Conversation with Mr. P Chandra Shekhara Reddy, Vice President Sales & Marketing, Freedom Healthy Cooking Oils

1)Brief us about your cooking oil segment & its market share.

‘Freedom’ is the Flagship brand of Gemini Edibles and Fats India Pvt. Ltd. Freedom Refined Sunflower Oil was launched in April 2010 in Andhra Pradesh and Odisha. It is non- sticky, non-greasy cooking oil, that enables to cook more with less oil. It is fortified with vitamin A, D& E.  It is a leading brand of Sunflower oil and currently ranks No. 1 by market share in the Sunflower Oil category in Telangana, Andhra Pradesh & Odisha.(Source: Q1 20 Report AC Nielsen)

There are different types of oils Rice bran oil, Sunflower oil, Groundnut oil, Mustard Oil will have a balanced profile in health

Freedom Rice bran oil – Goodness of Oryzanol, Good for Heart. It is the only oil that has 10000+ppm Oryzanol & reduces bad cholesterol (LDL) & maintains good cholesterol (HDL). The Rice Bran oil contains Squalene that improves skin tone & delays wrinkle formation. The oil also contains natural antioxidants that control free radicals and improve immunity.

Freedom Groundnut Oil – Freedom Groundnut oil is perfect oil for taste & Health. It is rice in Phytosterols & Vitamin E, boosts the immune system , Balances fatty acids, optimises cholesterol levels & perfectly used for pickles & daily uses.

Freedom Mustard Oil – Freedom Mustard oil is made with the finest graded mustards. It is rich in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats that help in balancing cholesterol in the body.

2)What are the current trends you see in the Indian oil industry, as per the healthy cooking is concerned?

Edible oil is an essential commodity, used for every-day cooking in households and all F&B outlets. People have different preferences for edible oils, governed by their preferences for health, flavor, aroma, etc. In Southern India, the preferred edible oil is Sunflower besides specific preference for Mustard, Groundnut, and Coconut oils, where-as commercial outlets prefer Palmolien Oil. Soyabean Oil is preferred in North India. 

Consumer preferences drive the edible oils market just like any other market, and now the consumer wants healthier oils to cook with. Soft oils have always been more popular with households, and palm oil with the food businesses and food service outlets, but the latter has been severely hit due to COVID-19 hence a drop, whereas conversely many people were staying home now and cooking at home so there was an increase in demand for healthier oils. Even consumers from the lower income bracket who traditionally go for palm oil due to the cheaper price are keen to shift to healthier oils once their incomes can afford it – so the trend for healthier oils is here in India, and likely to grow depending on the state. We also produce rice bran, mustard seed and groundnut oils. The healthier benefits of these soft oils are for cholesterol – it’s all very much about balancing cholesterol levels in the body.

3)What are the major challenges you faced selling your products during COVID-19 and how you managed the overall sales activities?

On average, the per-capita consumption of edible oil in India is about 15-16 litres/Year almost 1.25 litres per person per month. This consumption is irrespective of the environmental factors. Therefore, even during the COVID – 19 pandemic, the demand for edible oils got effected only marginally. However, a significant shift was observed in the edible oil consumption pattern, particularly in the geographies that we operate in. 

The edible oils are consumed primarily by these three segments:
1.Hotels / Restaurant / Events & Catering Institutions (HoReCa Segment) – We have seen the demand in this segment gradually pick-up since the unlock stages began in June and by September of 2020; we could see more demand within HoReCa for edible oil.

2.Industry demand (Bakery & Snacks) – it had started getting normal post 1st week of April 2020 both these segments form the commercial side of edible oil consumption. There was a drop in demand (primarily Palm Oil) as all hotels, the restaurants were closed. Also, there is no demand for catering and weddings, etc. as they are not allowed/ allowed with restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown. Some industries like bread & bakery products etc. are functioning normally.

3.Home segment – This sector has seen an increase in demand by 15% due to the lockdown. This increase in demand is essentially triggered by the fact that people prefer to cook at home. The dine-out option is restricted, and food home deliveries are restricted, encouraging people to cook at home. This has triggered increased demand for Sunflower Oil in the markets we operate in. In AP, Karnataka, Telangana & Odisha Freedom Refined Sunflower oil is the most preferred edible oil used at home. In Odisha, both oils Mustard and Sunflower oil are consumed at home. Hence, Sunflower demand has gone up. 

As 90% of hotels & restaurants use only palm oil, so palm oil sales are down. We had seen an over-all demand for edible oils drop by 10-15% during COVID-19 lockdown. It is gradually recovering now.

Safety and Hygiene of Freedom Healthy Cooking Oils has been the focus for the brand since its launch. We follow a very stringent Hygiene and Quality Control mechanism at Freedom. Each batch of oil undergoes 24 specified tests and 100 periodic tests to ensure the quality. As we navigate this new normal, organizations are forced to evaluate their business processes and adopt new technologies for production, packing, distribution, monitoring, and control. We set up a new fully automated plant at Kakinada which requires minimalistic manpower, right from sourcing oils for refining, monitored refining, packing for dispatch.

This lockdown has witnessed the emergence of the requirement for less contact manufacturing and distribution processes. At ‘Freedom’ even, the bottles are manufactured in- house for packaging. Labour is only required during the shipping of products. This helped us during the COVID-19 lockdown. Even the internal sales and billing monitoring system is completely automated. The automation helps us keep ourselves updated about the stock movement across different categories of retailers and the efforts of the sales force.

4)Now the consumers are looking into healthier and immunity boosting products. In this context do you have any recently launched product or are you planning any new product?

Consumers are growing health conscious, more concerned about the health impact of all the ingredients that are used for cooking. Fats, in appropriate small quantities, are just as essential for our well-being like proteins, starch and minerals. Edible oil forms an essential part of the food being cooked and required for the body. ‘Freedom’ has always focused on bringing for the customers edible oils which are healthy, and cook tasty food using less oil. Freedom Refined Sunflower oil is fortified with essential vitamins A, D & E. It is not sticky, non-greasy, with a balanced HDL/LDL profile making it healthy for the heart. The Oil helps you cook more in less oil, the same has been communicated in our messaging over a period of time using innovative communication.


5)Brief us about your promotional campaigns and also how you are utilizing the ecommerce platforms to increase the sales volume.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, we conducted special series Freedom Food-Shala, a Facebook live - back to- basics cookery class. The series had many sessions during the lockdown. The initiative helped provide a platform for all to learn cooking of day-to-day Indian Cuisine from the renowned Chef along with useful tips for the kitchen to help the customers during the lockdown. To further improve our consumer-connect, we have also introduced #FreedomCelebrityKitchen, an initiative where popular TV actors cook their favourite dishes and the same was posted on our social media handles. 

As the consumers focus was also on building immunity on food, we introduced Freedom Healthy Cooking Oils #ImmunitybeginsintheKitchen campaign highlighting the usefulness of day-to-day ingredients available in the kitchen & boosting their immunity. The purpose of the campaign was to encourage people use these day – to day ingredients and build their immunity to come back the pandemic 

For our latest advertising campaign, we were joined by Popular Film Actor Yash is famously known for K.G.F Chapter 1 & 2 and his wife Radhika as their brand ambassadors. As a part of the engagement, Yash & Radhika will be working on various amplifications across Freedom’s social and media platforms and spread the message of healthy and guilt-free eating. With this association, Freedom is keen on connecting with people and communicate the benefits of healthy eating during present times. The campaign with Yash is aimed at creating an impact in the minds of consumers about Freedom Refined Sunflower Oil highlighting the promise of lower oil absorption & Guilt-free indulgence. 

The lockdown helped Freedom’s sales on different e-commerce platform grow from X% in FY20 to Y% in Q1 of FY21. All through the lockdown, retailers were not accessible or open and hence we tried out a variety of delivery modes and collaboration with food aggregators who were permitted to deliver our products. Online food-ordering apps like Swiggy and Zomato also served as key platforms to deliver and essential goods to consumers during the tough period of the lockdown.

Even post the lockdown, the demand on e-commerce channels has only grown, even for essential goods. This gives us incentive to further invest in them to help our products in safely reaching our customers. We will be scaling up our direct-to-consumer platform as sales have been increasing with every passing month. 

6)How do you see the competition of your products with that of other brands in this category and what are your USP?

India has a diverse culture when it comes to food; different types of oils are used for cooking across India. Consistency in quality, safety and hygiene are critically differentiated, for any brand in the era of COVID-19. We have also set up a world class state-of-art refinery, using best of global technology at Kakinada. The entire refining process and packaging is automated and requires minimal human intervention.

Being in the industry for over 2 decades and as a part of Sinarmas group, we have an excellent global network for sourcing the best quality of raw material for processing. Our portfolio of Freedom Healthy cooking oils has rice bran oil, which is known for its high levels of bio-active phytochemicals, such as oryzanol, tocopherols and sterols. Freedom physically refined rice bran oil is extracted using a novel physical refining process. The process helps retain more than 80% of these micro-nutrients like 10000+ ppm of oryzanol per 100mg in the end product. Therefore, it has the right quantity of oryzanol to help the customers eat healthy and live healthy. We also have sunflower oil, which is fortified with Vitamin A, D & E, Groundnut oil, Mustard Oil with a balanced profile for health.

7)What are your future plans for expansion?

GEF India is presently operating on 100% capacity utilization. We commissioned our state-of-the-art plant in Kakinada which is built over 12 acres. It is the largest private sector investment in Kakinada. The plant is designed and assembled by deft professionals using superlative quality components and advanced engineering concepts like the use of robotics, along with an integrated packaging setup. The manufacturing unit has a capacity of 1200 MT per day refining of Sunflower Oil and Palm Oil. This takes our total installed capacity to 2350 MT per day. The facility will help us support the increased demand for Freedom, streamline the distribution.

We are exploring the opportunities to set up another new refinery on the east cost of India, which are going to increase our capacity of producing Freedom Healthy Cooking Oil. We are ready for our continuous transformation towards automation & will keep our consumers assured of the safe, hygienic and contact-less practices that prioritise their health over anything else