MUMBAI: ITC, the Indian conglomerate, intends to expand its presence in packaged food and beverages – with edible oil, health foods, and value-added dairy products earmarked as possible categories – in a move that will see it challenging market leaders Nestlé and Britannia.

"We are constantly evaluating different categories, and our R&D team is working on multiple products that would be superior and differentiated," Hemant Malik, head of the ITC Foods Division, told the Economic Times. "A lot of back-end exploratory work is going on,"

Some 40 new products are planned for the coming year, including both variants and new products, he added.

Among those will be regional flavours of juice for its B Natural brand, through which ITC is aiming to capture up to 20% of the country's juice market.

"The challenge for us is looking at local Indian fruits and making it more accessible to the rest of the country," Malik told Mint, adding that he expected growth in the juice market would come from both the number of consumers growing and existing consumers buying more.

Pricing is a key consideration in this sector where B Natural is currently at a premium to the market leaders, Tropicana, from PepsiCo, and Real, from Dabur, and has more in common with niche brands such as Raw Pressery and Paper Boat.

"Most (1 litre tetra pack) juices are (priced) at Rs140-145," Malik noted. The juice market also has nectars – fruit-based juices that contain other ingredients such as sugar – priced at Rs99 "and they have stayed at that price now for the last couple of years".

"For the longest time, there was a mindset of 'should we cross the Rs99 mark?'," he said. "If you have a distinctive proposition, then it can be done."

B Natural's pricing ranges from Rs20 for 200ml packs to Rs199 for a 1 litre pack of pomegranate juice as the brand aims to attract consumers in both the mass and premium segments.

Malik remains puzzled by some regional consumption patterns. "Penetration of juice is much lower in the south and we don't understand why," he said.

"Fresh fruit consumption is a lot higher in south India than here in (north) India. I would say a lot more growth (in distribution) is in the south region right now."

Data sourced from Economic Times, Mint; additional content by WARC staff