Advertising, BRAND

Vanilla and Uncool – The Ice Cream business in India

You know its summer, when your social calendar features a night drive for an ice cream to India Gate. It maybe because you’re the conformist variety or plain courteous to the demands of squealing Delhi girls. You have to confess though, that anyway you look at it, the race between the tongue and dripping ice cream is awkwardly fascinating.

I always thought ice cream is  a cool business to be in, you know, The Billion Dollar Scoop! would make a fab Time magazine heading.

Ironically, siting in a country that boasts of happy economic stories from the last decade,turns out I was wrong. Wrong even though there are ice cream vendors at every street, nook and cranny, wrong even though people jaunt anywhere from their local ice cream parlors to historical monuments to lick-a-drip.

Our organized ice-cream industry is worth about only 1500 crores growing at 15%.

Compare it to organized coffee chains, with far less reach , yet doing almost 3 quarters of the turnover and growing faster, you can’t help but  feel the ice cream biz somewhere isn’t cutting ice.

Its not suffering from the lack of awareness , reach or alternatives.  Yet, the figures betray the fact that sales are not to potential.

Why cant we make a billion dollar plus business of selling ice creams in the 2nd most populous, one of the youngest  and climatically the hottest countries in the world? Even when  historically  dairy products are deeply entrenched into our cuisine. ghee, doodh, lassi, kulfi for strawberry thick shakes sake. Why is ice-cream such a weakling in this pack of dairy products that occupy about 20% of our refrigerator space? (last I checked mine)


Just like that last mango bar back in the early 90s the answers to why the industry is underperforming  aren’t on the surface. There hiding beneath numbers. FY-2011 the  per capita ice cream consumption around the world looked like this:

U.S  23 ltrs/annum (Now we know why they  came up with a Yo Mamma show)

Sweden 18 ltrs/annum (make it 18 extremely tasty ltrs)

China   1.9 ltrs/annum (if their food and cigarettes are anything to go by about 2 ltrs comes as a huge surprise)

Pakistan 800 ml per annum (certain they must have an organized chain of kulfi Faluda)

India  300 ml per annum (the rest of the post…)

Though our population and poverty skew these numbers significantly, there is no denying that within the existing economic & demographic realities there is room to put pedal to the metal on consumption. How else would we explain Pakistan consumption more than double  &  China’s whopping 6 times of ours?

Increase in numbers can be achieved if pure play ice-cream brands with national presence work hard towards building awareness and demand in the market. Except pure play  are ones with dwindling market shares

When looked at closely, about half the organized market is dominated by dairy giants like Amul (ice cream biz contributes  only 5% to its turn over) & Mother dairy, adding another 22% for the regional players. Between Vadilal, Kwality walls, Cream bell  and a handful of premium brands  there’s about 40% of the cone.

Ice–cream consumptionin India is a function of distribution REACH.

One of the top reasons for Amul being market leader is that  distribution/reach defines sales. It is an area of work for pure play ice cream companies. Coming from the stable of India’s largest FMCG company, HUL, Kwality Walls cannot hide behind the reach alibi though.

Another  myth that sales guys of the ice cream companies hide behind is “ Ice- cream competes with a variety of local Indian desserts, hence it’s a tedious and slow process of increasing numbers. Well, wake up and smell the coffee my friends.

Ice cream faces no where the kind of resistance coffee industry faced in North India, yet the industry is on a growth trajectory that might leave ice cream industry melt in thier own cream. This, when India is the world’s largest dairy products producer. Milk, butter, yogurt and kulfi have been a part of our palate for centuries, ahead of  goodies like Confectionary (4100 crores)  and Colas& Soft drinks (13000 crores).

The difference is, coffee &  soft beverages industries have embraced the local youth and engaged them over 2 decades now.

Ice cream majors however have been focusing on reach, pricing & impulse buy. Not saying that these are not necessary, but this can best serve the purpose of reaching more people, what about making ice cream lovers consume more of it?

For this one needs to permeate the consumer consciousness and build stories. Lazy and comfortable is what the ice cream brands seem to be, may be their execs been consuming too much their own sweet stuff.

Differentiation in product& innovation: How many iconic products do you know of?

Orange bar,Mango Dolly, Choco bar, Kesar kulfi, Cornetto, Feast, Cassata (if you count what your granny wants to go after at a wedding). 90% of the time a consumer asks for these flavors, and it’s not because they don’t want to try anything else but because nothing else has made its way into the consideration set.

In  the last 15 years not much has been done to create or promote new offerings.  It took local food chains like Nirula’s to usher in the iconic ice cream sodas and the Hot Chocolate Fudges of the world. I recently had a fried ice cream at a shack in Goa. I assure you, it was to die for. Anyway, point is No major brand has worked on creating iconic preparations.

Hence, new entrants and niche brands have gained major traction in urban centers with their frozen yogurts, diabetic friendly ice creams, ice cream smoothies, fat free ice creams, natural flavours etc. The problem however is the smaller players (Naturals & Gyanis) are high on innovation but low on reach, therefore not contributing significant numbers.

Has a Vadilal or a Kwality Walls or even Baskin Robbins thought of investing in these brands, or buying them out ?  Giving them a nation wide reach under a multi brand umbrella might be a better idea than going about trying to change taste preferences overnight. This could be a win-win, quality products, superior brand, distribution and manufacturing efforts could up the ante on competition and help ice-cream’s cause as a whole.

If the industry has to grow substantially , innovation by mass brands will play a major role. Likes of  Baskin Robbins ( slightly upend) &  Hagen Daz( super premium) would always be there to skim the top, but the onus is on the biggies to increase the critical mass of the market.

Differentiation: Can  you tell the Strawberry from the Mango?

Separate a Vadilal from Kwality or a mother dairy from Creambell? Can you?

Even on a street level where push carts dot the visual landscape , all brands on the first look like they wear the same uniform. The dangling cards, the branding on the cart for every brand look the same. No distinct individual character. In last decade the ice cream cart has not evolved from a mobile vendor. What does it say about the industry?

Segmentation through Advertising

Ice–cream industry’s advertising focus is rightly spread across children, families and youth. Problem being it addresses the needs of none in particular. There is a serious lack in cohesion of advertising & product offering.

Though Kwality Walls has shown intent by trying to segment the market with its products the quality of execution itself leaves much to be desired. Have a look at this Vienetta ad

It would work, if it was Ice Cream for Charity.

Paddle Pops isn’t much better or Cornetto for that matter.

This dated Vadilal ad is perhaps the most iconic Indian ice cream ad. You’ll know how dated it is when you realise the nerd serving the ice creams is Rahul Bose

India is a young country and it is beyond dispute that to grow in numbers the industry would have to target finer segments of the 5- 35 age groups with insightful communication.

The problem is the Positioning is soooo mundane. Its majorly been advertised as

  • a dessert , in case of  Cassata or Vienetta for family consumption.
  • Colorful Lollies for kids
  • The catalyst of young puppy love , as in Cornetto.

Thats it! That’s all there is to advertising a driping melting tasty milky cool colourful  ice-cream?  What about risqué young adult positioning such as Magnum.

When you say adults only  for instance you can be sure that kids are gonna go for it.

Popular culture& celebrity endorsements to promote awareness

I mean just going through dozens of Indian ice cream ads, you wonder how they even got around making another flavour apart from Vanilla. Usually when stuck with a creative block our advertisers take the short cut of using celebrities. We’re pretty stunned that the apparent guarantee that this route offers has not persuaded brands to hire one yet. In a country where even underwear is sold by celebrities , the biggest celeb used by ice-cream industry in India is Amrita Rao!!!! and she’s not even in underwear.

What about product placement and tie-ups in movies?  Coco berry tie-up with“ Ek mai aur ek tu” was an after thought and a waste of time and money, pretty much like the film itself.  Last years sleeper hit “ Pyar ka Punchnama” which had traction with the urban young could have been used to launch new flavors or rebrand existing ones. If Luv Ranjan and team come out with another youth centric film (perhaps narrating the girls side of the story) it might be worth investing heavily in. Ask the team to add a quirk into one of the guys character by illustrating how he fancy’s say a Kwality Walls Feast every day.

Point is if your biggest consumer is youth , where is a proactive effort to  reach them ? Are they only love lorn puppies? Why this uni dimensional approach ? What is the relevance of these brands in youth psyche?

In our understanding, if the industry has to shake itself out of a incremental growth and surge itself out of the typical aversions to risk, the majors need to stop hiding behind statistical, cultural & demographic excuses and work for a future of ice cream that looks a bit like this:




7 thoughts on “Vanilla and Uncool – The Ice Cream business in India

  1. awesum read

    one on the most informative and innovative piece i read in recent times

    *keep up d good work*

    Posted by priyanka | April 6, 2012, 6:35 pm
  2. I want to start my own ice cream parlour or shop at bhiwandi.How to get me dealership of company like amul,vadilal to start my own ice cream shop.

    Posted by Hitendra kumbhar | May 31, 2012, 6:47 am
  3. Extremely insightful article and a novel perspective. This aversion to risk is keeping us back in several sectors. I personally would increase my ice cream intake to more than once a year if I could find more interesting flavours. While niche ice cream brands like Natural offer very interesting variants, they are plain and monotonous after a while and have no toppings for added value. Though brands like Natural are a step in the right direction. For the middle class, having a Haagen Dasz or a Ben & Jerry’s is completely out of the picture even though these brands offer very interesting options. What India needs desperately is a brand that can give us innovative flavours at the price of Amul or Kwality or even Natural. Thanks once again for the interesting read!

    Posted by Ranjana Sundaresan | July 24, 2012, 11:00 am
  4. good information, as i am a ice cream manufacturer in my local regional area i can feel the truth in your information.
    cost factor is the major issue for survival from rawmaterials to mrp

    Posted by sachin | October 5, 2012, 2:38 pm
  5. Hi, enjoyed ur article. Its very informative. I have a question though. Can u plz let me know the source of information on ice cream cones where u hv said that they have around 40% market share.

    Posted by Anjali | October 29, 2012, 12:28 pm
    • hey hey
      Thanks for your comments and questions. We’ve spoken to some industry insiders for some of these stats. This dude requested us not to identify him. If you think some of the stats are unsubstantiated, I’d really request you to guide us to the right ones so we can incorporate and edit our piece.
      Also, we’ve moved to Thinkrasta.com so the delay in response. I’m shamelessly, infact with plenty pride ask you guys to hop over to the new space and contribute to the other pieces we’ve written.

      Posted by thinkrasta | November 13, 2012, 6:34 pm

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