Before 1994, chewing gum was a slow-growing $8.4 million category populated largely by foreign brands smuggled into the country. Today, the market stands at $55 million and is bounding along at a 30% clip, thanks to Italian marketer Perfetti and the company's local general manager for sales and marketing, Ashok Kumar Dhingra.
"Perfetti's strategy was to clearly carve the market into different segments by positioning different brands at varying target audiences in terms of age profile and also by offering a range of flavors and packs which would satisfy consumer needs," said Mr. Dhingra, 47, who joined Perfetti India from Lipton two years ago.
The task was far from simple. To succeed, Perfetti needed to overcome storekeepers' and distributors' indifference stemming from the gum category's low margins, competition from high-margin smuggled brands and a negative perception of chewing gum in the consumer's mind.
Perfetti began by constructing a modern plant near Delhi to manufacture Center Fresh gum, a product aimed at all consumers under 35 years old; Big Babol, a line for consumers between ages 5 and 14, and Brooklyn, for the 15- to 20-year-old crowd.
Mr. Dhingra arranged extensive sampling at schools, offices and restaurants, along with cross-promotions with PepsiCo's flagship Pepsi and Ruffles potato chips.
To become retail-friendly, Perfetti produced attractive dispensers and display boxes suited for crammed Indian stores. Prices were kept low to stave off competition from new entrant rivals like General de Confiteria India, Warner-Lambert India and Wm. Wrigley Jr. Co.
Perfetti further distinguished itself with extensive use of advertising and event sponsorship, a first for the gum segment of the confectionery market. Under Mr. Dhingra, the company turned to locally produced commercials from McCann-Erickson India, New Delhi, that featured Indian pop singer Suchitra Krishnamurthy promoting Brooklyn gum. Dinosaurs, popular with preteens after the blockbuster movie "Jurassic Park," were used in the TV spot for Big Babol.
To garner more product visibility, Perfetti became the official chewing gum sponsor of the Wills World Cup, a 12-nation cricket tournament played in India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka in February and March. The company then became the official sponsor of a soccer event named the Center Fresh IFA Shield, after its flagship brand.
"It was the persistent effort in the marketplace, aggressive trials, generation exercises and advertising which helped generate demand," Mr. Dhingra said. "This, in turn, helped change the trade attitudes towards the product category and the margins offered on our brands as compared with smuggled products and low price, low quality variants."
After only two years, Perfetti India expects '96 sales of $28 million, and the company hopes to boost its 40% market share another 10 points by year's end.
Moreover, Perfetti is using India as its blueprint in targeting Vietnam and Indonesia this month.
"We have already started exporting to Nepal and Bangladesh," Mr. Dhingra said, "and are now poised for exports to other markets."