Over the last few decades, many lifestyle diseases such as cardiac problems, hypertension, cancer, diabetes and obesity have become increasingly prevalent. In fact, India has the dubious distinction of being a leader in many of these diseases. A lot of the increase in the incidence of these illnesses has been attributed to the rise in sedentary lifestyles, stress levels and pollution. Not surprisingly, this has led to a renewed focus on what we eat. On a regular basis, new trends based on “research” by medical professionals aim to shift our eating habits from current patterns towards other options such as millets and organic food.
Similarly, rice, which is the staple cereal across large parts of India, is often targeted for its high carbohydrate and sugar content, and high glycaemic index. While it is important to be conscious of what we eat, the changes in consumption recommended to achieve the desired health goals are dramatic and often ineffective. For example, a typical person in Telangana consumes about 12 kg of rice per month. It is infeasible for people who are accustomed to eating rice to wean off it. The way forward therefore is to provide an alternative to people that supports their current consumption choices while also addressing associated health and nutrition concerns.
This is where the new rice variety by Professor Jayashankar Telangana State Agricultural University (PJTSAU) , the Telangana Sona, offers a viable solution. Telangana Sona (RNR 15048) has many positive attributes such as flavour, higher composition of protein, carbohydrates, energy and vitamin B3, while also having the lowest glycaemic index among all known varieties of paddy. This is exactly what the doctor ordered (pun intended)! Rice lovers can now indulge in their favourite cereal, without having to worry about the deleterious consequences of what may happen to their health when they have regular traditional rice-based meals.
We are now stuck with a classic marketing challenge. A market ready for the product; and an innovator who through years of painstaking research has come up with a rice variety that improves on the existing choices while providing substantial health benefits. The missing parts of the puzzle are large-scale cultivation of the new variety of rice, the interest of distribution channels to promote this variety, and most importantly, getting consumers across the state, country and world to adopt this new variety. The PJTSAU, Government of Telangana and Indian School of Business (ISB) have now teamed up to develop an effective marketing strategy to take the Telangana Sona to markets across the world.
The Government of Telangana, headed by Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao, has motivated millions of farmers to grow Telangana Sona. The product offers tangible benefits to millers in the production process. Hence, the supply side has been largely addressed. However, unless this is augmented by brisk demand from the market, the distribution channels will quickly lose interest, and farmers will become cynical, treating all the hype around the new rice variety as just one more passing fad. The need of the hour is a translation of their investment into a lucrative revenue stream.
How do we enhance demand for Telangana Sona? How do we get consumers to switch to the tasty and nutritious option that is Telangana Sona? The product has a plethora of benefits; which benefit should we focus on and for whom? Should the communication be targeted to specific sub-segments? For instance, should the brand promise be great taste for the connoisseurs, weight loss for the weight watchers, low glycaemic index for the diabetes patients, etc.? Would this create confusion in the marketplace? Could there be a more unifying value proposition? These and myriad other classic marketing questions are being addressed by the faculty and students of ISB to make the market launch of Telangana Sona a grand success.
(If you want to help us demystify rice consumption habits and seek to know more, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and we will gladly get in touch with you)
Madhu Viswanathan And D V R Seshadri
The authors are faculty members at the Indian School of Business (ISB)