Mondelēz elevates Nikhil Rao to take on expanded marketing remit

Mondelēz International has promoted Nikhil Rao to the role of senior director of marketing for Southeast Asia, after two years of helming the role of regional marketing director, biscuits, cakes and snacks for Southeast Asia. In his new role, Rao will lead a team of more than 100 individuals across all categories - biscuits, chocolate, gum, candy, powdered beverages and meals. This also includes the entire marketing process from consumer insights, strategy, brand equity and innovation through to consumer facing activities like media and activation. He will continue reporting to Southeast Asia president Glenn Caton. 

On what his vision for the role is, Rao said Mondelēz wants to be "the undisputed leader in snacking in Southeast Asia". "We have some of the most iconic and loved brands in Southeast Asia, and when you combine that with a passionate and capable team, we can reach for the stars," he said.

Having grown over 22 years in Cadbury, Kraft, and Mondelēz, Rao first took on a major leadership role as VP of marketing at Cadbury in Mumbai, according to his LinkedIn, and led a portfolio of brands including Cadbury Dairy Milk, 5Star, Gems, Bournville, Celebrations and Bytes. He later moved to Kraft Foods Group as global brand equity director based in Zurich, Switzerland for more than two years before returning to Mondelēz again in 2013 as Cadbury's global brand equity director, where he worked out of London and Zurich. Rao then moved to Singapore to helm the role of regional marketing director, Asia Pacific, Middle East and Africa, chocolate and regional marketing director, Asia Pacific, Middle East and Africa, gum and candy, his LinkedIn said. 

When asked how the pandemic has impacted the company's marketing plans, Rao said F&B is even more relevant as people stay at home and focus on health for self and family. Consumers are going back to basics by seeking foods and brands they are familiar with. Mondelēz is seeing the advent of the stay at home economy – spending more time with the family, cooking or baking at home, recreating out of home experiences at home. He added that consumers are looking for products with high standards of quality, ingredients and availability.

"We are emerging stronger largely due to the great work of our teams and the trust consumers have in our brands and products. As a result, we are seeing market share gains and strengthening of our brand fundamentals," Rao explained.

To futureproof its business, Mondelēz is focusing on three main areas - brands, operations, and people. Rao said it has strong programmes to grow the core and innovation pipeline for its brands to reflect emerging trends and foresights. 

"As consumers are being more purposeful when they choose their products, we are simplifying our presence in stores or creating different online offers to make it easier when they choose their products based on their needs. Our innovation will match what’s resonating with consumers through fewer, bigger innovations," he explained.

The pandemic has also spurred Mondelēz to be more efficient and effective from a manufacturing and sales perspective in the past 12 months. According to Rao, it is focusing more on its core and reducing the number of SKUs in our portfolio. At the same time, Mondelēz is also over indexing on creating exciting career paths, promoting diversity and inclusion and helping its teams to navigate working flexibly and productively, especially where they are working from home.

"Importantly, we are encouraging our teams to make space and take time where they are working from home. And, finding ways to remain connected," he added.

Last year, Rao told MARKETING-INTERACTIVE in an interview that biscuits are more than just a snack for the company, as it gets creative with innovative biscuit designs and uses them to feature the purposes of the various brands under its portfolio. The biscuit brands under Mondelēz are Oreo, Tiger, Jacobs, Ritz and Chips Ahoy!.

According to him, biscuits are more than just snacks to fill consumers’ stomachs. Instead, people are turning to snacks as a form of daily satisfaction to provide them a sense of normalcy in challenging times like these, and a common ground for shared experiences, connections and identity.

"Consumers are searching for more meaning within the brands they are purchasing products from. Bigger brands with a more relevant purpose are connecting with audiences better. People are looking for strong anchors and brands they trust," he said.

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