federation.

But this is just the first volley; their game has just begun. Stamina was launched in early 2006, while the made-in-India Gatorade has been available only for a little over six months. (Earlier, the brand was imported for seven-eight months and sold in India at Rs 45 for a 200 ml pet bottle.) Now, it costs only Rs 25.

Stamina is cheaper. At Rs 12 for a 200-ml Tetrapak, it competes with fitness drinks like Godrej Foods' soya-milk brand Sofit, which costs Rs 13 for 200 ml tetrapak.

Points of sweat

The brands may carry affordable price tags, but pricing alone isn't likely to win them the match. So Stamina and Gatorade are focusing on points where customers work up a sweat. At the Mumbai Marathon held in January this year, GCMMF distributed free samples of Stamina.

The company claims to target customers in the age bracket of 15-25 years whose interest in sports extends beyond the television screen. GCMMF flaunts Stamina's association with sports even through its point of purchase: its sales team has distributed danglers shaped like tennis rackets and cricket bats.

The company has also got an endorsement from Apollo Hospitals. The endorsement is displayed on the pack, at points-of-sale and even at gyms, fitness centres and sports events. "The endorsement builds credibility of the product," says Pawan Kumar Singh, manager, marketing, GCMMF.

Not everybody in the trade believes that's a winning stroke, though. Says a Delhi-based retailer, "Two factors work against Stamina: its tie-up with Apollo Hospitals and its medicinal taste."

Amul's Singh does not agree. "Consumers who've tasted Stamina appreciate its taste and benefits. They prefer it over other sports drinks," he contends.

If Stamina banks on health endorsements, Gatorade is taking the tournament route. PepsiCo is already participating in international tournaments like the Davis Cup, PGA (Professional Golfers' Association) events and so on - pushing Gatorade at these events will, therefore, be easy.

But it's also played a masterstroke: winning over the sports coach to its side. In April 2005, 130 sports trainers from Delhi and Mumbai were invited to a contact programme by Gatorade, where to create awareness about Gatorade. The brand is also trying to add a dash of glamour by associating with beauty pageants held by Gladrags.

PepsiCo executives see a logical extension between sports and pageants. "The contestants stay in shape through rigorous workouts. So they need Gatorade to replenish their system, just like someone exercising in a gym," says Geetu Verma, vice-president, new business market unit, PepsiCo India.

Also, the Gatorade displays have sportstars from soccer to cricket - Brazilian star, Ronaldinho and Indian cricket's Irfan Pathan, amongst others.

Piggyback ride

Gatorade and Stamina are both using the equity of other popular brands to their advantage. While Gatorade tied up with sports equipment major Nike's consumer activation programmes at school football championships in the top nine cities, Stamina's associated with Amul, the flagship brand of GCMMF.

For instance, Stamina's introductory offer tapped customers who took home an Amul Pizza - Amul frozen heat-and-eat pizza plus Stamina, for just Rs 30 That implies Stamina is also looking at consumption at home and not just on the sports field.

For their part, consultants do not see any rationale behind the joint promotion. "The connection is just not right," says Anand Halve, co-founder, Chlorophyll, a Mumbai-based consultancy.

Defends Singh, "There's a strong connection. After eating pizza, people opt for beverages. That's where Stamina comes in plus we got consumer feedback on the product."

There are other problems too. As Stamina is milk-based (it is made of whey), as opposed to a water-based Gatorade, most retail stores display Stamina along with milk-based products, like flavoured milk Amul Kool. In some stores, even butter and cheese give Stamina company in the cool cabinet.

"Most retailers stock a company's various products together, instead of stocking them category-wise. So Stamina is stocked in the Amul corner," explains Singh and adds, "Sports drinks as a category is not yet big. We're trying to educate modern format store owners to give sports drinks separate shelf space."

But Stamina's milk-based formulation will probably require some hardselling. "Stamina requires a behavioral change from the consumer," says Munir Suri, vice-president, Technopak Advisors.

Then, sports and milk-based drinks haven't really proved match-winning teams. Consider brands such as Boost and Milo, which fall in the Rs 1,100-crore (Rs 11 billion) health foods market. In the case of these brands, sportstars were roped in as ambassadors.

"Yet the leading healthfood brands are Horlicks, Complan and Bournvita. They didn't use sportstars," points out Halve.

The market shares: Horlicks commands a 44 per cent market share; Bournvita has a 16 per cent market share; whereas Boost, which has been endorsed by sportstars like Kapil Dev and Sachin Tendulkar, commands just 13 per cent marketshare (Source: Technopak Advisors).

If Stamina's handicap is perhaps its formulation, Gatorade, too, doesn't have an open field ahead. For decades now, active Indians have turned to glucose-based drinks like Glucon-D and oral rehydration supplements like Electral for refreshment and replenishment during play. Getting them to switch to a branded sports drink may not be easy. PepsiCo's Verma, though, has a different take on the issue.

"Consumers need to prepare these drinks. But Gatorade is a ready-to-drink formulation," she points out. That argument doesn't impress consultants. "People will shift only if the sports drink brand offers more than glucose-based drinks," says Halve.

Not just that. Energy drink brands like Red Bull have been making waves in the party circuit. Though expensive at Rs 75 for a 250-ml can, Red Bull roughly targets the same swish set of customers.

Also, there is a thin line of difference between sports and energy drinks. Halve says, "Consumers won't see any difference between energy drinks and sports drinks. Both of them energise." Sports drinks could pick up lessons from Red Bull.

"It appeals to consumers at a logical level, by energising, and at an emotional level, by representing an active lifestyle, that people relate to. Sports drinks too will have to perform dual functions, to succeed. They have to position themselves as social consumption products," contends Halve.

"Perhaps they should pitch themselves as performance boosters instead, because India doesn't have a sports market, but it has a huge performance market."

But the companies are confident.  "When we begin communication, later this year, consumers will become aware of Stamina's benefits and will opt for it," says Singh.

Verma adds, "Sports drinks are no longer niche. More and more health conscious consumers are embracing them now." Their confidence might not be misplaced. But one thing's for sure. It is going to take much more than pester power to succeed.

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Rituparna Chatterjee
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