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In July 2016, after four years of research and development (R & D) and ₹1.2 billion1 already invested, Strength Pharma was about to receive its license from the Food Safety and Standard Authority of India (FSSAI) for commercial production of its whey protein supplement, Muscle-RDX. Strength Pharma was an Indian healthcare company that boasted ₹7 billion sales in 2015. The company, located in Gurugram (previously known as Gurgaon), focused on developing, manufacturing, and marketing products that catered to India’s sports nutrition market. The launch of Muscle-RDX was part of a strategic initiative that would allow Strength Pharma to boost its position in the ₹7.3 billion sports nutrition market in India.
Nitish Jain, senior director of marketing for Strength Pharma, was in charge of managing the upcoming November 2016 launch of Muscle-RDX in India. Jain had spent over ten years in the sports nutrition industry, and he specialized in developing marketing strategies for new supplements. He had experience with more than five successful product launches, the most recent of which represented Strength Pharma’s most successful product launch to date. With the Muscle-RDX launch just four months away, Jain was eager to finalize his plan in anticipation of the FSSAI’s announcement of its formal approval of the product. In addition to developing initial demand forecasts for Muscle-RDX, Jain still needed to determine the optimal packaging and pricing strategies for the new sports supplement.
SPORTS NUTRITION IN INDIA
Fitness centers were opening across India in both small and large cities. Along with this trend, endurance sports events, such as duathlons, triathlons, and marathons, were emerging across the country and were no longer limited to metropolitan cities. The corresponding rise in awareness among athletes about sports supplements was unprecedented. In 2015, the industry grew by 17 percent to reach sales of ₹7.3 billion,3 and this sector was expected to continue to grow by 7 percent, year on year. Coaches and fitness instructors had significantly influenced the sales of supplements. The misconception about these supplements being steroids was slowly fading, and people began to accept these products as part of their regular diet programs.
As the number of participants increased in the sports supplement industry, the FSSAI adopted a more vigilant approach toward these products. The FSSAI became a key regulator for international brands, where counterfeit products often posed a dangerous hazard, sometimes resulting in health issues among consumers. With stringent norms put in place by the FSSAI, the once-flourishing market of counterfeit supplements had begun to erode slowly.
The prime consumers of sports supplements were athletes in the 18- to 35-year-old age group. Gym trainers and health coaches advised their clients about such products and, in doing so, removed consumers’ doubts about them. In addition to coaches’ endorsements of sports supplements, endorsement by Indian celebrities also helped the various brands to promote their products. For example, Kite Nutrition’s Hajmo Whey (Hajmo) was endorsed by Ram Abraham, a famous Bollywood movie actor.
COMPETITIVE LANDSCAPE: WHEY PROTEIN OPTIONS
Whey protein had long stood as the predominant protein product in the sports nutrition market, with a 96 percent market share; the remaining 4 percent belonged to protein bars. Neulife held the leading position in India’s sports nutrition market in 2015, with a 38 percent market share. The success of Neulife was attributed to its global brand image and the widespread distribution of its flagship brand, Optimum Nutrition.
International brands heavily dominated the Indian market. The best-selling protein supplements— whey powder and protein bars—were imported. Major international participants included Neulife.com, Paradise Nutrition Inc., and Guardian Lifecare Pvt. Ltd. When faced with competition from these powerful foreign companies, only a few Indian companies stepped up to try and capture a share of the booming sports nutrition market. One company that did so was JBM Healthcare Pvt. Ltd., with a protein-supplement called Muscle-Buzz.
Strength Pharma’s Muscle-RDX would be the first whey protein developed in India for athletes who participated in high-endurance sports and sought supplements to enhance their endurance capabilities for performing over an extended period (i.e., more than four hours). The Muscle-RDX formulation was ineffective for short-duration sports that required an extreme burst of energy, such as 100-meter sprints and shot-put throws, so this product was not recommended for athletes competing in such sports.
Muscle-RDX was a controlled, slow-release protein that supplied protein for a minimum of eight to 10 hours. It consisted of a variety of whey proteins: whey protein concentrate, whey protein isolate, soy protein, casein, whey peptides, and whey protein hydrolase. The sustained release was made possible by the ingredients’ different rates of protein release. The members of Strength Pharma’s research and development team believed that their creation was far superior to the current formulations of their Indian competitors in the whey supplement category (e.g., Muscle-Buzz and Strong-Whey).
The main negative side effects of Muscle-RDX occurred when users consumed high levels of milk products, such as cottage cheese and high-fat milk, along with the supplement. These side effects were limited to symptoms of gastrointestinal discomforts, such as bloating. The FSSAI would approve Muscle-RDX as a sports nutrition supplement but not as a regular meal supplement since the high-protein content in Muscle- RDX was necessary only for those consumers who were engaged in high-endurance sports.
Clinical trials had shown that Strength Pharma’s Muscle-RDX was useful in helping high-endurance- sports athletes improve their endurance levels. Studies found that, compared with athletes in another experimental group who took the whey supplements of competing brands, the athletes in the Muscle-RDX group gained 8 percent more lean muscle with a loss of 1 percent body fat and maintained traces of protein in their body for at least 45 minutes longer. Because Muscle-RDX had some negative gastrointestinal effects from excess milk consumption, the researchers tested this aspect with a control group whose members did not ingest any other milk product except the supplement. This group did not report any discomfort in the consumption of Muscle-RDX. On average, athletes who took Muscle-RDX maintained their performance levels within 10 percent of the clinical trial results for at least two years.
In 2014, Strength Pharma commissioned an extensive marketing survey of whey supplements.4 The survey results revealed that Indian consumers would be highly interested in a whey protein supplement that was of Indian origin, affordable, and performed similarly to its international competitors. Highlights from the survey included that 76 percent of respondents were unsatisfied with their current sports performance, 59 percent were actively seeking supplements that were legal in athletic competitions, and 42 percent were comfortable using non-food-based sources to reach their athletic goals. When respondents were asked specifically about a powder-based sports supplement that was made specifically for high-endurance sports, 17 percent said they would immediately make an appointment with their nutritionist to request a review of consumption.
In principle, Muscle-RDX would be attractive to all athletes in endurance sports, but Strength Pharma chose to focus on a primary target audience for its communication strategy—athletes who participated in high- endurance sports. The company held promotional events all over India (in Tier 1, 2, and three cities), and found that the target group existed everywhere. The aim was to capture 15 percent of the market in the first year of launch. For example, Strength Pharma’s research suggested that, on average, approximately 14,0005 people participated in endurance events in the Tier 2 city of Hyderabad. By targeting a 15 percent share of that group, the company would reach 2,100 athletes.
PACKAGING AND PRICING
Packaging and pricing for Muscle-RDX represented two critical launch-strategy decisions. Within the range of products in Strength Pharma’s sports-supplement portfolio, Muscle-RDX was one of the costlier options. Other supplements such as creatine, pre-workout supplements, and post-workout supplements cost less than ₹1,500 for a 30-day pack. With competitors selling whey in packages that ranged in size from one pound (0.45 kilograms) to 10 pounds (4.5 kilograms), the cost per unit of whey decreased as the size of the pack increased. As a result, Jain needed to give careful consideration to the package size and the pricing for Muscle-RDX.
Packaging options ranged from sachets to tubs, but the five-pound (2.26-kilogram) tub had been the best seller for years since it conveniently provided users with a one-month supply of protein supplement. The average serving size was 30 grams, which, when taken twice a day for 30 days, equaled 1,800 grams, or 1.8 kilograms. The five-pound tub held 2.26 kilograms of the supplement and hence was considered the ideal size. Although a four-pound tub held a precise 1.81 kilograms of the supplement, to pass on the higher-quantity/lower-variable cost advantage and to stay on par with competitors, the five-pound (2.26- kilogram) tub appeared to be a better option for the company.
Even as trial packs, the one- and two-pound (0.45-kilogram and 0.9-kilogram) packs would be inappropriate for the initial phase since they did not contain a three–week supply, which the clinical trials had shown was the minimum period for Muscle-RDX to show improvements in athletes. The concern with this small package size was that athletes might purchase the one-pound (0.45-kilogram) or the two-pound (0.9- kilogram) pack and notice minimal results or no results at all, which could lead to an initial perception of the product being ineffective and of poor quality. This result would prompt the user to switch to a competitor’s product, in turn forcing the loss of future sales of Muscle-RDX.
For the initial launch, the five-pound (2.26-kilogram) tub was the only package made available since the smaller packs would have prevented the new adopters from consuming Muscle-RDX for three weeks and, hence, may have failed to garner repeat purchases due to the apparent lack of visible results. As Jain pointed out:
Standards for sports nutrition in the industry ranged from a one-week supply to a two-month supply. Depending on the pricing, I thought a two-month price tag would have been out of the reach of many individuals to pay in the beginning. We just needed to find the right balance between the customers’ ability to purchase and the likelihood they would complete the three weeks of supplementation.
Jain first looked into the options in the current sports-nutrition whey marketplace to find pricing benchmarks (see Exhibit 1). The closest comparable whey protein supplement was Hajmo, the most affordable whey-based supplement from Kite Nutrition in India, manufactured in and imported from the United States by Paradise Nutrition. Retail pricing for a month’s supply (i.e., the five-pound, or 2.26- kilogram, a tub containing 80 servings and specifying 25 grams of protein per serving) had a maximum retail price of ₹5,499. Online sellers offered some discount over the maximum retail price, selling the product for ₹4,800–₹5,100. Prices for other whey supplements ranged from ₹3,900 to ₹7,600 for a five-pound (2.26- kilogram) tub. This range in price for the same amount of whey supplement was related to the products’ ingredients. A basic whey concentrate, if presented in a higher ratio, would be much less expensive than the highly refined whey present in a hydrolase form, which was instantly absorbed into the bloodstream.
Jain developed three pricing models to help decide on the appropriate price for the supplement (see Exhibit 2). The first model used Hajmo as a benchmark and priced Muscle-RDX at a discount to the competitor’s product. Jain reasoned that since Hajmo was an international version of similar composition to Muscle- RDX, Indian buyers would expect to pay less compared with imported brands that incurred much more taxation. Under this model, Jain decided that a four-week supply of the five-pound (2.26-kilogram) tub should retail at ₹4,500.
The second model was based on a comparison of the margins for a variety of other Strength Pharma supplements. Strength Pharma’s average gross margin for a supplement was approximately 35 percent. Using this logic, the retail price for Muscle-RDX would be ₹5,400 for a five-pound (2.26-kilogram) tub.
A third pricing option focused on the value to consumers who consumed at least a five-pound (2.26- kilogram) tub. Knowing that the formulation of Muscle-RDX was superior to other supplements, the customer would enjoy significant cost savings, which would arise from a reduction in the purchase price of additional supplements. (Additional supplements were purchased to supplement the whey protein.) An estimated saving in cost would range from ₹1,800 to ₹2,600 for a single athlete in a month. Keeping these figures in mind, Jain determined his third pricing option, which resulted in a retail price of ₹6,000 for a five-pound (2.26-kilogram) tub. A pricing study conducted with respondents from the ideal target consumer market found that this price would be acceptable; however, when tested across market segments in different tier cities, the price was found to be above consumers’ willingness to pay.
In the process of assessing different pricing options, Jain had gathered information about certain other costs involved with Muscle-RDX. The fixed yearly cost associated with the manufacturing of the supplement and other overhead costs came to approximately ₹120 million, and the preliminary marketing budget was approximately ₹100 million. Jain also included the ₹1.2 billion R & D cost for Muscle-RDX, and the company’s chief marketing officer, Ravish Singh, informed Jain that Strength Pharma wanted to attain a minimum 100 percent return on investment within five years of the new product’s launch.
Both Singh and Jain were confident that sales of Muscle-RDX would quickly take off once health coaches and high-endurance athletes understood the value proposition of the new supplement. Singh expected Jain to use his experience with past product launches, along with the marketing research conducted by Strength Pharma, to provide guidance on expected unit volumes for Muscle-RDX in the first five years of sales.
Jain decided to project demand using three different approaches, which were based on varying assumptions of how potential users would respond to Muscle-RDX. The first approach forecasted demand by looking at the number of athletes in India and narrowing the group to athletes who participated in high-endurance sports (37 percent of all athletes, as per the Strength Pharma study). He felt this pool should be narrowed to focus on the 25 percent of athletes who were comfortable with sports supplements (see Exhibits 3 and 4). Jain’s experience had taught him that Muscle-RDX was likely to capture 15 percent of these consumers in the first year, with 8 percent growth per year. Also, test trials found that at least 72 percent of first-time users would purchase a second tub, and 55 percent of first-time users would continue buying Muscle- RDX for a year.
In his second approach, Jain developed a more aggressive forecast, using the results from the Strength Pharma survey that specifically addressed consumer interest in a whey protein-based supplement for high- endurance sports. Again, as a starting point, Jain chose the number of high-endurance-sport athletes in India, but he concentrated the data point on the assumption that 18 percent of the respondents were ready to switch immediately to Muscle-RDX. He believed that the earlier developed penetration guidelines (which increased by 8 percent per year) and the 72 per cent/55 per cent model for repeat purchases would also apply.
In his third approach to forecasting, Jain focused on the ideal target consumer: athletes competing in high- endurance sports and residing in urban India (all runners in Tier 1 and two cities and 60 percent of all cyclists in India), older than 18 years of age, and with no major illness. Strength Pharma expected a higher penetration by Muscle-RDX in this ideal target group than in the overall athlete population. Jain estimated that Muscle-RDX would capture 25 percent of this target market in the first year, with an 8 percent increase in shares each year. He felt the 72 per cent/55 per cent model for repeat purchase would also apply.
Jain knew that his pricing and packaging decisions would have a direct impact on sales forecasts. The different pieces of information began to reveal a broad overview of a strategy for Muscle-RDX, and Jain wanted to carefully analyze each piece of information to provide the best recommendation to Singh.
Jain sat at his desk, surrounded by all the notes and data he had managed to collect, knowing that he needed to make several critical decisions before Muscle-RDX was launched. First, he needed to decide on the optimal product size. Further, he needed to determine which pricing model to recommend. He had worked out three models, but he still needed to assess the impact on the profitability of each one before making a recommendation. To accomplish this task, Jain first are necessary to establish the initial demand forecasts for the product in its first five years and ensure that the pricing recommendation met the company’s standard for return on investment.
EXHIBIT 1: COMPETITORS’ PRICING IN THE INDIAN SPORTS NUTRITION MARKET
|Option||Brand||Approximate retail price (in ₹)for 5 lb. tub|
|Performance Whey||Optimum Nutrition||4,400 (for 4 lb. tub)|
|Gold Whey||Optimum Nutrition||6,200|
|ISO Whey||Ultimate Nutrition||7,500|
|Hydro Whey||Optimum Nutrition||7,100|
|Whey||Six Pack Nutrition (Indian brand)||4,800|
|Whey Pro||Universal Nutrition||5,400|
EXHIBIT 2: PRICING OPTIONS FOR STRENGTH PHARMA’S 5-POUND TUB OF MUSCLE-RDX
(ALL FIGURES IN ₹)
|Option 1||Option 2||Option 3|
|Retail gross margin||900||1,080||1,200|
|Manufacturer gross margin||680||1,400||1,880|
EXHIBIT 3: DISTRIBUTION OF TARGET POPULATION OF RUNNERS (BY CITY)
|Tier||Total no. of event participants||Average no. of participants from the local vicinity (60% of total)||No. of cities||Total runners (average no. of runners ×no. of cities)||Prospective customers (15%)||Examples|
|1||37,000||22,200||6||133,200||19,980||Bangalore, Chennai, Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Gurgaon|
|2||14,000||8,400||17||142,800||21,420||Vadodara, Hyderabad, Pune|
|3||2,000||1,200||60||72,000||10,800||Lucknow, Rajkot, Surat, Darjeeling|
EXHIBIT 4: DISTRIBUTION OF TARGET POPULATION OF CYCLISTS (BY EVENT TYPE)
Total no. of Events
Average no. of Participants
Prospective Customers (15%)(Avg. no. of Participants × no. of Events)Triathlons/Duathlons146008,4001,260Racing5020010,0001,500Randonneur1550750113