07 Aug 2020 20:20 IST

How the Tata brand came to be salt of the earth

From the early 1980s, it has set high standards for branded, refined and flavourful salt

If Mahatma Gandhi’s Dandi march was all about making salt affordable to the masses, then Tata Salt went a step further with its vision by additionally emphasising purity, uniformity of texture, taste (saltiness) and iodisation.

Today, more than 75 per cent of the Indian population has received a sufficient dose of iodine, and Tata Salt has played a key role in this as the first iodised salt brand in India. Though iodine occurs naturally in the food chain, in places where the soil is iodine-deficient (like hilly areas), it has to be added to the diet to prevent a host of problems, from goitre to mental disorders. In India, where salt is essential for practically everything, iodising the salt was the best solution to prevent iodine deficiency.

First steps

India has deep-rooted relationships with salt, including essential dietary requirements and feel-good emotional associations. It is not surprising that even now a good chunk of the total salt market remains with the unorganised sector. What is surprising, however, is the fact that before Tata Salt entered the market, hygiene, purity and nutrition were never considered important for a product with such ubiquitous use; availability, affordability and tradition took precedence over them. Most of the salt obtained in this country till the 1980s was unbranded and unrefined.

It fell into this vague, ill-defined market, which Tata Salt took initiative to revamp. Tata Chemicals was set up in 1939 with a soda ash plant in Mithapur. And in the late 1970s, when availability of fresh water for its boilers became scarce, it took a decision to generate the same using sea water. This desalination yielded a natural byproduct — salt of excellent quality and high purity.

Although the Mithapur Salt Works was developed in 1979, it was only in 1983 that Tata Salt was launched. It was the first company to use vacuum-evaporated technology for boiling sea brine and evaporating it in steam-heated vacuum evaporators, to produce salt. This process helped in developing salt that was free of impurities, with a fine, uniform feel and consistent saltiness. It was priced higher than the unpacked, non-iodised, salt available in the market then, but it immediately caught the public eye as it increased the flavour of food and controlled the growth of micro-organisms.

Health-conscious brand

Tata Salt used its first-mover-advantage to a great extent after keenly observing consumer mindsets and the coming of health-conscious trends in the market. It launched its low-sodium, added iron and black salt varieties, as the situation warranted change. It regularly conducts surveys and discussions, using the feedback thus generated to keep improving and innovating its products. The factors that keep it at the top are loyalty to the Tata brand name and consistency in quality and purity.

 

 

All its products – Tata Salt, Tata Salt Lite (low sodium), Tata Salt Plus (iron +iodine), Tata Black Salt, Tata Rock Salt and sprinklers, are manufactured at the Mithapur facility in a Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) certified packing centre, ensuring that the products are microbial-free, hygienic, and of the highest purity levels. The packaging has changed from poly-pack to laminates that protect against bacteria and moisture.

Today, almost 1,078 kilo tonnes of Tata Salt is sold through more than 19 lakh retail outlets, reaching over 160 million households across India. It is claimed that Tata Salt holds more than 25 per cent of the market share — 65 per cent of the sales are said to occur in urban areas and 35 per cent in the rural market. It has top of the mind brand recall value, to the extent that the name ‘Tata Salt’ has become synonymous with just salt.

Expert advertising

India’s largest salt brand has advertised and promoted itself innovatively over the decades, through print, TV ads, wall paintings, exhibitions and through digital platforms. From ‘Namak ho Tata ka - Tata Namak’ that attracted the consumers through ‘Ghul mil jao namak ki tarah’ to ‘Desh ka Namak’ campaigns. Through its advertising, it has clearly projected its commitment to the national cause of improving public health. Successful campaigns along the way have focussed on honesty, integrity, women’s health and cleanliness. ‘Sehat ki Chuski’ for spreading awareness about anaemia won two awards at the MAA Worldwide Globe Awards, while the interactive #BapuReminder campaign took India by storm.

One of its most successful campaigns was the ‘#Missing I’ initiative on October 21, Global Iodine Deficiency Day, in 2018, when the letter ‘I’ was found missing from news headlines in print, on TV, and even in tweets to highlight the necessity and importance of iodine in one’s daily diet.

Tata Salt is a ‘Superbrand’ and has won many awards in consumer preferences, advertising, and other categories. The brand hopes to double its turnover by 2022.

Towards social good

The Tata Group is known for its philanthropy and Tata Salt is no different. The ‘Desh ko Arpan’ programme took ten paise from each package of Tata Salt and invested that amount in the betterment of the girl child’s health, education, nutrition and sports training for underprivileged children in municipal schools.

Tata Salt’s website details the method of disposal for the pouches/packs/bottles that contain its products, thus emphasising its concern for the environment. Mithapur, where the Tata salt plant is located, is said to be so environment-friendly that it has a sanctuary for migratory birds that fly in to nest there each winter from Europe and elsewhere.

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