Fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) major ITC Ltd on Wednesday said it was expanding its portfolio and distribution network for its frozen foods brand ITC Master Chef.

In the last two months, the Kolkata-based conglomerate has launched many products under the ITC Master Chef brand, with distribution networks across 60 cities. The products are available in retail stores, hotels, restaurants and banquets.

ITC had forayed into the Rs7,400-crore frozen foods market in 2017 with raw prawns. In 2018, it added 10 new products including fries, tikki and pizza pockets, but on a pilot basis, while fine-tuning its cold-chain and supply chain for the category.

Over the last 12-18 months the company was busy “putting together a supply chain, and understanding the dynamics of the category," said Sachid Madan, chief executive, frozen snacks, fruits and vegetables, ITC Ltd. In the last two months, the company added seven new variants to its retail or consumer range.

The focus, now, added Madan, is on expanding the penetration of the category by making it widely available to consumers and to the food services segment including restaurants, cafes and pubs across the country including tier 2 and tier 3 cities.

The company has 17 SKUs including Mumbai Vada Pop, Achari Beetroot Kebab, Chicken Galauti, that are currently being retailed through stores in 11 cities in India. In all, its frozen foods range has 50 variants that are largely sold to food services clients.

“The idea was to test the market a little bit. The whole hog started about 1-2 months ago," Madan said.

The company’s push to ramp up distribution of its frozen foods brand comes as the cigarettes-to-notebooks company is hoping to reduce its dependance on the highly regulated cigarettes market.

The company has set an ambitious target to generate sales of 1 lakh crore in fast-moving consumer goods by 2030.

As a result, ITC has been releasing more products in the market. In 2018-19, ITC launched over 50 new FMCG products, across categories such as foods, personal care, education and stationery products, agarbatti and matches, the company said in its annual report. For the year ended March 2019, ITC’s fast moving consumer goods business stood at Rs12,505 crore.

However, the market for in-home consumption of frozen foods products is still limited. Madan added that generating consumer trial and getting consumers to buy these more repeatedly is a challenge.

“Perception among consumers is that it is not as good as fresh, and it lacks nutrition and it is not healthy and tasty and people don’t even want to try it. It is a category they are not interested in. We want to explode the category. We are doing that by offering new variants, going beyond potatoes," he said.

The company is now generating trials at retail stores and large office complexes.

In a recent study done on India’s snacking market, packaged foods company Mondelez said that snacks are increasingly being swapped for meals in India making a case for launching more packaged snacks here.

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