Nepal consumes more than 17,000 metric tonnes of instant noodles a year. South of the border, the market is larger: 50,000 mt. But it doesn't reflect the difference in the populations of both countries: India has 50 times more people than Nepal.
"Just think of the immense potential here," enthuses Nirvana Chaudhary, director of the Chaudhary Group of Nepal.
For some years now, CG -- a $250-million, Kathmandu-based family-owned conglomerate that has interests in foods and beverages, healthcare and financial services, among others -- has been working to tap that potential. In 1997, it began exporting its Wai Wai brand of instant noodles to India, selling mainly in the east and north-east.
CG didn't invest too much in local advertising, counting instead on reaching its customers through its Nepali ads on regional cable channel Nepal One, which beams to the region.
In a fair world, such penny pinching wouldn't bear results. But CG had luck - and the huge traffic of people and goods between India and Nepal - on its side. Wai Wai is a popular brand in Nepal, accounting for about 45 per cent market share.
When the Nepalese crossed the border, they brought their eating preferences with them. Nudging them along the way were CG's below-the-line activities such as sponsoring school quizzes and increased point of sale promotions.
Chaudhary claims that CG now sells 7,000 mt of the instant Ramen in India every year, giving it a 14 per cent market share. About 85 per cent of its sales are in the north-east, and the market share there is correspondingly higher: 65 per cent.
That's not nearly enough. Wai Wai is now setting its sights on a national presence. So it begun by creating a dedicated television campaign for Indian television. Three 10-seconders promote the flagship Wai Wai brown (precooked, ready to eat) noodles. The fourth is a 30-second ad for its white, cook-and-eat noodles.
CG's tried to cut corners here as well. The brown noodles ads were actually created back in 2000, but never used since the distribution network was not up to scratch.
Now that it's put a three-tier distribution network in place and beefed up its India sales office, CG brushed the dust off the old films (shot by cinematographer Binod Pradhan), replaced the product shots with more recent packs and put them on air three weeks ago on Cartoon Network and Pogo. "The message hasn't changed," defends Chaudhary.
The white noodles' ad is more recent, created by Mudra Kolkata just six months ago. While the novelty factor alone will help generate interest in Wai Wai brown, the cook-and-eat version (Wai Wai Express) is a new entrant in a market that's synonymous with Nestlé's Maggi. "We needed to find a clear differentiator," recalls Kosty Bhadra, group business director, Mudra Kolkata.
Luckily, the agency -- which has been working with CG for a couple of years now, mainly in Nepal -- found the RTB (reason to buy) factor easily, and within the product itself.
Express's USP is that unlike Maggi, it has two seasonings: onion oil and the flavouring. Once Mudra zeroed in on this, it was easy to ladder down to the "good taste" platform.
Accordingly, the film emphasises the importance of "two": a bicycle with one flat tyre, a boat with one oar... the jingle drives the message home. "One is never enough, two is always more fun." "It's a clear dig at Maggi," agrees Bhadra.
Still, Express is steering clear of Maggi's target group. Rather than the mother, the product addresses children. The ads are being beamed on children's channels and feature youngsters picked up from a school in Kolkata's Chinatown. "Children today are very brand-specific," explains Bhadra.
To ensure that children looking for Wai Wai and Express don't return empty-handed (supply shortages were a common problem until recently), CG is setting up two manufacturing facilities in India.
A plant in Sikkim will come onstream in January 2006, while another in Uttaranchal will be operational by December 2006. Both plants will have a capacity of 10,000 mt each.
Extensive below the line activities, including tie ups with upmarket hotels for recipes based on the ramen, are also being planned around the campaign.Based on how this initial, teaser campaign fares, CG plans a more extensive 360-degree campaign; it is setting aside Rs 10 crore (Rs 100 million) for the project. All to ensure that Indians buy oodles of noodles.