In a very pioneering move Nestle created instant noodles category in mid 1980s when they launched Maggi brand. Being the first mover the brand become category representative. To many people instant noodle is Maggi. It has become generic to the product category. Positioning is an important aspect of marketing strategy. Market segmentation is first step in strategy development. It is impossible for one marketing package to make sense to everybody. By dividing customer on the basis of their similarities, it becomes easier for a firm to decide where to direct its marketing efforts. This allows better allocation of finite marketing resources by maximizing efficiency and effectiveness.
Nestle also had a lot of options. The noodles market can be divided into different groups depending upon the choice of segmentation variable. For instance, there is domestic and professional segment for noodles. The market could be divided on the basis of age of consumer, r consumption quantity, geographic location and culinary treatment. Market segmentation is a matter of perception. There are people who look at the market the way everyone sees, whereas a limited few are able to uncover new customer groups who have not been uncovered by generally followed basis of segmentation. Nestle chose to target the children segment. Children frequently demand something to eat. Back then the market of snacks was not evolved. Therefore whenever mothers were pestered they were forced to provide home cooked snacks or light food like parantha, pulav, pakora, sandwich and vada
The next question was to decide upon its value proposition and positioning. How should the brand Maggi be placed in consumer’s mind? Essential to positioning was that Maggi must be perceived distinctively and of relevance to target market. Maggi was positioned as ‘fast to cook and good to eat’ 2 minutes noodles. It offered distinctive advantage to mothers in terms of ‘fast to cook’ proposition. The Maggi noodles unique formulation reduced the long grind involved in making traditional quick food. All that Maggi needed was two minutes boiling time and adding of a tasty masala called ‘taste maker’. For kids, the brand offered ‘good to eat’ proposition.
Maggi opened an entire new market for instant noodles. The next brand to arrive in the market was Top Ramen from Nissin. The challenge for the brand was how to position itself so that it could create a distinctive position. It tried to take at dig at Maggi by directly calling itself ‘ Smoodles’ or smooth noodles. It urged customers ‘Don’t be a noodle. Be a Smoodle’. The brand adopted product attribute based positioning and highlighted its smoothness.
Sensing the opportunity, HUL jumped the fray and entered the market with their Knorr brand. Knorr, originally a soups brand in HLL’s portfolio was extended to noodle category. Knorr Soupy Noodles also targeted the in home children market. It boasted of a unique product in instant category and aimed at combining the fund of noodles with the health and goodness of soups. The brand positioned itself as noodles with soup for children to satisfy the in between meals hunger pangs. The brand’s communication focuses on a situation where a child demands something to eat before dinner at about 7 o’ clock.
GSK the makers of Horlicks entered the instant noodles market with their Foodles brand. GSK continuing with health and nutrition platform created Foodles. The brand’s launch was based on research inputs that instant noodles were not considered healthy and serving them induced guilt in mothers. The key ingredient in instant noodles, maida or refined flour, was not as healthy as whole wheat. While the positions of convenience and taste were already occupied, Foodles sought to play the game on nutrition positioning. Foodles tried to break into the monopoly of Maggi with Foodles positioned as nutritious instant noodles. The company used its Horlicks brand as mother brand to support its noodles brand..
Homegrown cigarette giant studied the instant noodles market and discovered some ways to cut into Maggi’s dominance. Its studies found chinks in Maggi’s armour. Maggi came in rectangular shape. It needed to be broken into two pieces for placing it in the pot for boiling. Pots used in kitchens always come in round shape like frying pan and cookers. This broke noodles and rendered them small in length. Second, kids often do not eat the noodles immediately. Noodles are also taken to schools in tiffin. Maggi noodles if not eaten immediately tend to turn lumpy and soggy with time. They stick together which was not really a fun to eat. Maggi’s masala contributes major share to its sale. ITC leveraged its skills and created two tasty variants to give customers a choice. ITC extended its Sunfeast brand into instant noodles category by launching Yippee. Yippee was positioned as noodles for the curious kids as long noodles which can be played around with while eating. The brand communication very cleverly but subtly aimed to promote its unique points of differentiation as longer non sticky tasty noodles which are ‘play’ to eat.
A market is an evolving organic system. There are many other brands which wrestled for share in the instant noodle market. One of the innovative concepts was launched by Nissin Cup Noodles. The brand point of difference was its out of home access to noodles when kids are on a picnic or an adventure trek and need an escape from the cooking process however small.The other brands which operate at small scale are Ching’s Secret, Smith & Jones and Wai Wai noodles. Future Group competes with its Tasty Treat brand which is sold in its retail chains like Big Bazaar and Food Bazaar. These brands are pushed through the retail and compete on price positioning.
The story of noodles shows positioning is not about product because instant noodle is an instant noodle. How it is converted into a consumer relevant and competitively different concept is the question.