“Food is as much a passion as fashion”: Simeran Bhasin Of Licious

In March 2020, fresh meat and seafood delivery brand Licious almost fell victim to fake news. A WhatsApp message that linked the spread of the coronavirus to eating chicken made its founders Abhay Hanjura and Vivek Gupta nervous.

But, as it turned out, chicken became the top-selling food for the brand when India entered its first lockdown, followed by seafood and meat. In fact, the impact of the pandemic on consumer behavior has given Licious wings.

As people adopt safer lifestyles and seek more hygienic forms of food consumption, the demand for products like Licious’s packaged meats is increasing. However, it is still only a drop in the ocean of India’s unorganized meat and seafood market, which is estimated at around $ 40 billion.

In 2021, Licious entered the Unicorn Club and the brand also hired seasoned marketer Simeran Bhasin as Vice President – Brands and New Businesses – to help with the Pan-Indian expansion and strategic growth of Licious. .

For the past two decades, Bhasin has worked at companies like Titan, where she headed up marketing and retail for Fastrack. She was also the Marketing Director for the clothing and accessories brand Wildcraft. After years of building brands for other companies, Bhasin gave entrepreneurship a chance for four years with BRAG, an underwear company. Now Bhasin is back and helping other founders realize their vision.

Storyboard18 caught up with Bhasin to understand the Meat Unicorn game plan and how the lessons of his time in the company are put to use in his current role.

Edited excerpts:

Licious was started with the aim of making Indians eat more meat. How do you do this and how far is Licious on this journey?

From the start, we believed in small experiments, both from a product and marketing point of view. Today, many of those explorations have not only developed green shoots, but have generated significant revenue streams for the brand. For example, the entire portfolio of ready-to-cook products represents well over 25% of our business and is also our fastest growing category. This is happening because we continue to expand our range to reach the many Indies that exist in India. We took two years to research and develop our Meat Spread line because we wanted to perfect it to create a healthy and ‘good for you’ product.

We are also breaking down many myths about meat consumption in the country. Meat consumption in the average household was a weekend affair or twice a week. This was mainly because obtaining the meat, cleaning it, and the preparation time took several hours a day. We have introduced the ease factor into the category and we also educate meat lovers on how to properly cook meat. It also increased the market basket. Many of our consumers did not know how to buy fish or the right quality chicken to serve for two. Today, they are open to trying new things and are more confident about cooking than ever before.

What is the important consumer information that informs product and marketing strategy?

The next thing we are aiming for is to add layers of regionalization to our products. If you look at our new SKUs, you will see that we are getting closer to the end product consumed. Cutting and preparing the meat is only one aspect. Now we have different cuts for different dishes. Consumers don’t even have to waste time cleaning meat in Haldi to disinfect it.

Our cuts of chicken curry in Delhi and Chennai are totally different. Here’s why. The Delhi curry chicken cut has two pieces of thigh as it is almost a prized piece for many of them. In Chennai, the chicken pieces are smaller because the type of curry they make requires this type of calibration. When we entered Calcutta we made sure to use bhetki for the fish sticks as the Bengalis love it.

Everything that is packaged at Licious is a by-product of rich consumer information. We are also slowly regionalizing our marketing campaigns to connect closely with consumers.

Our relationship with food is intimate, which is why in India it is never one size fits all. Every 50 kilometers, eating habits and consumption patterns are different.

What do you think are the major trends that will shape the category in 2022?

We are constantly focused on eliminating the usual complications associated with cooking meat, creating a habit and a hobby that people get excited about.

Today, the average food user on Instagram is no expert. They are passionate about cooking who like to document their culinary journey. It’s a social media trend that will never go away, it’s now a part of people’s lives on social media. As a brand, we want to inspire them.

Consumers have realized the therapeutic benefits of cooking. There are dedicated playlists that people play while they are in the kitchen. Music adds yet new notes to this trend. The content canvas is huge and we keep adding new colors to it.

What do you think of the rise of plant-based meat brands in India? Is this a threat or an opportunity for Licious perhaps?

This is a new opportunity for the global market, as well as for India. While the meat and seafood ecosystem is open to many product innovations, those who ultimately win are those who together deliver exceptional taste and quality.

You founded and ran BRAG, a brand of underwear for young women, for four years. What were the learnings of the entrepreneurial transition? If you had the chance, would you build the brand and market it differently?

I do not regret any of the experiences at BRAG. However, some of our first failed experiments made more money than we expected, which hampered the investments in successes that we had later. If ever I had the opportunity to do it again, I would plan the trials better. I wouldn’t worry too soon about profitability either. I would save some money and forget about it. I would give this advice to any budding entrepreneur, trust me, it will make you more thrifty from the start.

You have mainly worked with lifestyle brands over the past two decades. What prompted you to turn to food?

We consider Licious to be a lifestyle brand, actually. Food is a big part of the life of the people in India. If you see our communication and our product line, it revolves around people’s personal connection to food. The way we build the brand leans towards the lifestyle category.

Personally, too, my day revolves around the meals I cook and eat with my family. Food is as much a passion as fashion is to me. I have always chosen to work with brands of which I am a consumer.

How does it feel to be a marketer in the post-pandemic world? What did you learn about brand-consumer relationships?

It is an exciting time to be a marketer. Simply because the constraints placed on us to connect with consumers is something we have never experienced before. It pushes us to come up with ideas that we never imagined before. Let me give you an example.

We plan to expand our research and analysis team. I had an interesting conversation with a candidate about how things have changed in the way marketers use information. I come from a time when consumer research meant going out into the field and talking to consumers up close, sometimes in their living rooms, kitchens, inside offices, outside stores, etc. Today we are in a world where we are forced to do many of these consumer research online only. We strive to understand how we can access the nuances of the information we get online. Until a year ago, I didn’t know how you could fix this. We are constantly learning to improve ourselves in this area. Experimenting and finding new ways to connect with consumers makes this an exciting time for marketers.

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