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Monday, Jul 15, 2002

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Scoops aplenty!

Shubhra Gupta

An ice-cream by any name ultimately is an ice-cream. As brands invade the market with claims of being better than the best, what matters to the consumer is a wide range to choose from.

An ice-cream is a wondrously versatile thing: as an impulse buy, most children, (and many adults) can happily consume it any time of the day or night; as a planned `sweet dish', homemakers serve it to round off a meal; it can be eaten to mark an occasion, or to break the monotony of study-filled evenings, or to cool off on lazy, hot afternoons. I know an addict who pulls out leftover ice-cream from her freezer, puts it on toast and eats it for breakfast!

The idea for this column was born when new entrant Amul arrived in the Capital, with its array of interesting-sounding flavours. I've spent the past fortnight researching hands-on, diligently trying out new tastes and reacquainting myself with old ones. As an exercise, it's been pleasurably fattening, and extremely instructive. Never having made any myself, unlike all those dab hands who whip up ice-cream in a jiffy, I've only now learnt the exact components of that soft, creamy creature which comes out of cups and cones (sugar, milk proteins, liquid glucose, emulsifying and stabilising agents, and fat). The last ingredient — fat — is the bone of contention between Amul and Kwality Walls, the two largest ice-cream brands in the country. Charges have been traded in terms of taste, price, quality and sales: the rivalry may not be as publicly voluble or as visible in the media as the colas, but there's no doubt that the battle-lines are drawn.

Amul has only recently entered the Capital, brandishing its tag-line `real' milk real ice-cream'. The milk cooperative, which uses dairy fat, does this to differentiate its wares from those of HLL's Kwality Walls, which uses vegetable fat, and so is forced to call its products `frozen desserts'. As an aware consumer, you need to know the following, and then go ahead and make an informed choice.

Amul claims that it has beaten KW to become the country's number one brand, and that its ice-cream is better because it uses pure dairy fat. And that it is 30-40 per cent less expensive than KW, despite its usage of dairy fat (Rs 140 a kg), which is much costlier than `unhealthy' vegetable fat (Rs 25-Rs 30). According to an NDDB executive, the concept of milk-co-operative ice-creams was created to break the myth that ice-cream is an upmarket, costly item. That, like the low- cost (Rs 20) Amul pizza which democratised the consumption of high calorie cheese-on-a-base, Mother Dairy (the dairy brand only available in New Delhi and adjoining regions), and the nationally-available Amul would be `value-for-money'.

HLL has strong counters for these arguments. In these health-conscious days, says an HLL spokesperson, people like to use vegetable oil for their parathas, instead of `ghee'. Dairy or milk fats have a high-cholesterol quotient, and contain trans-fatty acids, which cause heart problems, and aflotoxins which can lead to cancer. If refined oils have almost totally replaced ghee, why this brouhaha about vegetable fat and frozen desserts? The people behind KW believe that the campaign is being waged, not for the consumer who really can't tell the difference, nor for health reasons, but for those lobbies, which have a vested interest in promoting milk utilisation to benefit dairy farmers.

"We use refined oils such as palm kernel, coconut, or oil blends, not hydrogenated oils," clarifies J.H. Mehta, Executive Director, Ice-creams, HLL. "As far as the price differential is concerned, it costs only one per cent more to the end consumer, and the difference is only because there's no compromise on quality of ingredients," he adds. "On a blind test, a consumer will prefer our Cornetto to Amul's tricone", he says. We are talking about the price difference between the two cones: Amul's Rs 15 to KW's Cornetto's Rs 25. "The consumer," he says, "is not just swayed by price, she's very quality conscious as well: if it was just the price factor, why didn't Amul's cone make a dent in the Cornetto market?"

An independent study by the Ahmedabad-based Consumer Education and Research Society (CERS) has ranked Amul number one, followed by KW (among four brands which included Vadilal and Havmor, and four loose samples) on the various parameters of taste, melting quality, weight, fat and sugar content. Pleased Amul executive, Vipul Mittal, talks about the survey's findings and Amul's rapidly-growing presence, coupled with its innovative supply strategy. When their team surveyed the market, it found that most ice-cream is eaten off push-carts by people stopping wherever they find a vendor.

Now when you go looking for an Amul ice-cream, you will find unconventional vendors: your local STD boothwala, chemist, baker etc, who stock the ice-cream in deep freezes. "We are trying to change the traditional way ice-cream is sold," says Mittal, and we are trying to get small local players who have had nothing to do with ice-creams, involved in the process. "In this way," he says, "Amul is just growing the market, not taking anybody's share."

Some more innovation from Amul: apart from the usual tastes in the usual shapes and sizes, it is targeting the kiddie market with its `Fundoo' range, with interestingly mango and strawberry-shaped containers, with the ice-cream inside. What I really like is their `Anjeer' (fig) flavour: it tastes very much like the real thing.

So much for competing marketing strategies and claims of better and best. As far as you and I are concerned, the more players there are in the market, the more choice we have. It all, finally, comes down to flavours. As a Vienetta (a KW flavour which has done `overwhelmingly well' according to Mehta, and which is out in a second chocolate taste) fan puts it: I like to be in the picture, but I am the final arbiter, I will eat only what I like.

The author cam be contacted at shubrag@vsnl.com

Picture by Bijoy Ghosh

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