Look who’s hopped on to the great brand wagon!

SHRINIDHI HANDE writes from Madras: We are already used to Australian apples, Californian grapes and other more exotic fruits from foreign shores sporting a small, slick sticker, branding themselves against others. Buying them and being seen to be buying them has become a small matter of status and prestige.

Would we react the same way to fruits grown in our midst?

Roadside sellers on the outskirts of Pondicherry have started slapping a sticker on tender coconuts and toddy palms that they sell on ECR (East Coast Road). The label, in Tamil, advertisers the brand name of the coconut, and has empty slots for date, weight, and price.

That set me thinking: Can we trust such labels? Is this smart marketing to woo a new class of consumers—or just stupid imitation?

I can understand that if we do some kind of processing (cleaning, purification, packaging, preservation, etc) on a food item, to some extent we can justify branding them (for example, buttermilk). But just because you grew it in your own farm, with your preferred choice of fertilisers, plucked it from the tree, and brought it to the market (read roadside), can you justify affixing a sticker on a natural product and calling it “my brand”?

Is branding tender coconuts suppose to evoke “instant recall”? Will it bring a loyal set of consumers who go around looking for the same brand whereever they go?

Does it bring additional value to a consumer?

The Greatest Bottler up above doesn’t specify an expiry date for his products—so what date are they planning to mention there? Date of plucking from the tree? Or “best-before” date? Anyone with any experience in downing tender coconuts will be able to judge them by looking at the visible freshness of the fruit. (If there’re lots of wrinkles and dark spots on the surface, then it is over ripe.)

Ergo: dates don’t make much sense.

Ditto the weight of the coconut.

For most of the other fruits, measuring by weight makes sense but in the case of tender coconut, it is an irrelevant parameter. I don’t think there’s any mathematical relationship between the weight of the unit and quantity of water inside.

A visibly huge and heavy coconut can have an equally thicker shell and very little quantity of liquid inside while a small-sized one can be full of fresh and tasty water. So trying to reach at some conclusion based on weight would again fail.

In fact, it is extremely tough to predict the taste and quantity of tender coconut and coconut gravy. A vendor usually asks if you prefer to have only water or water with kernel (coconut meat). But even seasoned vendors cannot assure you that his pick will be 100% accurate, though by sheer experience he might manage to pick an appropriate one.

You could argue similarly for Toddy Apple.

The only advantage of branding, if any, is that it might convince certain customers (probably techies and international tourists, provided they are not much familiar with the fundamentals of tender coconuts) to believe they are going to have something of a better quality.

Photograph: Shrinidhi Hande

Cross-posted on churumuri

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