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Britannia optimistic about Lanka

Sitting pretty in a large pristine, no clutter office set amidst a light background in Biyagama tucked with Britannia products, Country Manager, A. B. S. Subrahmanyam says Sri Lanka has a large biscuit market with a sophisticated consumer base.

Hailing from Andhra Pradesh, Subrahmanyam better known Subbu and tagged as a very organised person says that Sri Lanka has one of the highest per capita biscuit consumption in Asia which is 4 kgs as against 1.1 kg in India and 1.8 kg in Malaysia. "This is why we decided to invest in Sri Lanka.

Speaking to Daily News Business Expat Chit Chat, on their operations in the Island and the local biscuit industry, Subbu says they are optimistic about Sri Lanka and see the present economic situation as a short-term phenomenon. "In fact, inflation has already shown a downward trend in the past couple of months."

Britannia is here for the long haul and has taken a long-term view of investing in the Sri Lankan market.

Q: This is a time when spending power is at an all time low and people are cutting down on "non essential" items. How confident are you that Britannia will be successful?

That is precisely the reason why we are upbeat about our positioning and the opportunity offered by Sri Lanka. At a time when the general perception of biscuits as mere 'indulgence' and 'fun' snacks may make them 'non-essential', Britannia sees a clear opportunity to present a unique, essential range that offers 'great taste and great nourishment'. The product portfolio launched on this platform has been extensively researched over the past couple of years and we are confident that the biscuit range we have handpicked for this market will not only offer great nourishment but also delight the Sri Lankan consumer's palate.

... Premier International brand Britannia, ranked as the No. 1. Food Brand in the Nielson (India) survey published in The Economic Times, officially launched in Sri Lanka recently. Already gathering a considerable fan base, Britannia Biscuits are most definitely one of the fastest growing successful products in the local FMCG market....

Q: What competitive advantages do your products have when compared to other products in the Sri Lankan market?

Our most tangible competitive advantage is that, as I mentioned earlier, we offer our products on the unique platform of 'great taste and great nourishment' a combination every mother would love to offer to her child. Furthermore, Britannia is a 90 year old brand with a rich history in offering value to the consumers in the food space, especially in biscuits.

For several decades, Britannia has aimed and succeeded at 'delighting' the consumer by delivering far more than expected, such as the organisational practices, perspectives and managerial and marketing choices we make everyday, which has also been built in to the Britannia system across all functions - be it in R&D, manufacturing, marketing, HR, supply chain or any other function.

These are the results of Britannia's rich heritage which give us a sustainable competitive advantage in endearing ourselves to the consumer.

Q: How has Britannia been received in Sri Lanka so far?

We started manufacturing in Kandy from mid August 2008 and have sought to offer the consumer something extra either by way of organoleptic, sensory, nutritional or pack product form in every product category. We are very happy with the way the marketplace and consumers have responded to our offerings. The trade demand has been quite positive and frankly, our challenge so far has been to ensure that we are able to supply in adequate volumes to meet the market demand!

Q: What is your opinion on other local biscuit manufacturers? Will its key players prove to be formidable competition for Britannia?

Biscuit space in Sri Lanka is an evolved category, with a sophisticated consumer base and a high per capita consumption (when compared to other key Asian markets). Now that has not happened overnight and has definitely not happened by accident! The present Sri Lankan brands and their marketers must have worked hard on evolving this category over the past few decades and have succeeded in bringing it to the current stage! Biscuits are a very competitive category all over the world. I see no reason how it can be any different in Sri Lanka.

Q: The local biscuit industry is indeed highly competitive. Did you face any difficulties when it came to entering the market due to the competitive stance of local players?

I think the local industry has welcomed the competition. After all, competition benefits the consumer in any arena and consumer benefit is something we are seeking to provide. We have certainly not faced any difficulties at all in operating our business successfully.

Q: Apart from the monetary investment Britannia has made in Sri Lanka will the company be doing much in terms of providing jobs to Sri Lankans? Are most of your staff Indian or have you hired local staff? What about at Management levels?

Employees of Britannia, globally, comprise some 10 different nationalities which ranges from Indians, Bangladeshis, Emarati, Omani, Nepali, Saudi and Sudanese.

Britannia Lanka Pvt Ltd. is a Sri Lankan company; it operates within the regulations as laid down for any such local company by Sri Lankan authorities. As such, the success of this company will invariably be tied up with Sri Lankan talent and resources at all levels. At present, Sri Lankan colleagues man the key managerial positions of marketing and finance.

Our distributor, J.L. Morrison has put in place an exclusive sales set up for Britannia manned completely with local talent. Same is true for our manufacturer, Luckyland.

Q: Are the raw materials for the biscuits imported or procured locally?

At present, nearly 80% (by value) of the inputs that go in to manufacturing Britannia biscuits in SL are procured locally or through local associates. Our intent is to push this as close to 100% as quickly as possible.

Q: How large is your factory workforce?

Luckyland has their own workforce. However, this workforce has almost tripled in order to meet Britannia's needs. We also have Britannia personnel stationed in Sri Lanka whose exclusive duty is to ensure adherence to laid down quality

Q: In the global scare in terms of tainted milk products can you reassure the public about the safety of your own products?

The food industry is especially susceptible to various threats of this nature. That is why it is essential that rigorous quality processes are adhered to at all stages right from sourcing of input materials, processing, handling, transportation, storage. This is where a business and brand heritage, such as Britannia's, becomes very crucial to not only ensure that the requisite, rigorous quality practices are implemented every time without fail, but to sustain the confidence of the consumers.

Q: On a personal note, how do you see working and staying in Sri Lanka?

Sri Lanka is the fifth country I have resided in, having previously lived in Russia, Malaysia and the UAE. Everywhere, people are different, the societal context is different and what one imbibes from the place is different. However, Colombo weather and environs is similar to that of my hometown - Visakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh.

Sri Lanka has wonderfully warm people who enrich the beauty of this country and I intend to make the most of my stay here by travelling to as many places of Sri Lanka as I possibly can!

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