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Sanjiv Puri’s ‘Next’ strategy drives ITC into future-ready lane with smart innovation in FMCG, Hotels, Agri




 Diversified consumer goods conglomerate ITC appears to be closing in on turning its fast-moving-consumer-goods (FMCG), agriculture and hotel segments as its main growth drivers, with chairman Sanjiv Puri shepherding the ‘Next’ strategy for its next horizon of growth through bold acquisitions, and disruptive digital innovation.

This new strategy is aimed at ensuring that the ITC remains future-oriented, consumer-centric, and nimble to create enduring value for stakeholders, something that the financial results are mirroring with FMCG and agriculture contributing nearly half of its total revenues in the April-June quarter.

The FMCG segment has been driven by higher demand for hygiene products, fragrances, spices, snacks, agarbattis and dairy products, with Salvon standing out as a growth engine of sorts.

ITC acquired Savlon from Johnson & Johnson in 2015, foraying into the disinfectant and antiseptic products market. Savlon crossed Rs 1,200 crore in consumer spends in 2020-21, growing more than 13 times since acquisition, making it the largest brand in the company’s personal care products portfolio, overtaking Vivel.

ITC has launched over 120 new products over the last one year, with product innovations in hygiene, nutrition and convenience segments. These include Savlon’s foray into surface and cloth disinfectant sprays, ‘neem’ based cleaning solutions Nimwash and Nimeasy, convenience-focused products such as ITC Master Chef Frozen Snacks, and scale up nascent categories and products such like B Natural juices, Fabelle chocolates amongst others.

In four years from 2016-17 to 2020-21, the FMCG segment’s earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) margins have improved by 640 bps.

FMCG on fast lane

The company today is one of the largest incubators of world-class Indian brands. ITC FMCG business has garnered consumer spends of over Rs 22,000 crore and delighting more than 150 million households.

Scaling up and fortification of existing growth platforms consisting of megabrands is an essential cog in the wheel of ITC’s next strategy. The company has expanded its purpose-led brands like Savlon, Aashirvaad, and Sunfeast into adjacent categories with remarkable success. These brands have immense headroom to grow given the relatively lower household penetration and rising per capita income. ITC is exploring more value accretive inorganic opportunities as an additional pillar of growth.

Puri’s strategy to make ITC future-ready manifests in Life Sciences and Technology Centre (LSTC). LSTC helped ITC to launch 120 products amid the pandemic to meet emerging preferences. Towards this goal, the company has launched 9 state-of-the-art integrated consumer goods manufacturing facilities (ICML) to create structural advantages and drive enhanced competitiveness is also worth mentioning.

The new-age consumer is a digital native with extensive engagement in social and e-commerce platforms. Recognizing this, ITC is identifying emerging trends in real-time through its Marketing Command Centres called ‘Sixth Sense’ to speedily launch differentiated products as also creatively engage with consumers.

Under the ‘Next’ strategy, Puri has clearly sought to explore opportunities to craft disruptive business models anchored at the intersection of digital and sustainability. It is deploying a smart ecosystem with an integrated real-time operations platform across the organization to enable next-generation supply chains and smart manufacturing with digitally enabled factories.

The company has adopted multi-dimensional digital interventions for smart sourcing, smart logistics across businesses, and Industry 4.0 implementation in manufacturing. This is in addition to customized apps to facilitate digital ordering and trade engagement.

It has fast-tracked its journey in e-commerce, to meet the growing preference for ‘contactless shopping’. This is besides strengthening the direct-to-consumer platform, ‘ITC e-Store’ to reach consumers in newer geographies and introducing more ‘digital first’ brands to leverage the growing e-commerce space.

ITC under Puri’s stewardship is unwavering in its resolve to build a formidable FMCG business. Revenues from its FMCG business during the quarter stood at Rs 3726 crore, accounting for 25 per cent of the quarterly revenues. The agriculture segment turned in revenues of Rs 4,091 crore, accounting for 28 per cent of the company’s total quarterly revenues of Rs 14,649 crore before netting out inter-segment revenues of Rs 1,764 crore.

Big data, AI in agri

ITC’s decades-old agri business, powered by the e-choupal network, also appears to be coming of age.

Once the legal framework is in place that allows farmers to sell their produce outside their areas of cultivation, there is a clear opportunity in agri-business, similar to what ITC e-choupal in India and Pinduoduo in China have done successfully with scale.

Both are examples of using big data, technology network and artificial intelligence (AI) in farming to offer a better deal to peasants, make agriculture a rewarding vocation and bring them closer to the global markets by building digital platforms linking retailers with products consumers.

These will enable aggregation from farmers, incentivise creation of warehousing networks along highways, village storage schemes and the digitised app-based system for direct marketing by farmers, a model that ITC e-choupal has broadly demonstrated over the years.

Baareh Mahine Hariyali, an ITC e-Choupal initiative, which has combined multiple initiatives of cropping intensity (wheat, rice and summer moong), productivity enhancement and market linkages.

As reported by ITC, over 2 lakh farmers have already benefited from the interventions under the ‘Baareh MahineHariyali’ programme — over 35,000 farmers who have adopted the package of practices reported doubling of income and those who have implemented the programme partially reported increase in their incomes by 30 per cent to 75 per cent.

ITC, under Puri, is now implementing e-Choupal 4.0 at scale to bring the benefits of the digital revolution to agriculture. Envisaged as a ‘phygital’ system, the e-Choupal 4.0 is designed as a crop agnostic integrated solution framework that will synergistically aggregate technologies like remote sensing, precision farming, drone-based services, quality assaying and e-marketplace.

ITC e-Choupal 4.0 aims to strengthen agricultural entrepreneurship and agri-tech startups through agri services aggregator models, thereby empowering farmers with next generation agricultural practices. The aim of the model is to sharpen personalisation of agri services driven by data and analytics.

This may well be the right time for ITC’s integrated agribusiness enterprises with significant presence across crop development, procurement, supply chain, processing and marketing to decisively shift gears through a tech-driven matrix mounted on apps, blockchain, warehousing, AI and big data.

With the launch of Super App ‘ITC-MAARS’ that will bring the next phase of transformation in its agri-business and support the e-choupal through strength and scale under Puri.

Hotels and more

ITC’s hotel business has acquired scale and market standing over time. It is now set for a turnaround with the management decision to pursue asset right strategy while simultaneously leveraging ITC’s world-class properties.

Against this backdrop, the move to refresh ‘Welcomhotel’ is a long-awaited development as it will help the company to generate leads and pipeline for management contracts. Also, the launch of a new boutique brand christened ‘The Storii’ to offer the new-age traveller curated nature experiences will help the company make inroads into the emerging segment.


Adani Groups Repays Loans Worth $2.65 Billion, Along With Interest Payment Of $203 Million




Embattled Adani Group on Monday said it has repaid loans aggregating USD 2.65 billion to complete a prepayment programme to cut overall leverage in an attempt to win back investor trust post a damning report of a US short seller. In a Credit Note released on Monday, Adani Group said it has made a full prepayment of USD 2.15 billion of loans that were taken by pledging shares in the conglomerate’s listed firms and also another USD 700 million in loans taken for the acquisition of Ambuja Cement.

Interest Payment of $203 Million

“The prepayment was done along with interest payment of USD 203 million,” it added. Further, the credit update states that the promoters completed the sale of shares in four listed group entities to GQG Partners, a leading global investment firm, for USD 1.87 billion (Rs 15,446 crore).

“The deleveraging programme testifies to the strong liquidity management and capital access at sponsor level even in volatile market conditions, supplementing the solid capital prudence adopted at all portfolio companies,” Adani Group said in the credit update. US short-seller Hindenburg Research in January released a damning report alleging accounting fraud and stock price manipulation at Adani Group, triggering a stock market rout that had erased about USD 145 billion in the conglomerate’s market value at its lowest point.

Adani Group’s Comeback Strategy

Adani Group has denied all allegations by Hindenburg and is plotting a comeback strategy. The group has recast its ambitions as well as prepaid some loans to assuage investors. The credit update further highlights major improvements in key financial metrics – the portfolio’s combined Net Debt to EBITDA ratio has decreased from 3.81 in FY22 to 3.27 in FY23, run rate EBITDA surged from Rs 50,706 crore in FY22 to Rs 66,566 crore in FY23.

The credit update further states that the banking lines of Adani Group continue to show confidence by disbursing new debt and rolling over existing lines of credit. Moreover, rating agencies both domestic and international rating agencies have reaffirmed their ratings in all the group companies.

Debt Service Cover Ratio (DSCR) has improved to 2.02x during FY23 from 1.47x during FY22. Gross Assets increased to Rs 4.23 lakh crore, up by Rs 1.06 lakh crore. Gross Asset / Net Debt cover has improved to 2.26x in FY23 from 1.98x in FY22.

Continued investments in core infra projects

Continued investments in core infra with gross assets of Rs 3.77 lakh crore (89 per cent of the portfolio) provide long-term multi-decadal visibility of cash flow, it said, adding cash balance was higher by 41.5 per cent at Rs 40,351 crore against Rs 28,519 crore. Free Flow from operations – FFO – (EBITDA less finance cost less tax paid) was Rs 37,538 crore.

Cash Balance and FFO (together at Rs 77,889 crore) are much higher than debt maturity cover for FY24, FY25 and FY26 of Rs 11,796 crore, Rs 32,373 crore and Rs 16,614 crore, respectively, at the combined portfolio level.

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How Ruias are reinventing the Essar Group




For the last three years, the Mumbai headquartered Essar Group, founded by Shashi and Ravi Ruia, has deliberately kept a low profile. They were busy putting into action their deleveraging and monetisation strategy to free the group of all its debt and start on a clean state.

And they managed to do just that by monetising assets worth $25 bn by selling Essar Oil, Essar Steel, Essar Power and Essar Ports. Perhaps, for the first time in the country such huge debts have been paid off by a business house.

Leading from the front is the 54-year old Prashant Ruia, director, Essar Capital. He is working at a feverish pace to take the group to the next level. Between June 2022 and March 2023 the group made several big announcements. The group, it seems, is now approaching all its businesses with the mindset of a PE player.

According to sources, “The group has paid off 100% debt. Basically, the group has put in place the strategy of deleveraging and monetisation of assets, consolidation of operating companies, and getting into a new growth cycle.” And that is paying rich dividends.

Now with all debts paid, the mood at the Essar House is upbeat. The group has chalked up ambitious plans to be in the same areas where they have domain expertise. It will be Energy, Infrastructure & Logistics, Metals & Mining, and Technology & Retail.

To go with it, the group has identified three themes: Decarbonisation, Decentralisation and Digitisation. For instance, decarbonisation means the group wants to move away from fossil fuel to green fuel. To make this happen, Essar Oil UK, a 10 MTPA refinery acquired in 2011 which serves 16% of UK’s road fuel demand has entered into an agreement with Vertex Hydrogen. Vertex is part of Essar Energy Transition which is planning an investment of $3.6 bn in India ($1.2 bn) and the UK ($2.4 bn) to develop a range of low carbon energy transition projects which would include blue and green hydrogen, biofuels, battery storage, solar PV etc.

The investment in the UK will play a key role in supporting their government’s decarbonisation strategy.

Essar 2.0 sees the group focusing on transitioning existing assets to green businesses, while investing in creating new-age ESG-centric sustainable businesses.

Besides oil refineries and storage terminals in the UK, it has exploration and production facilities in Vietnam; Iron ore plant in USA, coal mine in Indonesia. It has entered into an agreement with Saudi Arabia to set up a 4 MTPA greenfield steel plant in Ras Al-Khair. In India, it has plans to set up 14 MTPA iron ore pellet plants close to Paradip port, Odisha and triple its CBM productions in West Bengal.

Essar Group which currently has a turnover of $15 bn and $1 bn profit will see most of its new initiatives becoming operational by December 2025 or early 2026. Looks like the second innings of the Ruias will be better than the first.

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Tom Cruise ‘would love to meet someone special’ after three failed marriages




Hollywood star Tom Cruise has been married to Hollywood stars Mimi Rogers, Nicole Kidman and Katie Holmes, with the actor most recently being romantically linked to Shakira.

The unlikely pair met at the Formula 1 Grand Prix and while it seems Tom was “very interested in pursuing” the singer, she wasn’t so keen, reports

A source has revealed Tom’s friends have now given him some dating advice as he searches for “the one.”

The comments come after it was revealed Shakira “begged” Tom to “stop flirting with her” as the situation became “too much” for her following her painful split with Gerard Pique.

The 46-year-old singer and Barcelona defender, 36, announced their shock breakup in June last year after 12 years together.

Gerard has since moved on with Clara Chia Marti, 24.

“She doesn’t want to embarrass or upset him, but there’s no attraction or romance on her part – she was just being friendly. She’s flattered but not interested,” an insider told Heat Magazine.

The insider added that Tom has been searching for the right woman for years and said he has “the highest standards” and won’t settle for “second best” in a potential lover.

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