16 November 2018 13:17:35 IST

Malathy Sriram writes poems and short stories for children and adults, as well as book reviews and articles of general interest. She is a post-graduate in English Literature from Ethiraj College for Women, Chennai. Her work has been published in Indian Express, Deccan Herald, Mirror and Femina. She has edited website content and is the editor of The Small Supplement, an online magazine for children with articles on history, science, arts and culture, sports, technology, companies and brands, mythology and short stories. Reading, teaching English, listening to music (all genres) and singing complete her oeuvre.

I love you, Rasna!

Available in more than 50 countries, Rasna has surpassed competitors to stay relevant even today

In the 1970s, Rasna entered our hearts with the simple but catchy jingle ‘I love you Rasna’ through Doordarshan, and went on to rule our taste buds. With its appealing child ambassador, it became one of the most visible ads aired on Doordarshan.

It was a period that was just right for a children’s drink to be launched. Cordials, juices and carbonated drinks (such as Limca, Thums Up and Gold Spot) dominated the adult market but there was no specific drink aimed at children. Homemade preparations, considered healthy and wholesome for them, were cumbersome to make.

Into this scene stepped Rasna. The story goes that the Khambatta family was initially (in the 1920s) in the soda water business; it entered the flavour concentrates segment in the 1950s. The product is said to have been launched as ‘Jaffe’ in Gujarat by the Khambatta family-owned Pioma Industries. It was relaunched in 1979 as a soft drink concentrate ‘Rasna’ by Pirozsha Khambatta and immediately made its mark.

Market leader

Economical but not ‘cheap’, at ₹2.37 per glass (32 glasses per pack), Rasna stormed its way into every household, neatly ousting established brands such as Rooh Afza and Kissan. The fact that even children could whip up several glasses of Rasna unaided was a plus point.

It came in what experts call the ‘one minus concept’ — a bottle with the liquid flavour base and a pouch with the powdered concentrate; flavour and colour pack with preservative sans sugar. The last-mentioned point gave it a decided cost advantage over other soft drinks but customers never realised the cost they paid for adding sugar. It tasted good and was refreshing. It was extremely convenient as it was the first product to offer the cold process syrup preparation.

The first soft drink concentrate to receive the ISI mark, it soon became available in an intriguing variety of flavours. These increased over the years, catering to every taste, and it soon became a family drink for consumers. Today, it has the maximum number of flavours with natural fruit powder. When soft drink concentrate (SDC) became a separate category, Rasna had more than 85 per cent share of that market, and was especially popular in the southern and western States. In the early 1980s, other brands such as Trinka (Corn Products) and Hasras (Kissan) tried to cash in on the SDC market but could not compete with Rasna.

But as the ready-to-drink market started looking up, the SDC niche showed reduced growth. Other brands flooded the market with easy-to-carry tetra packs and pouches, which ate into Rasna’s share. In the early 2000s, Coca Cola came up with Sunfill, and Kraft Foods with Tang, to challenge Rasna. The former disappeared while the latter is still a competitor. Rasna realised that constant innovation was needed to not only retain market share but also increase its consumer base.

New market

Around the time the company was renamed Rasna Ltd, in 2002, several attempts were made to regain the market with new and revised product launches: a pre-sweetened powder form, Oranjolt — an aerated fruit drink, Rasna Utsav, Rasna Rozana, and more, but not all took off. As other drinks gained ground in urban areas, Rasna targeted the rural segment with different price ranges. The brand had created a market but now went all-out to break into new ones. To its advantage, it retained almost 100 per cent brand recall among consumers.

Today, the products fall under three major segments — domestic, international and Native Haat. Rasna strongly believes that the common man needs fortification of food — presence of 21 vitamins and minerals — even more than the premium customer, which is why it has introduced that across almost all categories since 2003.

The domestic range falls under several categories with different brands — the drink mix range with about 11 flavours; Rasna Insta (instant drink mix); Rushlite (low calorie drink for diabetics); JuC (ready-to-drink); Power squash; new masala orange; jal jira and nimbu jira; Vitos (baked snacks); and Chef Khazana (pickles).

The Rasna international range offers Rasna Ice Tea, Rasna Body Fuel, Rasna hakeup, Pure Honey, and more. Rasna Native Haat contains no chemicals or preservatives and has natural spice extracts and essential oils. Traditional Indian ingredients such as aam panna , shikanji and jamun are available. More products are envisaged in this segment soon.

Research and development

The company has nine manufacturing units within India and plants in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh and Dubai. All these are ISO 22000:2005 certified plants with additional HACCP and FSSAI certificates. Plans are afoot to set up a new production facility in Andhra Pradesh for the powder drink segment. Rasna has a strong distribution network with 26 depots, 5,000 stockists, 200 super stockists and about 1.6 million outlets.

An advanced research & development centre constantly experiments with new flavours and processes, even as it maintains stringent quality control measures. The packaging, such as jars, glass bottles, sachets, flow packs, and stand-up pouches, for all Rasna products is world-class, ensuring flavour retention, moisture proofing and freshness for a long time.

Rasna was one of the first brands to recognise the child as an influencer for household product purchase. Recognising societal changes that resulted in children going from cute to smart and fashionable, it repositioned its products constantly to differentiate itself from other brands. But after the initial years, when it used only children in its ads, the company realised the need to use role models and went for famous brand ambassadors from the film industry and cricket.

It conducts consumer research with several focus groups every year. This enables it to understand shifts in consumer perception of ads, communication, packaging and tastes, and plan accordingly for the next year. The company’s strength lies in it being a family-owned business, but with a professional approach. It is available in most villages with a population of over 5,000 and has a market share of 85 per cent in the ₹1,000-crore powdered drink concentrates segment. The orange flavour remains its biggest hit to date. Its products are available in more than 50 countries, with foreign markets reportedly accounting for 30 per cent of the sales. Rasna’s products are also available on e-commerce platforms such as Amazon and Big Basket.

Social work

Rasna’s CSR activities are conducted through the Areez Khambatta Benevolent Trust. The focus is mainly on healthcare (affordable radiation therapy for poor cancer patients and free eye surgeries) and education (scholarships of up to ₹10 lakh for deserving students among the underprivileged classes). The Khambatta Centre for Excellence offers MBA courses at Ahmedabad, in collaboration with the University of North Texas. To promote cleanliness and sanitation right from childhood, and in keeping with the Swachch Bharat Abhiyan scheme, colour-coded dustbins have been distributed to educational institutions.

Rasna has twice been voted Entrepreneur of the Year; it has also won the Rotary Award for Professional Excellence (twice) and India’s Greatest Brand Builder Award. International awards include the prestigious International Taste and Quality Instituteaward, the Monde Selection Quality award, the London International Award for Package Design, the World Brand Congress ‘Master Brand’ award and the 2010 Cannes Lions.