India’s health biscuit market is full of opportunities, but the long-term winners will be brands that can continually innovate to meet customers’ evolving needs for flavour, format, function and authenticity
Healthy biscuits have become a battleground for brands as they compete for the increasing number of consumers seeking health benefits from their favourite snack. However, to win in this category, brands should focus on four attractive opportunities for product innovation brought about by customers’ increasingly fragmented health needs and changing consumption behaviour. In a customer research that we conducted for a leading UK health biscuit brand 53 percent of respondents told us they consume biscuits on a daily basis, while a further 30 percent said they eat them at least several times a week. With such a large number of Indians consuming biscuits at such a high frequency, the category plays an important role in a healthy diet.
Innovating healthier growth in India’s biscuit market
Indian biscuit brands have gradually introduced a range of healthier options over the years to meet this need. Britannia’s Marie Gold was the original brand to position itself in the healthier biscuit space by offering a lighter alternative to glucose biscuits. However, as consumers have become more health-conscious in recent times, they are getting more discerning about the real health quotient and more demanding about the type of benefits they expect from a healthy biscuit.
The industry’s first major response to this was along the line of high fiber with the introduction of digestive biscuits. This addressed concerns about digestive health as well as promoting fibre’s positive effect on cholesterol and blood sugar. The next stage of product development was around multi and wholegrain as rising worries over heaand cardiovascular diseases came to the fore. More recently, oat biscuits have become a key area of product development with awareness of the grain’s alound benefits being fuelled by the growing popularity of breakfast oats.
While Britannia has been the pioneer in health biscuits in India, increasing competition from international players like McVities and Unibic as well as smaller niche players like Gaia has led to many product innovations quickly becoming generic across the category. To avoid being easily imitated or falling into a ‘me too’ strategy, players in the Indian health biscuit market need to understand and innovate around more complex health needs and new consumption occasions
Identifying fragmented customer needs and new consumption occasions
In the past, brands could innovate around broad trends in health needs that affected the major share of their customers. Today Indian consumers’ needs have become more fragmented and more complex through greater exposure to information on health. Brands must acquire a deeper understanding of these emerging segments and focus innovation more precisely. When customers get a product that more closely meets their unique needs, their degree of loyalty and the premium they are willing to pay will both rise.
As well as understanding health needs, brands also need to track the changing occasions of consumption among consumers. Biscuits – healthy or otherwise - are no longer just a treat with tea. For some they are a meal substitute due to a busy schedule, for others they can be a lower calorie replacement for a full meal, and for yet others they are a supplement to regular meals to keep them going during a long working day.
These different occasions of consumption will reveal new possibilities for product innovation and category growth. Take for example Mondelez International’s ‘Belvita Breakfast Biscuit’. This product effectively created a new category in the UK of biscuits to be eaten at breakfast and it has rapidly risen to become the second most popular healthy biscuit and the country’s fifth best-selling biscuit overall in less than 3 years.
Four opportunities for product innovation
A deeper understanding of customers’ emerging health needs and a close watch on changing consumption habits reveal a number of gaps in the Indian healthy biscuit market that offer significant opportunity for product innovation. We have identified four areas that should be considered by brands developing new products or improving their existing offering for Indian consumers:
The customers we interviewed criticised a lack of flavour options among existing healthy biscuits in India, with most products being regarded as plain or bland. When they sampled fruit based biscuits from our client’s portfolio, many expressed that this was the first time. Superficial product innovation will quickly lose credibility as new entrants come into the market with more authentic products they had tasted these flavours in a biscuit. Adding new and interesting healthy flavours like fruit or yogurt, and using real ingredients rather than just flavourings will help new products stand out from the competition.
When addressing Indians’ changing occasions of consumption, innovation around product format is essential. For example, for on-the-go consumption a bar is easier to hold than several individual biscuits and a cake like texture creates less mess and is easier to eat quickly. Sticking to strict notions of a biscuit’s format limits the ability to deliver the convenient products customers now demand. A willingness to blur format boundaries and create new categories will give companies a winning edge.
The current offering in the healthy biscuit space is primarily focussed on digestive health benefits, and to a lesser extent on cardiovascular diseases and diabetes. However, there are emerging groups of customers searching for new functional benefits that aren’t simply mitigating the bad side of biscuits. Young, active, healthy consumers may be looking for high energy or 53high protein products to fuel their energetic lifestyle. Other consumers see a strong relationship between health and natural ingredients and therefore might seek out products that are free from artificial preservatives or additives. Quickly identifying these emerging functional needs and bringing appealing products to market will help brands gain a lead on their competitors.
Simply meeting the minimum legal requirements in product labelling is insufficient to build trust with customers. Consumers are getting sharper at seeing through advertised claims to scrutinise the real benefits they care about. For example, when we looked at the ingredients of products positioned as ‘oat biscuits’ in India the actual oat content turned out to be as low as 1 percent in some cases. Such superficial product innovation will quickly lose credibility as new entrants come into the market with more authentic products. In fact, brands can identify weak points in their competitors’ product, strengthen their own offering through product improvement and communicate their differentiation through direct comparisons in their marketing messages.