Rohit Kalro, the CMO of Alt Company, tells us all about marketing oat milk in an milk-loving country
Milk, especially in India, is considered a staple. If your mind also goes to “Doodh, doodh, wonderful doodh,” you aren’t alone. But, with the rise of veganism, more and more people are turning to dairy alternatives. And though marketing this alternative lifestyle can be a challenge, an even bigger one is making it accessible.
Enter: Rohit Kalro, the CMO of Alt Company. The India-based oat milk company aims to give consumers a sustainable, affordable, and healthy alternative to milk, especially since “60% of Indians are lactose intolerant and most of them don’t even know it,” Kalro tells us.
Kalro spoke to us about what makes a brand – from messaging to font and even packaging – as well as breaking into the milk-loving Indian market, sustainability, and lactose intolerance (no joke!).
Read the full conversation as part of our series ‘Makers of a New Era’.
You work for The Alt Company, a company that gives alternative options for dairy products. How does that work in a country like ours? What are some of the challenges you face and how do you overcome them?
I think the last year was very challenging for us, but that being said, our product has spoken for itself and is available across some of the best coffee chains and roastries around the country.
I think we are blessed with the fact that a lot of Indians are well travelled and also very mindful about their consumption patterns. By bringing the first oat milk into the country, we were bound to face a lot of questions and challenges in converting people to try and consume our product on a regular basis. But once people try oat milk – which is naturally tastier – I am sure there will be no going back.
On the challenges bit, we overcame most of them by making sure all our online and offline communication gave the right amount of details and information about the product and its multiple uses, something that is also mentioned on the packaging in quite a cheeky manner.
Is sustainability a big part of your business model? If so, tell us a bit more about that.
It definitely is the pillar on which we are building the company. But there’s still so much more to do. Also, seeing bigger brands across all beverage sectors move away from single-use plastic and explore sustainable options clearly shows that it's not just a few but all sectors and brands that are looking to move to more sustainable options. It’s also very cost effective, so that’s a big plus!
My dear friend and partner Basan Patil is a strong believer in making sure we do as much as possible and turn Alt Co. into a brand that not just cares for its consumers, but also the planet. We aim to reduce single-use plastic, be it with our packaging or the event set ups we curate.
You have spoken at length about phygital retail. Please tell us more about that and how you think it could affect the markets in the future.
It’s a cross between giving consumers a hands-on experience of the product and pushing them to buy it online. What this business model does is that it allows a lot of brands to save on various costs incurred in setting up a physical store and running it.
With covid and footfalls at a bare minimum, this also allows brands to focus on the online aspect of the business and convert their savings from a physical store into ad budgets for campaigns.
It’s something that’s trending and makes business sense at the moment. I personally feel a lot of young brands will adopt this model as it makes financial sense and also gives them the visibility that they require to create brand awareness and recall.
Do you think any country or place in the world is turning to plant-based alternatives in a healthy and accessible way? What can we learn from them?
Almost a third of the UK's population is exploring plant-based alternatives across the F&B sphere. There are multiple startups abroad that are actually thriving and growing rapidly due to this sudden shift in lifestyle. Netherlands, Scandinavia, and the United States are not far behind either with their efforts to ramp up this alternative market. There is even a European Union fund set up for plant-based start ups to help them innovate and develop manufacturing and research units. This is all being done to reduce carbon emissions and urge other brands and players in various segments to have sustainability as a core aspect in their businesses.
We grew up with the slogan “milk is good for you”, and were even encouraged to drink it in our adult lives. How difficult is it to change this perception, so imbibed (no pun intended!) since childhood?
I was hoping this question wouldn’t come up, haha! I completely agree with you and the phrase is something that literally EVERYONE has grown up listening to.
We are a country full of people who are evolving and have the urge to try new things and products. “Changing the mindset” would be the wrong term as it is almost impossible to do that; but it is about educating and showing consumers that plant-based milks are actually tastier, lighter on the body, and contain the same nutrients when compared with regular milk.
In a country like ours, cost is always going to be a differentiating factor when you compare any alternative dairy product to regular milk, and we hope to one day make it even more affordable than it already is.
Apparently 60% of Indians are lactose intolerant, which is astounding considering the importance still placed on milk and dairy products. Do you see the younger generation making healthier choices, perhaps because of access to information/research?
Let me rephrase that, apparently 60% of Indians are lactose intolerant and most of them don’t even know it! We, too, have done some reading on this and it truly is astounding that even though this is the case, most of them still consume regular milk.
We definitely do see the younger generations leading this change, which is why our social media communications have to be spot on. It has to be quirky, especially for someone who consumes so much content on a regular basis. It is vital to stand out while also saying the right things to help ease people into making a switch to an alternative lifestyle.
Please tell us a little bit about how and why you got into marketing.
I loved storytelling from an early age, but little did I know that it would become a part of my career. Back in college, when we had to pick between Finance or Marketing, I was clear that I was never opting for the former. But my real passion for marketing came to life during my stint at BIRA-91, and as a franchise partner for Keventers.
That is when I really saw the power that great marketing had with regards to building successful brands in the Indian ecosystem. To witness the disruption they caused and how they were giving some of the biggest brands a run for their money was amazing to me!
Marketing has always been something that comes naturally to me. Even with Alt Co., when we decided to take on the mammoth task of introducing oat milk to consumers in India, we wanted to create a brand that would stand out from the usual design that most Indian brands follow, that is, adding a basic image around some text. We wanted to be more than that and hence, we leveraged the beauty of illustrations + informative text along with a beautifully designed logo that stands out.