Brands, FMCG/CPG, Marketing

“The brand that won the world war but lost at market”​ – Complan!


When British soldiers landed on the beaches of Normandy during World War II, they were carrying more than just ammunition for firepower. They carried with them a powdered nutritional supplement called Complan which had been introduced by Glaxo.

70 years later, the world war for health drinks existence has battered 2 iconic brands in the category – Horlicks (Glaxo Smithkline) & Complan (Kraft Heinz). With latest news of Zydus Cadilla gobbling the latter.

In 1994, The H. J. Heinz Company had completed the acquisition of the family product division of Glaxo India Ltd. for about $70 million. The division has annual sales of about $50 million, with products like Complan adult nutrition drinks, Glucon beverage mixes, Farex baby foods, Glacto infant formula and Nycil talcum powders. 24 years later, the same has been offloaded to Ahmedabad based Zydus Cadila, the deal comprising Complan, Glucon D instant energy drink, Nycil talcum powder and Sampriti Ghee.

The Indian Nutrition Drinks Market

According to a Mint article published in June 2018, India has become a challenging health drinks market. Growth rates are slowing and competition is stiff. The bigger question is why are companies keen on exiting this market? One reason could be slowing growth. Malt-based drinks— Horlicks and Bournvita are in this category—have seen growth slip from 13.2% in 2014 to 8.6% in 2017, according to Euromonitor International.

Complan is measured in a separate category of supplement nutrition drinks, which includes products such as Ensure. This segment’s growth is higher than that of malt-based drinks, though smaller in size. Even here, growth has slowed, from 21.3% in 2014 to 11.5% in 2017.

Forecast compound annual growth in 2017-22 in constant prices is 3.7% for malt-based drinks and 5.6% for supplement nutrition drinks, according to Euromonitor.

The Complan India story:

1964: Entered India and marketed it through doctors as a convalescence drink

1969: Started selling as an Over The Counter (OTC) product positioned as a milk substitute targeting milk deficient regions. The then tagline being “Complan has 23 Vital Nutrients whereas Milk has 9”.

1975: Post Operation flood aimed at increased milk production, repositioned as a health beverage and an ideal nutritional supplement for growing children.

1994: Heinz bought out Complan from Glaxo. The brand’s positioning now was the ‘Drink for growing children’. 

2012: Nielsen reports Complan being dislodged from No.2 position by Glaxo’s Boost.

2013: The woes continue, as Mondelez’ bournvita pushes Complan to No.4. Delivered growth of 1%.

2014: Chess Grandmaster Vishwanathan Anand, Bollywood actor Amitabh Bachchan and South Indian actor Suriya. onboarded for brand promotion. ‘Taakat ka naya plan’- new positioning of the brand for the entire family and doing away with the kids’ picture on the packs. Discontinuation of Complan biscuits.

2015: Reduced to No.4 in India and subsequent stepping down of the India MD Seema Modi.

2017: Kraft recognizes a $49 million impairment loss due to continued declines in its nutritional beverages business in India.

2018: Zydus Cadila buys Complan 

Complan Marketing Campaigns:

The brand name Complan is derived from the product statement Complete Planned Food.

Every 90s Indian kid has woken up to the tune of “I am a Complan Boy/ Girl” featuring a young Shahid Kapoor & Ayesha Takia. These were the heydays of nutrition drinks

Complan Dadagiri – a quiz contest with former Indian cricket captain Saurav Ganguly.

The memorable “ Khaata Kya hai” campaign:

“Don’t Just be tall, Stand tall” campaign:

The brand tiedup with multiple sports celebrities like Harsha Bhogle, Sandeep Patil,R. Ashwin, Vishwanathan Anand & Ramesh Krishnan from cricket, chess & tennis from time to time sponsoring tournaments, making freebies like growth charts & dictionaries.

They even associated with Disney’s Jungle book in 2016.

Don’t know if there was an association, “I am Complan Boy” song from the 2017 hit Tamil movie Kadhal Kasakuthaiya

Reasons for decline:

Slower than the competition performance in key southern state markets. Emerging alternatives could explain slower growth, as consumers are opting for products offering added protein, meal replacement or an energy boost, according to Devchandan Mallick, an analyst at Euromonitor. Some consumers are shifting to mixing syrups such as chocolate or vanilla in their milk instead.

Additionally, pharmaceutical companies like Abbott have stepped up their presence in the consumer nutrition space. That explains why you see variants of Horlicks such as Protein, Growth and Cardia. Consumer goods companies are also now going deep into rural markets to increase sales growth. That requires investments and staying power, as these markets are different from urban ones and will take time to scale up.

Marketers have also blamed frequent brand positioning which led to confusion amongst the consumers and thus abandonment by even the loyalists in the long run. Alongside brand extensions like biscuits which didn’t work well.

A new era has been ushered with Zydus Cadila now owning the brand and backing it as a star in its portfolio.

Let’s hope this is not an obituary and Complan stands tall again!

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