Unbeknownst to you, there is a war brewing. It is being played out at mom and pop stores, on e-commerce platforms and in supermarkets. But it is quiet and discreet. Those fortifying their bunkers don’t want you to know about it. Not yet. But last month, this skirmish spilled into the public domain when in Mumbai’s western suburb, on a particularly troublesome and gridlocked stretch of the highway, stood a huge billboard. It asked Real (Dabur) and Tropicana (PepsiCo India) to abandon concentrate and join it in giving the customer real fruit in a juice box. The ad was by B Natural. A company acquired three years ago by ITC in its effort to strengthen its non-tobacco portfolio.

What followed was a comical exchange of one-upmanship. All three exchanged barbs at each other primarily through business dailies. There was talk about taking things to court but nothing materialised.

The juice war, which has been brewing for years, has finally been declared. It is important to focus on this war particularly because of who fights it. ITC (revenue of Rs 55,000 crore as of March 2017 or $8 billion), which needs to strengthen its non-tobacco portfolio as sales of its core product slow down. Pepsico (revenue Rs 6,540 crore as of March 2017 or $970 million) which has seen its carbonated beverage portfolio take a hit as urban youth move away and Dabur (revenue of Rs 5,357 crore or $794 million), the traditional big boy in the food and beverages category. Oh, and there is one more. Paperboat.

Seven-year-old Paperboat is a Bengaluru-based startup primarily known for its niche ethnic juices. If you’ve missed them on the shelves, the company sources concentrates that are rarely used, such as Aam Panna (sour mango), Kokam (berry) or Jamun (black plum). It pours them into pouches and not tetra packs. At least, not at first. While the likes of Real and Tropicana sell juices at Rs 20 (~$0.3) for 200ml, Paperboat sells it at Rs 35 ($0.50) for 250ml. Paperboat differentiates itself from the crowd by being “eccentric” in its flavours, which means, so far, it has been shunning the likes of apple and mixed fruit juice. Until 2017, it wanted to be premium, part of the elite and wanted to build a business within that.

Paperboat is, more or less, quietly distancing itself from its original thought process. It doesn’t want to be just a premium juice company anymore. It wants more. It wants to be part of the $2.2 billion packaged juice market.

The market is crowded and has a lot of competitors hawking their wares. According to strategic market research company Euromonitor, 1.8 billion litres of juice in one form or another was sold in 2017. The sector, in terms of volume sold, is expected to grow by 8% till 2022.

AUTHOR

Patanjali Pahwa

Patanjali has spent over seven years in journalism. He last worked at Business Standard as Principal Correspondent, where he wrote on startups, e-commerce companies and venture capital. He has worked at an array of institutions, which include Forbes India, Caravan and Outlook Business. He is a Mumbaikar, born and brought up. Patanjali did his BSc in IT from Mumbai University and then got his journalism degree from IIJNM in Bangalore. He is enamoured by Ernest Hemingway and Tom Waits and may try to sneak in references to them in his stories.

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