A lot can happen around chocolates

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Kalpesh R Parmar has a soft strategy. The managing director of Mars Wrigley, India, always has chocolates in his pockets and generously hands them out at business and personal meetings. Says the man who runs the Indian operations of the world’s largest producer of confectionery as well as pet food: “If I had known how wonderful icebreaker chocolates can be, I would have done so much more early in my career!

The gregarious Parmar, who did his hotel management at IHM Mumbai, came to Mars through an interesting career path – he started out in hospitality working in sales at Holiday Inn, but later decided to do a master’s degree in management studies from Jamnalal Bajaj Institute of Management. Studies and was picked up from campus by Gillette. “I was very clear after the first year of hotel management that I needed to study more. At the time, the IHM course was a diploma course, so I also had to do my degree by correspondence from the University of Bombay There were times when I had back-to-back exams for both courses,” he recalls.

We’re at Mars Wrigley headquarters in Gurgaon, a colorful space with walls covered in funky fluorescent posters full of historical anecdotes about legendary Mars brands like M&M, Snickers, Galaxy, Bounty, Juicy Fruit. For example, you learn from the posters that M&M was the first candy in space in 1981 and that Snickers was named after the Mars family’s favorite horse. The $40 billion global business that is over a hundred years old (started in 1911) is owned by the Mars family.

Funky posters at Mars Wrigley's headquarters give amusing anecdotes about his favorite brands

Funky posters at Mars Wrigley’s headquarters give amusing anecdotes about his favorite brands

To local tastes

An orbit in the Mars universe Wrigley India

We sit down with Kalpesh R Parmar, Managing Director of Mars Wrigley India – the world’s leading chocolate and confectionery maker as well as pet food company – to find out what drives him. And what are the strengths for the business in India.Video credit: Chitra Narayanan

In India, Parmar, says Mars is on a location mission – the proof is there in the office – the vibrant posters have Indian illustrations, original Hindi phrases, and we learn that there is now a kesar pista variant of Snickers. “With our factory in Pune, we were able to really localize our assortment for the Snickers brand. At the same time, it also helped us to offer Snickers at Rs 10 in India,” he says.

Parmar, although he came to Mars after a long stint overseas – he joined the company just before the pandemic hit from Unilever, where he was CEO of South Korea and the Pacific Islands/ Mongolia and also led the ice cream business in Japan and Hong Kong – is well equipped to lead Mars in its growth story in India. Growing up in Mumbai – and with Gujarati enterprise in its DNA – is a huge qualification. “I always tell visitors from international markets that if you are able to embrace the complexity of Indian cities like Bombay, that’s where the growth is for the next 50 years,” he says.

“In countries like India, you have to keep your business very simple,” he stresses, pointing out that despite decades of presence, chocolate consumption is still low in the country and there is a huge margin of growth. “The goal should be simple. If you can get your top 10 SKUs to as many stores as possible and focus on growing brand awareness, the business can take off,” he says. “And that’s where Mars has had a lot of success. But this is only the beginning,” he says.

Parmar says he was lucky to have worked in his formative years for Gillette, which had visibility and availability as its main mantra, in tough markets like UP and MP, and then as a director of mark at Marico. “I was very lucky to see Harsh Mariwala in action,” he says. From Marico he moved to Dubai as Business Manager – Middle East, Africa and Latin America for Super-Max and traveled to almost 25 markets. Then came the heady stint at Unilever which accelerated his career as Sanjiv Mehta (now CEO and MD HUL) sent him to Turkey to learn all about the modern business ecosystem, then to Nigeria as Director of Customer Marketing and of modern commerce. The move to Korea was another big learning curve, as the contribution of e-commerce to businesses, even before the pandemic, reached 30%. Does he speak several languages? “No,” he admits, but saying, “I’m good at understanding human beings. »

On the Table Talk Menu - delicious pan-Asian dishes from Yum Yum Cha at the Mars office.

On the Table Talk Menu – delicious pan-Asian dishes from Yum Yum Cha at the Mars office.

Now our lunch is served. It’s a huge spread of Yum Yum Cha – Thai curry, edamame, noodles, a bowl of veggie quinoa, etc. In the middle of this delicious Asian dish, there is also a huge bowl of Chicken Biryani – which Parmar says was specially prepared by one of the Dipankar support staff, who often delights the office by providing food for all from home. And the icing on the cake is the dessert – Snickers and Bounty ice cream from Gianis, with whom Mars is having an affair.

Chicken biryani cooked by Dipankar at Mars office.

Chicken biryani cooked by Dipankar at Mars office.

Parmar admits that he is a big foodie and tells about everything he loved in Korea and Singapore. But he says he balances his love for food by burning it. Indeed, he says his energy — he’s also director of energy at Mars — comes from his workouts. He also energizes himself by meeting people – not only in the office, but also outside the office. “I think exploring different cultures has helped me. If you treat people with respect and understand them as human beings, they will reciprocate,” he says.

Full of energy: Kalpesh Parmar, who is also director of energy at Mars Wrigley India, says he gets his energy from training and meetings.

Full of energy: Kalpesh Parmar, who is also director of energy at Mars Wrigley India, says he gets his energy from training and meetings.

Back in business, he describes how the pandemic years have been very good for the whole snacking industry. “India will be the third largest snacking market in the world by 2040,” he said. “The chocolate category in India is now around Rs13,000-Rs 14,000 crore and growing by 10%.” The company’s chocolate business is growing at a faster pace. “Gums, mints and sweets are around a Rs 9,000 crore category. The chocolate category is growing faster,” he adds.

The growth has happened during the pandemic, he says, because much of the mouth has moved from the unorganized traditional Indian mithai packaged foods due to safety concerns. “The chocolate category benefited the most,” he says. Snickers, he says, with its base of peanuts and almonds is a great substitute for mithai and the introduction of variations like kesar pista, which is by the way his favorite, has helped.

Mars’ big game is in the mass segment. “The big opportunity for the chocolate category in India is between Rs 5 and Rs 200,” he says. With per capita consumption of just 150g per year, there is huge room for manoeuvre, he says. Although Mars has products in the Rs 10 to Rs 300 range, Parmar says, “It is very important to play at a price of Rs 10. Once you have an Rs 10 product, acceptance of the product increases among retailers as it is a key price. This is the sweet spot and hence almost 40% of the category is below the Rs 10 price. We have Galaxy and M&M also at Rs 10 packs. According to him, the younger generation is not very interested in local mithai and this is a great opportunity for Mars.

Growth engines

Rural, he says, is a driver of growth and the price of Rs 10 in chocolates works like a charm. Similarly, chewing gum brands like Doublemint and Orbit are now available at Re 1 prices to extend rural reach.

Immersive retail is another growth driver for Mars globally. That’s why when Freshpik opened in Bombay at Jio World Drive, Mars partnered with them on an experiment. “So we have an immersive M&M retail store in the Freshpik store in shop n shop format. It was a good experience,” says Parmar.

Pet food is another hugely growing business in India for Mars which has big brands like Pedigree, Whiskas, Sheba, Royal Canin, etc. in his wallet. The category is close to Rs 4,000 crore, at the moment, with Mars holding a top market share. Parmar expects the category to double over the next four to five years, with a CAGR of 15%. “For us, the main focus is how to convert home-prepared food into packaged pet food, because that’s where the growth is.”

Again, just like in chocolates, the company promotes local manufacturing with its pet food factory in Hyderabad increasing its capacity.

Parmar says that now that Mars is a huge company in India, its goal as a leader is also to develop talent. “How can I inspire them to pursue a career on Mars? How can I develop them? How can I convey a message to them – that I am available to them – and be authentic about it? ” he explains. Everyone who joins, he says, gets a culture lesson in the five principles that drive Mars — quality, responsibility, mutuality, efficiency and freedom.

“In the next five to ten years, India will be one of our fastest growing markets,” says Parmar. “To exist as a company for the next 100 years, we need to win in emerging markets like Brazil and India. I think we should be able to do the job,” he confidently concludes.

Published on

September 11, 2022

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