The year 2020 has been a great teacher and an equally great leveller. To say that life has changed dramatically in 2020 because of Covid would be an understatement. Covid has completely transformed the way we live and work. This time, last year, had somebody asked me my projections for 2020, I would have surely made a highly optimistic projection. That optimism was backed by the fact that we were growing at a strong pace and ahead of the industry despite the macro-economic headwinds. But then Covid happened.
I firmly believe that every crisis teaches you a life lesson and is also an opportunity that should not be wasted. While it did come as a big shock initially, I would say we were also quick in responding to the emerging situation. Our top-most priority was ensuring the health and well-being of our employees, vendors and business associates; this is a core value for us.
The crisis was also an opportunity for introspection and to challenge some of the established norms or ways of working. I think Covid taught us the need to remain fluid and agile. We established an extended management committee team that covered functions like Operations, Sales, Marketing and R&D. We sat together online and created, conceptualised and executed strategies which included rethinking portfolio approach, rethinking our go-to-market approach, rethinking our entire organisational transformation. This is how we were able to launch over 50 new products and extensive media campaigns during the lockdown period. It was a Blitzkrieg of sorts by the company.
When it comes to innovation, speed is the keyword. Our flexibility, agility, and capacity to make rapid choice was decisive in the success of the operation.
Technology was a big enabler. During the Covid-induced lockdown period when physical order-booking had become difficult, we leveraged technology to make the process simpler and seamless for our partners. We rolled out a mobile app for retailers, commenced order-booking on WhatsApp and activated our call centre to take orders from retail outlets across the country. These initiatives continue even today and are a part of our GTM strategy now.
We have discovered our mettle, courage and resilience as a team, the extent of which was unheard of in the pre-Covid times. This black swan event has been an inflection point to bring about changes and transformation in the organisation. Covid, in fact, has acted as a catalyst for change. We have become much more agile, nimble footed and quick in our execution than earlier – something which we were struggling with.
In the process, we have completely changed our organisational culture… We have also improved our risk-taking ability, moving from a fearful to a fearless attitude.
In these unprecedented times of the Corona pandemic, Rural India offered that much-needed beacon of hope. And Bharat will continue to be the big growth engine in the coming year too. The mass reverse migration of labour from big cities to villages following the nationwide lockdown, coupled with good Monsoon and a plethora of fiscal stimuli offered by the government resulted in a marked uptick. For Dabur, rural has always been key growth driver, and this is a result of our strategy investing ahead of the curve in expanding our rural footprint. Over the past one year, we have grown our rural network from 44,000 villages in March 2019 to a little over 52,000 in March. We will now take it up to 60,000 villages by the end of 2020-21.
Alongside, we are expanding our product basket in the rural market by way of newer affordable packs across categories to feed these markets and push demand growth. Similar initiatives will continue in the coming year, besides higher investments in consumer activations in rural India to better reach out to consumers in the hinterland, giving them an opportunity to touch, feel and experience our products.
In the post-Covid world, e-commerce is the big growth engine for urban India. With the fear of Covid infections prevailing, e-commerce emerged as the most-preferred contactless method of making purchases among consumers. The result: Our e-commerce business grew by almost 3 times to gain a saliency of 6 per cent of turnover, up from just 2 a year ago. In the normal course of time, this growth would have taken 2-3 years.
We intend to drive our business by investing aggressively in our brands, focussing on health and hygiene, driving innovation, broadening our play in select segments, leveraging the new-age channels of e-commerce, Cash & Carry and Modern Trade, besides expanding and enhancing the efficiency of our distribution network.
The writer is CEO of Dabur India