30 June 2017 14:37:56 IST

Malathy Sriram writes poems and short stories for children and adults, as well as book reviews and articles of general interest. She is a post-graduate in English Literature from Ethiraj College for Women, Chennai. Her work has been published in Indian Express, Deccan Herald, Mirror and Femina. She has edited website content and is the editor of The Small Supplement, an online magazine for children with articles on history, science, arts and culture, sports, technology, companies and brands, mythology and short stories. Reading, teaching English, listening to music (all genres) and singing complete her oeuvre.

Healthcare with herbs

As early as 1950, Himalaya’s research wing was headed by a woman

In the life of every inventor, innovator and discoverer, there comes a “Eureka!” moment that determines the course of their journey.

For Mohammad Manal, founder of Himalaya Drug Company, this moment came in 1930 when he noticed that restless elephants could be calmed after they were administered the root of a plant called Rauwolfia Serpentina . His curiosity piqued, Manal is said to have studied the root and discovered that it contains anti-hypertensive properties.

This laid the foundation for the Himalaya Drug Company, with its first office in Dehradun, and its lifelong study of herbs. Manal set about tirelessly collecting information on various herbs from anyone — tribal healers, medical practitioners, vaid s, fakir s and hakim s — who could tell him about their healing properties. All details collected were jotted down diligently; his notes still provide information for new formulations.

Natural tablets

Manal was convinced of the efficacy of the healing powers of herbs. But to make it a commercial success, he felt that a ‘tablet’ form would be more convenient than powders, that prevailed in the market then. He also recognised the need to back his claims through proven scientific research.

He financed the purchase of a hand-cranked tableting machine by pawning his mother’s jewels. Through trial and error, and after years of research, he finally hit upon the method of producing herbs in a tablet form, without losing any of their inherent qualities. In 1934, the world’s first natural (hence, free of side-effects) anti-hypertensive drug called ‘Serpina’ — named after the herb from which it was derived — was launched.

Other drugs followed, including the flagship brand Liv 52 (the only herbal medicine among the top 10 best-selling medicines in India), Cystone, Bonnisan, Rumalaya Forte and Septilin.

The founder’s son, Meraj Manal, joined the company in 1964, even as the company’s reputation grew steadily. In 1975, he decided to shift part of the manufacturing process to Bengaluru, as it was less expensive than Mumbai. He is said to have financed the highly-advanced manufacturing facility by selling his apartment in Mumbai.

This was also the year Meraj decided to enter the US market and make Himalaya a global brand, a process, however, that took about two decades to fructify.

The founder, Mohammad Manal passed away in 1986, but the company continued to operate along the guidelines he had set. In 1991, Himalaya opened a modern R&D facility in Bengaluru. Research and Development is said to be the company’s greatest strength, and the campus soon became the headquarters for the company’s India operations.

Personal care

Interestingly, Himalaya entered the personal care and animal care categories first in the US.

In India, it entered the personal care products segment in 1999 through a new branding exercise: ‘Ayurvedic concepts’. By the next year, it had forayed into the animal care category as well. Today, the company that started with one drug, offers safe and effective herbal solutions in the pharmaceutical line, health care (overall well-being and specific issues), personal care (moisturiser, face wash, toothpaste and more), baby care (with its own website) and animal care — all under the label, ‘Himalaya Herbal Healthcare’.

In the personal care segment, Himalaya is among the top three in the face wash, packs and scrubs, face cleansing and lip care categories. In 2003, it launched ‘Pure Herbs’ — formulations where single herbs like neem and tulsi are used to maintain good health. The same year, it received an ISO 9001:2000 certification.

All Himalaya products are chemical-free as they are made solely from herbs; in fact, every product launch is preceded by years of research to ensure maximum efficacy and full safety. The purity of the herbs used in the formulations is ensured through labelling of the origin and tests to check pH balance, viscosity, and other factors. For animal lovers, it will come as a great comfort to know that Himalaya products are not tested on animals.

Creating interest

How did Himalaya create interest among consumers in its products when most were opting for Western medicines at the time? Interest was ignited by the use of unusual product names and graphic art on product packs. Advertisements on mobile vans kept the curiosity alive. and credibility was built through articles in journals that explained the herbal formulations in simple, layman language. And brand loyalty was ensured through the undeniable quality.

Much later, the Dadima ad, where a traditional but tech-savvy grandmother shows intelligent understanding of herbal products, propelled Himalaya into the public’s consciousness.

By 2004, the founder’s grandson Nabeel Manal had also entered the business. In 2006, Himalaya Global Holdings Ltd (HGH), the company’s global headquarters, was set-up.

Being first

Himalaya has several firsts to its credit, including the fact that even as early as 1950, its research wing was headed by a woman! It is the first Ayurvedic facility to receive the Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) certification (for quality and consistency) in India.

It is also said to be the first herbal drug manufacturer in India to have received the Good Lab Practices (for high quality and reliable data) certification. It also complies with Good Clinical Practices, Good Agricultural Practices and Good Harvesting Practices.

Today, Himalaya has over 5,000 employees worldwide, including more than 200 research scientists. It sells its products in more than 90 countries with over 50 per cent of its revenue coming from outside India. It has more than 150 exclusive stores across India. Himalaya’s products are available online as well. The company’s mobile app was launched recently and is doing well. The company has plans to enter the cancer therapy market with herbal products that can reduce the side-effects of first-line treatments.

Going green

Himalaya’s turnover in 2015-16 was ₹1,800 crores. Personal care products contributed the lion’s share with 45 per cent, while pharma (30 per cent), baby care (17 per cent), wellness (4 per cent) and animal health products accounted for the rest. The company hopes to cross ₹2,000 crores in turnover in the next fiscal.

Himalaya’s concern for the environment permeates every step in the production process. Herbs are collected in a sustainable manner; Himalaya has partnered with several farmers through Project Abhiyaan, encouraging them to cultivate herbs in their plots, and providing seeds and technical inputs. Organic farming techniques and soil solarisation (exposing soil to the sun) are followed to ensure good yields.

Production and storage areas like warehouses have been designed to let in the maximum natural light and reduce dependence on artificial lighting, thus conserving energy.

In labelling, packaging and display, the company uses non-toxic inks and paints; recycled paper for carry bags; recyclable/renewable packing materials for its products and MDF for display units. The Bengaluru campus is a certified ‘zero-discharge’ facility, with about 90 per cent of the solid waste and 100 per cent of the liquid waste being recycled.

Rainwater harvesting through wells and recharge (percolation) pits, and recycling of water through treatment plants have resulted in efficient water management. It’s no wonder that Himalaya has received the ISO 14001:2004 certification, the most sought-after global standard for excellence in environmental management.

In fact, one of the company’s CSR projects is closely related to the environment: to increase green cover, the company, along with the Society for Environment and Biodiversity Conservation (SEBC), has embarked on a tree-plantation drive and planted close to 3,50,000 trees in the Western Ghats.

In another laudable CSR initiative, in Andhra Pradesh and Goa, Himalaya has set-up a scheme to rehabilitate prison inmates, by supplying seeds and training them in herb cultivation. The company buys the herbs they cultivate and gives them monetary compensation. Most of the inmates have land; after their release, they can use the skills and money gained to return to farming and integrate into society with more confidence.

Himalaya Lip Care has launched ‘Muskaan’, a project that does free correctional surgeries for poor children born with cleft lip and palate deformities. Its ‘Aarohi-Himalaya Health Initiative’ in Uttarakhand tries to improve maternal and child health in remote villages. Apart from these initiatives, Himalaya conducts health camps in schools, supplies medicines free of cost to poor people through mobile health clinics, arranges for free eye surgeries where needed and conducts diagnostic camps for osteoporosis and diabetes detection camps.