27 Dec 2019 16:36 IST

Ujala: the brand that ‘white’washed the market

The founder’s insistence on wearing immaculate white clothes is said to have inspired its formulation

If Ullas Kamath, Joint MD of Jyothy Laboratories Ltd (JLL) can make the claim, “After the Indian post office, the best direct reach is by Jyothy Labs,” it is because the company reportedly has one of the best direct coverage systems and rural penetration in the country today.

Brand Ujala from Jyothy Labs is a byword in the fabric whitening scene today, and the Indian consumer has to thank its creator Moothedath Panjan Ramachandran of Thrissur, Kerala, whose insistence on wearing immaculate white clothes day in and day out is said to have inspired its formulation.

In the 1970s, MP Ramachandran worked in the accounts department of a chemicals company in Mumbai. After about 14 years, when the company closed down, he started a business named after his daughter Jyothy, at Kandanassery, Thrissur district, to find the best fabric whitener for his clothes. He experimented with different chemicals and combinations for more than a year, until finally he had developed a purple-coloured liquid fabric whitener.

In 1983, the product named ‘Ujala’ from Jyothy Laboratories was launched, with six salesgirls hired to sell it directly to housewives in the district.

The rise to the top

It was no easy task. Till then, fabric whiteners, whose job was to complement detergents by adding to the brightness and whiteness of clothes, came as either bleaches or blues in powder form. The consumer had to be first educated about the efficacy of the purple liquid, reassured that the colour would not remain on the clothes (as with the blue whiteners), and later shown that the liquid Ujala dissolved completely in water (unlike powders), and then coaxed to try the product.

The direct sales strategy succeeded and as word of mouth spread, sales picked up. By 1986, the founder had received enough encouragement from consumers to make an appeal through print and radio ads for customer feedback on Ujala, with the best critical feedback receiving a prize.

The next decade saw the company expanding to Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. It was incorporated in 1993 as Jyothy Laboratories Ltd (JLL). The southern market was soon conquered and in 1994, the founder took an audacious move: he decided to beard the then-Lion of the ‘whitener’ world in its own den. Ujala entered West Bengal to challenge Reckitt Benckiser’s Robin Blue.

The famous jingle

An advertising blitz and aggressive marketing helped Ujala to make inroads into Robin Blue’s bastion. The iconic ‘Aaya naya Ujala — chaar boondon wala’ ad sealed its position as the new leader of the fabric whitener segment, effectively ending Robin Blue’s reign.

The year 1997 saw Ujala being launched all over India, and within three years, it had become a ₹100 crore brand. JLL soon diversified into other products and also grew inorganically, planning acquisitions carefully, focusing on companies that would add to its core strengths. It pulled off a major coup in 2011 when it acquired a controlling stake in Henkel India, which had brands such as Henko and Pril in its portfolio.

 

By 2007, JLL was ready to go public and the next year, the headquarters was shifted to Mumbai. Products which had been regionally launched were introduced pan-India.

Market leader

Continuing with its aim of giving consumers cleaning solutions rather than just products, JLL now has products across five categories:

— Fabric care (Ujala, Henko, Mr White, New Super Chek, More Light)

— Dish wash (Exo, Pril)

— Home care (Household Insecticide – Maxo, Surface Cleaner – Exo Floor shine, and Air Care – Maya incense sticks)

— Personal care (Margo, Margo Glycerine, Fa, Neem Active Toothpaste)

— Laundry services (Fabric Spa)

While Ujala Supreme Fabric Whitener continues to be the market leader in its category, Ujala detergent powder has risen to second place in Kerala. Ujala Crisp & Shine is at the top in Kerala and Tamil Nadu.

The company has always advertised aggressively and innovatively, with its ads striking a chord with consumers. It has sponsored TV programmes such as Bigg Boss in Malayalam and Dishum Channel’s culinary programme Ghar ka Tadka to promote specific products.

Ujala was ranked 55th in the ET Most Trusted Brands survey of 2004. JLL has won the Emerging India Award 2013, Bajaj National Quality Award in the Manufacturing Category and IDC Insights Awards 2018 for Excellence in operations.

Strong rural outreach

JLL operates 26 manufacturing facilities across 22 locations in India, of which six are ISO 9001-2015 certified. All of them use only non-hazardous methods of manufacturing. Green belts have been established around all factories. Installation of biogas plants, rooftop solar panels, LED lights and other measures taken to reduce energy consumption have yielded good results.

Its products are available at more than 2.5 million retail outlets pan India, supported by a robust distribution network of above 5,000 stockists. Its rural reach remains strong.

The company also exports its products to about 14 countries around the world such as Sri Lanka, Mauritius, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Bangladesh.

Today, JLL is said to be India’s fifth largest FMCG (fast moving consumer goods) company. Its turnover is around ₹1,800 crore, of which overseas sales account for about ₹60-70 crore. Future plans include expanding the product portfolio in Bangladesh and more acquisitions.

The CSR strategy of JLL is unique because instead of using intermediaries, it reaches out to people directly; and its employee workforce — 43 per cent women — is completely committed to implementing all CSR initiatives. These include building kitchens and toilets in government schools, participating in tree plantation drives, providing free housing and organising blood donation and flood relief camps.

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