Taking on deep pockets

Sravanthi Challapalli | Updated on May 16, 2013

Kedar Rajadnye

Kedar Rajadnye of Piramal Enterprises’ Consumer Products Division on the challenges of working in the pharma business at a time when FMCG companies are making inroads into the business of well being.

Kedar Rajadnye is responsible for marketing at the Consumer Products division of Piramal Enterprises Ltd, which is in the OTC pharma business. Chosen to work at Hindustan Lever out of campus while studying at Mumbai’s Jamnalal Bajaj Institute of Management Studies, he spent eight years there, initially in sales and then in brands. He moved to Piramal to handle this division eight years ago and is president and COO. Kedar has handled multiple divisions in the pharmaceutical space for Piramal Enterprises. Some of the largest brands of the Indian pharmaceutical industry – Phensedyl, Tixylix, Stemetil, Phenargan, Supradyn – were under his portfolio then. He has been associated with Piramal Consumer Products since its amalgamation after the Boots Piramal de-merger in 2007 and has been responsible for building brands such as Lacto Calamine, Saridon, Supractiv Complete and Tetmosol in the OTC space.

A memorable marketing TASK

Lacto Calamine is a very small brand but has a very strong brand equity among consumers and much heritage. However, it had lost its relevance. We met a lot of consumers and asked them what they would replace Lacto Calamine with and they replied with names of products from the FMCG (fast moving consumer goods) sector.

The packaging was not contemporary, the ad was not making a difference. We relaunched the brand. The trial to conversion rate and repeat buying was very high. We realised we should do massive sampling – home to home sampling of 25-30 lakh households in multiple cities.

Skin care products are growing at 25 per cent, Lacto Calamine is growing 30 per cent. Ten to 15 per cent of customers use it as a foundation daily cream for summer.

Great idea that did not take off

We launched a zinc lozenge called Workz for a sore throat three years ago. It was the first such lozenge in India, and it cost Re 1. But the media cost for products like this is the same whether it’s Coke or Airtel or Workz. The field force is the same whether it’s a Re 1 or a premium product. There was a niche in the market but no market in the niche. The economics didn’t make sense.

A setback that I learnt from

Piramal’s OTC business was a start-up launched with just the four of us in 2009. We were a very young team. We were extremely market-focused and looked at a giving a faster response as our advantage. However, this resulted in a lot of wastage in the system. For example, to seize a small local opportunity due to a competitive situation during summer we diverted stocks from other location – incurring higher transit cost, higher trade spends, and de-prioritising some other long-term important projects in innovation. As a result innovation and efficiency started taking a backseat. We thus realised we have to find a balance between the business triumvirates of efficiency, responsiveness and innovation and not just deliver on one.

My marketing idol

Harvard dean Nitin Nohria was my personal coach for a few years. He brought in a balance of extreme common sense and highly inquisitive nature. I was able to think of priorities and focus on what was important for the business.

Where I get my insights from

I get them from a combination of stimulus, reflection and application. Stimulus can come from anywhere. All of us in the company meet consumers two days in a month at their homes and then exchange news.

How B-School helped my career

In three ways. It helped me assimilate diversity. There were people with different backgrounds and educational qualifications. It makes you open and receptive.

It helps me understand the principles of business and their application across industries and companies.

The pros and cons of every decision can be understood, there’s nothing like black and white.

Challenges of OTC pharma

It is a unique sector. Strong FMCG players with deep pockets are getting into well being and pharma companies are also finding ways to take their products direct to consumers. OTC thus comes in the middle which has to compete with both pharma and FMCG companies. But this is an opportunity in itself. Winning in such a competitive space with these two extremes necessitates a strong strategy. The consumers have to see a unique value proposition in your offerings.

Unfamiliarity of the brands

It’s a huge opportunity rather than a disadvantage.

(As told to Sravanthi Challapalli)

Published on May 16, 2013

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