26 Aug 2016 21:33 IST

How Dabur got its crush on Chyawanprash

The mass produced ayurvedic supplement has seen its highs and lows

Chyawanprash is a jam-like paste whose recipe is present in the ancient Ayurvedic treatise Charaka Samhita. It has been considered the best rasayana or tonic since ancient times. It was traditionally prepared at home and given to children to build immunity against colds, coughs and other respiratory problems.

Although some brands of chyawanprash were available in the market earlier, Dabur Chyawanprash, launched in 1949, made an immediate impact — after all, it was India’s first branded chyawanprash, that too from a trusted and well-known source.

The history

Dabur was founded by Dr SK Burman in 1884 in Kolkata to provide natural, Ayurvedic cures for diseases like malaria, cholera and plague to those who had no access to medicines or healthcare. As the demand for his cures spread, a manufacturing plant was set up in 1896 and later, research laboratories were established. More manufacturing units followed and by 1936, the small endeavour had become Dabur India (Dr SK Burman) Pvt Ltd.

Dabur then became a public limited company in 1986. The company grew slowly, not realising its full potential until the 1990s, when a consulting agency advised the Burman family to appoint professionals to run it.

In what must have been a very difficult decision, members of the family left active management to professionals, and remained majority stockholders.

Business wise

But it was a wise and timely decision. The firm grew leaps and bounds over the years and today, it is one of India’s leading FMCG companies with sales of around ₹8,400 crore. With over 250 herbal and ayurvedic products in its portfolio, Dabur claims to be the world’s largest Ayurvedic and Natural Healthcare Company.

An extremely strong distribution network with over five million retail outlets ensures that Dabur’s products reach both urban and rural populations in India. The company also sells its products in about 120 countries worldwide.

Dabur Chyawanprash, first introduced in a tin pack and then in packaged form, is one of its five flagship brands and a nutraceutical that comes under its natural healthcare segment. It is today the highest selling chyawanprash in India, with almost 60 per cent market share.

Dabur still follows the original recipe prepared by its founder for chyawanprash, so the quality is never compromised. Scientific studies are conducted to choose and process the right herbs for the formulation.

Consumption of this preparation is said to improve immunity levels, protect against infections, increase energy, stabilise blood circulation, boost concentration levels, resolve respiratory problems and provide various other benefits. Its main ingredient ‘amla’ is an anti-oxidant with high vitamin C content, which helps lower cholesterol levels.

The down-period

But in early 2000, there was a period when Dabur Chyawanprash’s sales dipped. This happened due to several reasons: modern lifestyles that saw chyawanprash as old-fashioned and hence, outdated; rise in health/energy drinks and other supplements in the market which appealed to the youth as more ‘trendy’ things to consume; and the perception that the product was only for children (who often fell ill with colds and coughs) and elders (who needed energy).

The impression was that one consumed Chyawanprash only when one was ill or sick! Dabur decided to do something about this. By 2005, it felt it was time chyawanprash became more relevant to the new generation.

The repositioning

First, it repositioned the brand as a ‘holistic health provider’ rather than ‘immunity builder’; then it began a campaign to increase its market penetration. It signed on youthful celebrities like Vivek Oberoi and later, MS Dhoni; it changed its packaging, introduced a modern bottle design and conducted an energetic and educative campaign through magazines, the internet, retailer pamphlets and on-pack flyers.

Initially, the tagline was changed to fit the younger generation with a question: “ Mujhe Dabur Chyawanprash khane ki kya zaroorat hai?” It then answered the question with compelling reasons for its intake. To constantly keep itself contemporary, the brand tagline was later modified to ‘fit body, active mind’. To this end, Dabur Chyawanshakti, positioned as a stress reliever and energiser for working adults, was launched in 2005.

Different flavours

The belief among youngsters that anything ‘healthy’ was ‘not tasty’ was reversed with the introduction of Dabur’s mango and orange flavoured Chyawanprash in 2010. Today, apart from the two flavours mentioned, it is also available in mixed fruit and even chocolate flavour.

A low calorie, sugar-free variant, ‘Chyawanprakash’ was launched in 2015 for diabetics. Ratnaprakash, another variant, is said to restore the stamina and vigour of youth by fighting fatigue and lethargy.

Dabur launched an ‘Immune India School Challenge’ to provide immunity to growing children against infection and disease. This was followed by a mass awareness campaign ‘Swasthya Chetna Abhiyan’. The idea was to stretch the market for chyawanprash in rural areas by conducting health camps and bringing in consumers as brand ambassadors.

By projecting and reinforcing a completely new set of qualities, the Dabur Chyawanprash brand became even more contemporary. In doing so, the market leader rejuvenated not just the brand but also the category of chyawanprash!

The dark side

But not everyone is happy with the brands. The complaint is that the base of milk/honey recommended for intake with the product is the cause of the energetic feeling, not the chyawanprash, which has lost all its potency due to mass production and customisation.

This feeling became stronger when, in 2005, the Canadian government banned several brands of chyawanprash on the grounds that they contained too much lead and mercury. In 2007, when the Nepal government removed chyawanprash from the list of ayurvedic drugs and imposed VAT on it, many people approved the move.

According to the Medical Commissioner to India’s Olympic Committee, more than 20 per cent of chyawanprash brands contain toxic heavy metal content and herbs which metabolise into anabolic steroids (illegal performance-enhancing drugs). Therefore, Indian Olympic athletes are not allowed to consume any brand of chyawanprash!

Despite all this, Dabur Chyawanprash continues to be in demand among the general public.

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