My wife and I were in Coimbatore recently. While in this city, there is a place that I will never miss visiting. The legendary Annapoorna Hotel. This time, I ate at three of their outlets — the original restaurant in the RS Puram area, which is now more than 50 years old, a newer outlet on Avinashi Road and at their airport counter.

Gustatory Happiness

I feasted on a rava onion dosa, accompanied by their famous sambar. My wife ate a plate of paniyaram, a less known South Indian dish, made by steaming batter in a semi-spherical mould. Then, we ordered their filter coffee, which is not to be missed. Overall, the experience was heavenly.

Their restaurants were teeming with people busily eating and drinking their way to gustatory happiness. Here is a brand that has earned the hearts and stomachs of the people of Coimbatore. In addition, its fame has also spread beyond the city — it is now regarded as an epitome of South Indian food.

What has made Annapoorna click so well, sustain and flourish for over half a century? There are some simple but powerful lessons here.

Delicious paniyarams from Annapoorna

Delicious paniyarams from Annapoorna | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Quality and taste

For discerning consumers of food, quality and taste are essential drivers of choice. I call these the points of parity that any food brand has to achieve. Annapoorna has performed remarkably well in both these areas, keeping the quality of its food consistently high and emphasising the authentic taste of each of the South Indian foods served on its menu.

To achieve such no-compromise quality, the prices on its menu are at a premium to other restaurants. For instance, the rava onion dosa which I ate was priced at ₹115, whereas other restaurants offer the same dish at far less. Yet there is a large segment of consumers (including me!) who are willing to pay this price for excellent quality.

A simple lesson here — when a brand succeeds in imprinting its excellence on the points of parity of its category into consumers’ minds, it is perceived as a trusted expert, and consumers firmly repose their faith in it.

Signature dishes – points of difference

What are Annapoorna’s unique offerings that have made it stand apart? Any great brand needs to build specific points of difference, in addition to mastering the points of parity.

In the case of Annapoorna, there is, firstly, their signature sambar, which is quite literally their secret sauce. Their sambar has a unique taste that has always lingered on my taste buds. If you check online, you will find many recipes for “Annapoorna style sambar”, which shows how popular it is.

Then, there is their very long family dosa, which is arguably the longest dosa that is served on an everyday basis in any hotel. This dosa is a metre long, perfect for feeding an entire family. I saw at least two families feasting on this unique dish.

Third, there is Annapoorna’s legendary filter coffee, which is made with their own proprietary blend of 100 per cent arabica coffee, carefully dark roasted to perfection. Unlike in some other hotels, no chicory is used in this blend, to ensure the taste of pure coffee. People come here just for a taste of this filter coffee. My wife, who is a fierce coffee critic, simply loved it.

There may be other points of difference too, I have only listed the top three which I have observed.

Nostalgia and Pride

While points of parity and difference are tangible features of any thoughtfully crafted brand, the truly iconic brands also revel in intangible points of love. For the residents of Coimbatore, Annapoorna is a symbol of pride. It represents one of the finest facets of their city, and this triggers love.

For lakhs of people, Annapoorna also evokes deep nostalgia which is yet another route to love. I still fondly recall visiting Annapoorna to eat their dosas when I was a young schoolboy living in Coimbatore. This draws me to the restaurant until today. Of course, a prerequisite for nostalgia is rich history, which Annapoorna has built over its fifty years.

So here is my concluding question to every marketer.Have you built the required points of parity, difference and love for your brand?

(Harish Bhat is an avid marketer and bestselling author. He was previously the Brand Custodian at Tata Sons. These are his personal views.)