Sneha Beriwal is a seasoned marketer. In 2022, Beriwal joined the homegrown wellness brand Vahdam as the global chief marketing officer. With over 17 years of experience, she has worked with companies like Aditya Birla Payments, Pantaloons, Nestle, Dabur, Westmill Foods and Novartis. At Vahdam, she is leading the marketing function for the brand both nationally and internationally. In the past year, the brand collaborated with companies like Bira 91, Nicobar and Get-A-Way launching limited edition tea-based products. The wellness brand has also curated themed-based hampers like the Emily In Paris and made an appearance in goodie bags of the Oscars (2022).
While the company is hyper-active on the collaboration front, Beriwal tells Storyboard18 that Vahdam is not “unnecessarily quirky or overtly topical as a brand.” For marketing, the focus is on their origin and product stories. The brand is exploring entering into the organic spices market, globally, and will evaluate how it can extend its playbook both product and marketing-wise, she says. Beriwal talks at length about consumer trends, her journey as a marketer at the start-up, and more. Read on.
How would you encapsulate Vahdam’s brand journey so far?
As someone who spent a lot of time working closely with various FMCG brands, I made a few observations. In most FMCG companies, the brand journeys start as an early thought and the product becomes a part of that story. It’s different in start-up companies like ours. We started our product journey from the beginning. That gives us an edge over others. From sourcing the right tea leaves to getting the blends right, we now completely focus on innovation. Our focus on branding follows after.
Vahdam’s mission is simple. Some of the best tea is sourced from India, and we want to keep that as the centrepiece while designing products and communication. Honestly, we are not unnecessarily quirky or overtly topical as a brand. We keep our storytelling around our mission. The product is our hero. As we expand and consumer trends evolve, we will move towards it but we will stay true to our purpose.
Who are Vahdam’s consumers? What are some of their interesting traits?
Our consumers are tea enthusiasts, who enjoy a healthy cup of tea. Of course, tea is a healthy beverage. However, within that consumers are looking for more add-ons for added benefits. Our expertise lies in green, black and herbal teas. We have a lot of consumers, who are trying to cut down on caffeine and also the ones going vegan. That’s an emerging segment of consumers.
We also have consumers, who are into health and wellness. I use the word wellness very carefully. Health and wellness are two different things. People going healthy are on the curative journey, and people who are into wellness are on the preventive journey. That’s a cohort from which we are seeing a lot of love and interest for our brand. Vahdam fits very well into people’s lifestyles.
Interestingly, we see more women as early adopters and experimenters of our products. We are also seeing that women are taking extra efforts to take care of their well-being more than ever before.
How do marketers help in the process of developing products?
I am an old-school marketer. That’s why I would say product development is a core part of marketing. No marketing can sell a bad product. If you have to market well, you have to get involved right from the product development stage. As marketers, we are close to the consumers. We keep an eye on what they want and listen to what they are looking for. This helps as a starting point to develop new products.
In cases, when the research and development teams are working on products, a marketer’s involvement is equally important. Ultimately, they are the ones, who go out into the market to gather feedback from the end consumers. Marketing plays an important role in the customer validation journey.
What are some of the new trends in the tea category?
There was a phase when green tea was just green tea. Today, consumers understand the nuances of a variant like green tea. They also know details about tea leaves, ageing, packing and the source among other things. Consumers are much more aware and are looking for a variety and innovative things to try. For instance, our turmeric range is popular, and so are our flower teas and matcha ones.
Consumers are open to experimenting with new blends. As a brand that opens up a lot of options to develop and build sub-categories. Above all consumers want brands to be socially responsible. We run a teach me initiative where we contribute one percent of our revenue towards the education of children of our tea growers. Consumers do feel good about the fact that they can be part of a social movement. These characteristics of a brand are becoming important.
Vahdam does a lot of brand collaborations. What’s the strategy and how has it helped?
We have done a bunch of brand collaborations. From curating special edition boxes with American artist Nicole Scherzinger and homegrown lifestyle brand Nicobar to partnering with Bira 91 to launch the Chamomile Tea Lager; and launching special edition tea-flavoured popsicles with Get-A-Way Ice Cream, we have experimented a lot. We also have put together Emily In Paris-themed hampers. We were also a part of the Oscars (2022) goodie bag. These collaborations give us new avenues to innovate. Consumers get new product options to try. Collaborations also help us to engage with a new segment of customers. We can do this in a fairly cost-effective way. It’s a great customer acquisition mechanism for us.
You worked in various legacy brands. What is it like working in a start-up?
Even though Vahdam is my first pure start-up stint, I did have startup-ish experiences in the companies I worked for earlier on. Let me explain. I headed marketing for Dabur’s European markets. It was the smallest market for the legacy company. We were a young and very profitable unit for the company. We were left to manage things by ourselves. Since our base was small, we had a lean team too. If I look at it now, that sort of prepared me for the role that I manage now.
Personally, it hasn’t been a huge culture shift for me. It’s more about attitude. At a legacy, company everyone knows you. At a start-up, you are always in pitching mode. The mood and energy levels are different. So is the speed at which we operate.
What are some of the emerging category trends in global markets?
We are looking at global marketers slightly differently and trying to latch onto human insights deeply. Once you get that right, we think it doesn’t matter where you are operating from or selling. Of course, local nuances and flavours are important ingredients to add on. However, those things come up easily to a brand if it decides to stay in the market for a long time. It is complex to go global. I will not deny that. What is important is to focus on the don’t(s) and be careful of the sensitivities of the market. Those are guardrails are important.
Could you take us through Vahdam’s marketing plans for 2023? What will be the focus area? What is working for the brand so far?
This year, we don’t want to rock the boat too much. We will focus on things that have worked for us (so far) and double down on those things. We will also focus on strengthening our customer retention and loyalty. We will take a look at content formats that our consumers like and work around out.
According to me, we have got our product storytelling right. The gap between what we sell as products and what people experience is very narrow. We don’t overpromise and then under-deliver. That balance is critical.