26 Mar 2016 19:07 IST

Vicco’s journey from the backyard to a national market

Its Ayurvedic products and ethical processes helped it to create a market for itself

Nowadays it is impossible to watch any TV programme without being interrupted by multiple product ads erupting like a rash on the screen to ‘sponsor’ the show. But old-timers like me recall an age when these were few and far between. At a time when sponsorship of programmes was new to Doordarshan, Vicco was one of the first brands to sponsor a TV serial. The then-popular Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi was sponsored by Vicco, and its jingle — “ Vicco turmeric Ayurvedic cream – thwacha ki raksha kare antiseptic cream…” — will always be remembered for that reason!

In 1952, Keshav Vishnu Pendharkar founded the Vishnu Industrial Chemical Company or Vicco at a chawl in suburban Mumbai (then Bombay). It reached out to people by convincing them about the benefits of Ayurveda. Prepared without any chemicals and from natural sources like plants, herbs and minerals, the Vicco products were promoted as highly reliable and free from side-effects.

Among the products manufactured by the company, Vajradanti toothpaste and powder, turmeric skin cream and sugar-free toothpaste are among the most sought after. At that time, the turmeric cream was the first of its kind in the country. Till then, ‘snow’ and ‘winter’ creams held sway in the market. One of Vicco’s claims was that their skin cream prevented the penetration of the harmful ultra-violet rays. Initially, the yellow colour of the turmeric cream made people hesitant: would it leave the face yellow?

This problem was surmounted by asking the salesmen to try out the cream on the retailers’ faces and showing them the results in a mirror. Salesmen even carried mirrors with them on their rounds! By 2010, Vicco turmeric cream was a key player in the market in this category.

Vegan cosmetics

Vicco is a government-permitted manufacturer under ADL or Ayurvedic Drug Licence. After 20 years of litigation, the Central Excise Department upheld the claim that it was making Ayurvedic products and not cosmetics, bringing major tax relief. The fact that the products are not tested on animals make Vicco very attractive to vegetarians and those who advocate ‘beauty without cruelty’. Vicco Vajradanti toothpaste received the PETA (People for Ethical Treatment of Animals) ‘Proggy Award’ 2005 for its ‘vegan’ label.

Vicco grows its own raw materials at a 100-acre farm in Butibori, Nagpur. It has factories at Nagpur, Goa and Dombvli. Only pure, de-mineralised, zero-bacteria water is used for production.

Export

The brand has a very strong presence in the dental and skin care fields. It exports its products to more than 15 countries in the world including the US, the UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the UAE and even Iceland. It has an FDA licence. The Ministry of Commerce and Industry recognised its export performance with a Certificate of Excellence in 2008-09. It has risen steadily among the ranks in the list of ‘India’s most Trusted Brands’. In the oral hygiene list, it is among the Top 3 in the ‘Most Attractive Brands’ list.

It is a privately-held company with 13 associate companies that are all run by family members. The company shares are held by both

individuals and investment firms of the family. It has expanded into business activities such as investment, trade, education and advertising as well. There have often been rumours of the company going public or of some products being sold off to other firms. But Vicco has been quick to deny this and reiterate that it is a debt-free, privately-held company.

The founder’s son Gajanan Pendharkar, who passed away in 2015 joined the company in 1957 and took over as chairman in 1971, after his father’s death. Under him, the company emerged as a brand name and turnover rose from a modest ₹1 lakh to ₹350 crore. The turnover has been steadily rising over the years. The target is an ambitious ₹5 billion in the future.

Gajanan Pendharkar is recognised as one of the pioneers of home-grown Indian FMCG marketing. The brand was advertised before the screening of movies in theatres and it also sponsored TV serials. In another brilliant move, he reached out to consumers by adding commercials to video cassettes of films in multiple languages. Since many Indians who lived abroad watched these movies, this promotional strategy took the product to the international market. Apart from this, it was one of the first brands to start the ‘mystery buyer’ programmes.

There are plans to start a manufacturing unit in Himachal Pradesh. A joint venture manufacturing unit in Dubai is also on the cards. And new products are said to be in the pipeline.