05 Jan 2018 20:12 IST

Taking on Patanjali with Ayush 2

Will Hindustan Unilever’s relaunched ayurveda brand pose a challenge to Baba Ramdev’s FMCG products?

In December 2016, fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) giant Hindustan Unilever Ltd (HUL) revived its ayurveda brand, Lever Ayush (Ayush), and launched 20 new personal care products. The products, priced between ₹30 and ₹130, were targeted at the mass market, helping Ayush shed its premium tag. The move was aimed at bolstering the company’s personal care portfolio, apart from enhancing its competitive strength in the fast-growing Ayurvedic space.

Ayush’s new tagline Sahi Ayurveda (True Ayurveda) was expected to position the brand as an authentic ayurvedic brand. To support this, HUL launched a new series of Ayush ads which sought to educate customers that not all products that claimed to be ayurvedic were genuine. For the relaunch campaign that was run across various media, HUL roped in actors Akshay Kumar as the lead brand ambassador and Tamanna as the brand ambassador for products targeted at women. HUL also partnered with one of the leading institutions propagating the science of ayurveda — Arya Vaidya Pharmacy — to develop its new products.

Disruption in the sector

HUL is the Indian subsidiary of one of the world’s largest consumer goods companies, Unilever NV Established in 1933, HUL has for long been the market leader in the FMCG sector. The company had launched Ayush in 2001 but, by 2006, the brand had lost momentum in the market. This prompted HUL to push it to the sidelines.

In the meantime, Baba Ramdev, a yoga guru with a keen interest in ayurveda — along with a close associate, Acharya Balkrishna — set up Patanjali Ayurved Ltd. (Patanjali), which offered a range of ayurvedic consumer products. Patanjali was credited with rejuvenating the market for ayurvedic products and with disrupting the Indian FMCG sector, ultimately eating into the market share of such major incumbents as HUL and Procter and Gamble. By 2017, Patanjali’s revenues had risen to ₹10,000 crore and the company became a serious competitor for HUL, which had revenues of over ₹30,000 crore. Patanjali had set itself an ambitious target of achieving ₹50,000 crore in revenues by 2020. Its stupendous success pushed HUL to rethink its strategy in the Ayurvedic space.


A real challenge to Patanjali?

Industry observers have said it is not the first time that HUL has had to take on a tough local challenger. In the 1980s, the company had to contend with Nirma, a new detergent brand that targeted lower and middle class consumers, which ultimately toppled the Lever brand Surf from the position of market leader. However, Hindustan Lever Ltd, as the company was then known, made a comeback with its own low-priced contender Wheel, which helped the company regain its lost market.

This time, though, analysts say that even with HUL’s strong backing, Ayush might find it difficult to make a mark, given the highly competitive ayurvedic market in the country and Patanjali’s strong brand image.

Analysts also point out that within the last decade, the ayurvedic products space has expanded immensely due to the rise in awareness of the benefits offered by Ayurvedic products. The natural, herbal, and ayurvedic products categories (collectively called the ‘naturals’ category) had grown over the years to account for a whopping 41 per cent of India’s personal care products market. The category not only boasts of FMCG giants and Indian players, but also a slew of small but popular brands. Between 2016 and 2021, the ayurvedic products market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 16 per cent, prompting companies to formulate strategies to tap this market.

However, some analysts say that Ayush is only brand with the potential to stand up to Patanjali. They say that after Patanjali, Ayush is the only ayurvedic brand with a wide product portfolio encompassing toothpastes, soaps, face-washes, face-creams, shampoos, and hand-washes. Moreover, unlike Patanjali, HUL has had a presence in the premium ayurvedic segment with its Indulekha brand which enjoys strong market appeal.

With a bid to further strengthen its position in the naturals category, HUL also reintroduced its 33-year-old Citra brand in India. The company also launched variants of Naturals in popular brands such as Tresemme Botanique and Clinic Plus Ayurveda.

Distribution, product quality

Moreover, HUL has a robust distribution system, spread across the length and breadth of the country, with a network of around eight million outlets — the kind of reach Patanjali is still aspiring to achieve. While HUL has strong manufacturing capabilities, Patanjali has struggled with supply chain problems and the huge gap between supply and demand, losing customers in the process.

Patanjali has also had its share of product quality-related issues from time to time. For instance, in May 2017, Haridwar’s Ayurveda and Unani Office found some of Patanjali’s Ayurveda products to be of sub-standard quality.

However, analysts say that Patanjali has certain distinct advantages in its distribution network, which includes three types of ayurveda clinics (Arogya Kendra, Chikitsalaya and Swadeshi Kendras), which account for a large part of its sales. Patanjali employs trained ayurveda practitioners at the clinics who dispense its products. The clinics serve as customer touchpoints, which help in word-of-mouth advocacy and promotion of new products.

Unlike Ayush, Patanjali has a strong brand identity and enjoys immense customer loyalty. Analysts say that Patanjali’s association with ayurveda proponent Baba Ramdev has created in consumers a firm belief in the efficacy of the company’s products. Moreover, Patanjali has been spending heavily on advertising in order to be on a par with the ad spend of FMCG leaders. It advertises its products as Swadeshi (native) and often hits out at foreign FMCG giants. Over the years, HUL has found its brands being targeted by Patanjali ads that questioned their efficacy.

The road ahead

While Patanjali has created a dominant position for itself in the Indian ayurvedic space, experts say that Ayush has yet to gain customer acceptance and that the company failed to adequately advertise its association with Arya Vaidya Pharmacy which, they believe, could have boosted consumer confidence in its products.

However, according to HUL, within six months of the re-launch of Ayush, the brand had witnessed growth. The company said it was pleased with its performance. But whether it will be able to wrest market share from Patanjali and establish Ayush as a market leader in the country’s ayurvedic supplements and personal care space, remains to be seen.

The Questions

If you were a Marketing Manager at Lever Ayush charged with making Ayush the market leader in the Indian Ayurvedic space,

1. How would you create a market for Ayush?

2. What strategy would you adopt to take on the Patanjali brand, given its strong association with yoga guru Baba Ramdev and marketed on the Swadeshi plank?

3. How would you promote Ayush? What would your advertising message be?

Send your submission to blcasestudies@thehindu.co.in by January 21. It must not exceed 800 words and may include one or two graphics. See Rules of the Challenge for more details. The top three teams will receive gift vouchers worth ₹12,500, ₹7,500 and ₹5,000 from leather goods company Hidesign

(Debapratim is Associate Dean & Head, Case Research Centre, ICFAI Business School, Hyderabad, where Namrata is a Senior Research Associate. This case was compiled from published sources, and is intended to be used as a basis for class discussion rather than to illustrate either effective or ineffective handling of a management situation.)