Milk Food Drinks: Challenging Times Ahead

Posted in Marketing & Strategy Articles, Total Reads: 2950 , Published on 31 October 2013

While Mondelez International (new parent of Cadbury India) has started off in its ‘Tayari Jeet Ki’ with its Bournvita brand, the victory as it seems would take a lot of preparation. It’s not that Bournvita is racing against Boost, Horlicks or Complan; it’s about the entire milk food drinks category stagnating or reaching towards maturity.

Image Courtesy: Stuart Miles,

This article focuses on where the category has reached since inception:

Ever since milk has graduated from the status of commodity to brand, the distribtuion, packaging and selling of fluid milk has changed and so has milk food drinks(MFDs).As handling capacity for fluid milk was limited and distribution a challenge, MFD was launched as a milk substitute in milk scarce regions of South and East India. This propeled MNCs to enter into it and thus creating an entire category in itself.

Glaxo Smithkline Consumer Healthcare’s(GSK-CH) earlier SmithKline Beecham launched Horlicks, (in early 1940s) as the first malt based drink, Cadbury’s Borunvita(1948), Glaxo’s Complan(1954), JagatJeet Industries Viva, Maltova(later accquired by GSK-CH) all started milking the newly created category.

The category consist of two segments: White & Brown.White segment in MFDs are represented by Horlicks, Viva & Complan which together constitues about 65 percent of the market. The brown segment represented by Bournvita, Boost, Maltova and Milo contribute the rest of 35 percent. (K.Baisya, Rajat, 2008)

The Introduction phase saw meteoric rise in sales, owing to scarcity of milk in southern and eastern parts of the country. Not only had it acted as a milk substitute but also as a direct competitor to milk with Complan claiming to give 23 vital food nutrients (Sengupta, 2005) that a body requires as opposed to milk which gives only 9. Horlicks positioned itself as a ‘family nourishment drink’ and Bournvita offered ‘Health & Taste’

As sales peaked promotions plateaued since there was more demand than the supply, but with the onset of Operation Flood, powder and fresh milk was supported with heavy advertising which proved to be a hurdle for MFD companies as they had to now become more aggressive and stay in tune with the times.

Growth phase was meticulously planned through aggressive advertising, sales promotion and product development.

While Horlicks did it advertising with its ‘Taller, Stronger, Sharper’ campaign and sales promotion through gifts and freebies; Bournvita added ‘Intelligence, Confidence’ in its cup of milk and Complan kept its niche and remain a complete planned food for family and later to growing kids.

On Product Development front, Horlicks launched variants like chocolate, toffee, cardamom and entered into different segments like Junior Horlicks, Mothers Horlicks, Women Horlicks and Horlicks Lite(for elders). Bournvita kept its taste quotient intact and launched 5 Star Magic (caramel flavor) and Li’l champs for kids. Complan along with launching variants like Chocolate, Strawberry, and Mango launched the traditional Indian flavors like Kesar Badam, Pista Badam. It also created a new sub-category with a New Product Development (NPD), Complan Memory targeting students to help them perform better in exams. Not only NPDs but packaging innovation - brighter color, attractive design, and stronger carton - refill pack shift to plastic jar helped category from ageing.

Everything was going right as planned till 2008 when the category registered a slump. Little did anyone realize that the category worth 4500 crs is slowly moving towards Maturity? Why?

The category is historically known to be heavy on promotion and less on brand building. Bournvita was fast to stay in tune with the times; they launched ‘Bournvita Champions Academy’ which is not a school but a reality show to showcase exceptional talent of kids. They sooner realized that it is consumer engagement which will bring brand loyalty not the free pencil boxes or racquets. ‘Mission Nutrition’ is another initiative to reach out to 1 million households in towns.

FMCG products and specifically MFDs remain innovative products for new users but with usage it drops from something of value to commodity. Brands will continue to grow but brand value will fall unless it is controlled.

It has been more than 50 years for MFDs speaking of their ‘Identity’, ‘Meaning’, and ‘Response’. It’s time for MFDs to shift focus from functional benefits to how can they connect with consumers emotionally. How can you build a relationship with the consumer and achieve brand resonance?

Brand will have to move from the clichéd theme of functional benefits ‘Bakul Pandey’ calling ‘Chotu’ (shorter height) to the engaging theme of mother and child; conveying the brand’s role as a complement. Whosoever will run the race faster, will win!

This article is authored by Sudhir Choudhary from SIBM Pune


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K.Baisya, Rajat. (2008). Why Milk Food Category is Stagnating. In R. K.Baisya, Changing Face of Processed Food Industry (pp. 72-77). Ane Books India.

Sengupta, S. (2005). Complan. In S. Sengupta, Brand Positioning (pp. 167-177). Tata McGraw Hill.


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