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Posted on Nov 20, 2009
WEB SPECIAL  

Thumbs up bovonto!

This popular South Indian soft drink shares shelf space with major cola brands. And this when it hardly advertises, says PC VINOJ KUMAR

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Photo: Prabhu K

It’s not Thums Up, the brand that people once thought would give Pepsi and Coke a run for their money. Yet Kalimark’s Bovonto is a carbonated drink that’s not only managed to survive the Coke/Pepsi onslaught—it’s even managed to expand its market in the last few years. “When I took over distribution for the Thiruvanmyur area in Chennai two years ago we supplied about 100 cases of Bovonto every week. Now, though there is demand for 500 cases, the company is unable to meet it,” says S Raja, a Chennai distributor.

Bovonto, the Kalimark (Kali Areated Water Works) flagship brand, is available in several Chennai stores, sharing shelf space with the big daddies of the cola market. Raja claims that some educational institutions in the area are promoting the drink in their canteens because it’s a domestic product and free of chemicals.

It wasn’t always like this. Till some years back Kalimark products — Bovonto, Ginger, Solo, and Trio — could be found only in the southern districts of Tamil Nadu, south of Madurai. But that’s not the case any more. In fact, it’s priced higher (Rs 50 for one-and-a-half litres, against Rs 52 for a two-litre Pepsi or Coke). That’s probably because Kalimark doesn’t have the capacity to produce large volume bottles for a lower price. What’s important, though, is that even at this slightly higher price it still sells.

Bovonto is not exactly a cola. Wikipedia describes it as a drink that is “mildly carbonated and has a tangy grape-cola taste”. It’s also not a product that likes to advertise its presence in the market: it maintains a very low profile. Raja says it is introduced to new customers through word of mouth, an anachronism in modern marketing.

Bovonto fans wonder at Kalimark’s lack of aggressive marketing. Type ‘Bovonto’ in google and you find this discussion in cyberspace as well. “If only somebody patents the drink and markets it internationally, we could be giving  Coca Cola and Pepsi a run for their money,” rants blogger Lakshmi.

R Palani Raj, proprietor of Kalimark’s Tirunelveli unit, admits that Coke and Pepsi straddle the cola market; and that this is what stops him from expanding production. While he agreed that with its existing capacity it would be difficult to meet a sudden increase in demand, he did say it was “growing steadily”.

Kalimark has manufacturing units in about eight places in Tamil Nadu — each headed by a family member and catering to a specified market. The owners are reluctant to discuss production or turnover details. “A few years ago, I was in serious debt. But now we are doing well,” is all Raj is willing to disclose.

Marketers, however, are critical of such an ostrich-like strategy. Mohan Menon, director of Chennai Business School and former director (south) of advertising agency O&M, says Kalimark will need to finetune its strategy if it wants to  grow further. “Inertia can only retard growth.  The company must start promoting some of those old fashioned marketing virtues,” he says.

Menon has a point — but is the Kalimark family listening? For while there can be no doubt that Bovonto can make it big in the ­Indian cola market, it will need to modify its marketing strategy. Then only will Bovonto be able to stand up and say,  Thumbs Up!

Writer's Email:
vinoj@tehelka.com

Posted on Nov 20, 2009

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