The Indian laundry market, big in size but low on excitement, is all set to put on a new robe with two fresh branded entrants targeted at fashion-conscious millennial consumers. Recently, Kishore Biyani-led Future Consumerlaunched a detergent liquid brand called Voom that’s pegged at understanding and filling the need-gaps beyond offerings around ‘doodh si safedi’ and ‘stain removal’ as the main functionalities.
In an exclusive chat with Brand Equity, Keshav Biyani, head – home and personal care, Future Consumer, says, “We gathered that the young buyers of laundry related products have different needs and their top on mind worries include factors like colour protection and anti-shrinkage.” To solve these problems, the company decided it was time to move their R&D team from the labs to the design rooms. They collaborated with fashion brands of the Group’s stores to study fabric needs which led to the realisation that the new product should become a fashion-first fabric wash brand, adds Biyani.
FMCG behemoth Hindustan Unilever will soon launch a vegan and plant-based fabric wash called ‘Love Home and Planet’. It will be a premium offering from the company behind some of the largest-selling mass detergent brands like Surf Excel and Wheel. The new washing product is the company’s fifth laundry brand. While HUL declined to comment on the specific queries sent by Brand Equity, according to industry sources the MNC is preparing to launch its vegan detergent brand at the upcoming Lakme India Fashion Week.
The India laundry-care market pegged at over Rs. 29,000 crore is growing at 9.8% (MAT June ’19) and is a busy market populated by brands like Surf Excel, Rin, Wheel, Ariel, Ghadi, Ujala, Nirma, Sunlight among others, with products across the price spectrum. With the launch of ‘Love Home and Planet’, it seems HUL is attempting to “veganise” and “premiumise” the category as the selling price of the product is around Rs 350. Voom’s price tag is Rs 150 for a litre pack.
Pinakiranjan Mishra, partner and national leader, consumer products and retail, EY India, finds it interesting to see brands making efforts to upgrade its consumers in a functional category where there was a significant dip in excitement. “Creating niche products will certainly grab the interest of younger buyers and premiumisation seems like the right bet,” he says.
Are Indian consumers ready to extend their vegan diet to detergents?
Joseph George, chairman and managing director, Tilt Brand Solutions, has a compelling social-economic consumer insight as the backdrop of premiumisation. “FMCG as a category, unlike cars, mobiles and many others, is not giving consumers visible handles to tell them that they are doing better in life, especially by companies operating in India. The category has missed a big trick especially in a country like India where the consumers have taken a big leap on living standards and he is ready to pay a premium for brands that are in line with his world view,” says George. “It is not surprising that HUL is getting into this space, what is surprising is the fact that they took this long,” he adds.
George has worked extensively on HUL brands during his long stint at ad agency Lowe Lintas, many of those years spent as the agency’s CEO. As far as millennials are concerned, they are most ready to translate their woke-thinking into their woke-purchases, believes George.
Speaking of wokeness in brand choices, while working on the famous Ariel ‘Share the load’ campaign the big lesson learnt as per Josy Paul, chairman and CCO, BBDO India, was, “Content is king, but context is King Kong! The more sensitive we are to where society (not just the market) is going, is when our message becomes most relevant.” The campaign, currently in its third iteration, started a conversation around “de-gendering” the role of washing clothes. About the laundry category’s millennial-focussed play, Paul says, “The link between fashion and laundry needs to be clearly and effortlessly established and can’t be manufactured or forced.”
Premiumisation and re-invention is the need of the hour due to business reasons as well. According to brand consultant Harish Bijoor, the real worry that plagues the marketer today is the fact that this is a category that seeks little in terms of differentiation and is at the risk of becoming a branded commodity again. “The largest use-segment of the category is still in blind commodity form,” he adds.
The only way a company can justify 2X pricing is when the entire marketing mix is changed significantly. Small incremental changes may not go too far, believe experts.
Hamsini Shivakumar, co-founder, Leapfrog Strategy Consulting, who worked on the category during her stint Wunderman-Thompson (JWT), has a different take. “So long as vegan, environment-friendly or fragrant clothes are positioned as attributes within the familiar laundry discourse, it won’t be any kind of disruptive or significant change. For that to happen, these new brands would need to find a completely new anchor to frame their narrative and start a radically new discourse around laundry.” Anchors like young lifestyles and sex-appeal (role of fragrance) or save the environment/Chipko movement (activism). In such a discourse, laundry might exit its role-bound, duty-bound existence and become a task that everyone needs to think about, for their own self-confidence and personality enhancement, she adds.
Many years ago, Lalitaji played by actor Kavita Choudhury, tried to instil a bit of ‘samajhdari’ in the Indian housewife by explaining to her the benefits of paying a little more for Surf Excel. Now it’s time for marketers to put their accrued samajhdari to use. Vegan formulations and fashion pegs are great, but the question is are detergent brand marketers ready to establish radically new narratives and change the way laundry is seen and understood in our culture?
Sunil Khiani, RMS Leader, Nielsen South Asia: “Washing powders and liquids is an over Rs 20,000cr category, growing at 11% (MAT June’19). Within this the 3% liquid segment is growing at 3X the powder format, with 70% more brands that have entered the liquid detergent segment in the last two years.”
Expert Category Take: K Ramakrishnan, managing director, worldpanel division, Kantar, gives us a quick view of the evolution of the laundry category
Laundry is one of the few categories where urban and rural households consume the same volume of product – about 24 kgs annually. Rural being the bigger market generates about 65% of all laundry volumes. A decade ago, laundry was predominantly cake based (bar or soap). 54% of the laundry volumes were this format. Now, laundry is predominantly powder based (57%). Nirma was the first brand to disrupt the market. Then Hindustan Lever responded with Wheel, Ghadi became a strong player in the last decade. The market was settling towards the mass segment till Surf Excel’s Easy Wash became one of the fastest growing brands across categories.
In the past four years (MAT May 2015 to MAT May 2019) the brand’s penetration grew by 400% – growth rates unheard of for a premium priced brand. Easy Wash’s success was three pronged – it played on Surf’s brand equity; it played the price game with making a premium brand come within reach of the mass buyer with a ten-rupee pack and it supported the SKU with some great distribution. And some very memorable campaigns including ‘Daag ache hain’ which contributed to the preference of the brand. Any other brand would have struggled to keep this up. The ten-rupee pack democratized the premium segment. Therefore, now premium will perhaps need a redefinition and that is where we see the new sets of brands coming up.