Nalin Sood tries his hand at stirring up a Kurkure bhelpuri with help from stall-owner Ramesh Sah at City Centre,Salt Lake, as Parno Mittra looks on. Picture by Anindya Shankar Ray
Ever wondered about the wacky ideas behind the tedha Kurkure that you love to munch on? Nalin Sood, executive vice-president, Indian snack category, PepsiCo India, was in Calcutta recently to bite into the specially-made Kurkure chaats that the city has been savouring for the past few weeks as part of the Kurkure Chaat Khao Helicopter-e Jao contest organised by the ABP Group.
On the sidelines of his chaat chomp with Tolly star Parno Mittra across town, t2 caught up with the brain behind the brand at The Telegraph office on Mahalaya.
You have come out with two limited edition Puja flavours of Kurkure this year — Jhalmuri and Tokmishti Jhal....
Every Puja we try to have a special flavour for Bengal. Festivals offer an ideal opportunity to engage with consumers. The idea is to make the brand a part of the festivity, to engage with consumers not only in terms of being visible but also by providing them with products that might actually get them excited. We have, for the past couple of years, launched these special flavours, which are available for a short time, alongside our regular ones. The additions are actually very topical. Festivals mean excitement and that’s the time when we want to spice up our lives with family and friends. And Kurkure is a spicier option within the whole [PepsiCo] range.
What about Aliva, Cheetos, Lay’s, Uncle Chipps…
I do not want to talk about the other brands right now, but as far as the festival engagement is concerned, Kurkure has appropriated a stage for the past couple of years, and we plan to continue that way. The reason why it has a much larger consumer base might be because it is a lot more Indianised in spirit. The local spirit, atmosphere — we try and capture those in these short-term flavours (like Jhalmuri and Tokmishti Jhal) which is what festivals in India demand, too. That is where Kurkure’s strength lies.
Have you thought of experimenting with the other brands like you have done with Kurkure?
Not really! But again, most snacks have a certain base. Like Lay’s has a stronger base when it comes to cricket. Kurkure does a lot of activation with festivals. With each brand we have to analyse which platform suits it the best.
Nationally, where does east India, rather Bengal, stand?
It is one of our strongest markets.
So, we are the big foodies…
(Laughs) No, not just that. All over India we love our food, but the real engagement with food is definitely hard to come by.
How would you describe the Kurkure Chaat Khao Helicopter-e Jao contest?
Kurkure right now is all about being unconventional. Taking a helicopter ride out of the blue is equally unconventional, and there lies the connect behind holding such a contest, which would allow consumers a chance ride on a chopper and take a look at their glittering city.
Have you been to Calcutta before?
The first time I came to Calcutta, I was a trainee at Telco, Jamshedpur. It’s been almost 10 years since my last visit to the city. Today, when I stepped out of the airport, it was a whole new city that greeted me. There are new highrises, numerous developments... but the best bit is that the old and the new are blending. There is still that old-world charm to Calcutta, just like Delhi, if I may say so.
Coming to brand ambassadors — Juhi Chawla for Kurkure, Vidya Balan for Aliva, Saif Ali Khan for Lay’s — how does PepsiCo India zero in on them?
Every brand has a DNA, it has a certain standing, a certain personality, a certain value. For the brand ambassadors we pick, they have to reflect that brand’s personality and character. The reflection is vital for selecting the face of the brand. Like Juhi, she has a very vivacious persona and Kurkure as a brand was conceived of similarly. It’s fun-loving, brings a smile to your face, and so does Juhi. So, the choice was very obvious.
All the PepsiCo snack ads have a humorous take. Which ad tickled your funny bone?
My best was definitely the Montu Kurkure ad that was featured three-four years back. Montu is up for a matrimonial match, and he takes his shirt off and flashes his quirky side — that’s also the time when we started the ‘Tedha hai par mera hai’ campaign. It was a hilarious ad, a brilliant idea.
How did the ‘Tedha hai par mera hai’ idea evolve?
Society is not made up of perfect people, rather it is the imperfect ones who play a major role in our lives. A couple of years ago, our team sat down to analyse Kurkure and build its brand relevance. Here was a product with a completely western look, yet it tasted absolutely Indian. Even the shape was quite irregular but consumers had quite adopted the product. We realised that it is the same when it comes to our society, where we assimilate these imperfect people into our lives without much of a question. And so we started off the Tedha hai... campaign.
Talking of all these munchies, share with us your favourite food items...
My favourite Indian food would be Butter Chicken, given that I am a north Indian. Outside India, I love Spanish tapas and Italian cuisine. Also, I am a big fan of grilled fish.
And you are in a city that prides itself on its fish! What are you looking forward to in Calcutta?
Oh! Calcutta… (grins) I hope to catch up on Bengali food here.
And your favourite snack?
I love chaats, especially the ones with Kurkure in it.
How has your experience of Calcutta’s Kurkure chaats been?
They were fabulous! Going through the city, I realised that chaat is an extremely popular dish here. Like we find paanwallahs in every corner of Delhi, there are chaatwallahs in every corner of Calcutta. What’s even more striking is that chaats actually cut across the socio-economic divide here. In the process, I also witnessed the festive spirit of the city. I don’t think I have seen any city with this kind of passion or fervour for festivity.
But Delhi is also popular for its chaats, right?
Yes, but those chaats are very different from what’s on offer here. Added to that, it doesn’t have this much of a popular appeal in every section of society there.
Your take on the war of words between the health conscious and the snack lovers would be...
I will not get into that debate but just state one thing — at PepsiCo we always use internationally approved and certified ingredients that meet the regulatory requirements of this category. Moreover, the main ingredients are our daily Indian ones like rice, dal, corn, gram and potato.