Abid Hussain Barlaskar
Marketing

Dabur vs Marico: How two disparate desi FMCG giants ended up fighting

Despite having diverse origins, both the companies have already waged war over honey and hair oils. There is scope for more skirmishes in the near future.

Two of the top Indian FMCG companies with very different origins are brickbatting each other. Dabur and Marico have exchanged quite a few blows in recent time. The engagements vary from ambush advertising to legal battles. While both the companies were born of disparate genes and with somewhat disconnected interests, they are converging. The latest conflict is around the commercial production and distribution of honey and involves two iconic Indian brands – Dabur Honey and Saffola.

We set out to trace the journey of both the companies in India till the occasions that brought them face to face in the country’s massive consumer packaged goods (CPG) market.

Origins:

Dabur was created by ‘Daktar’ SK Burman, an Ayurvedic practitioner in Kolkata, in 1884. At that point, Burman set out to provide affordable natural remedies to diseases like cholera and malaria. Over a century later, Dabur today still identifies as an ‘Ayurvedic & Natural Health Care Company’. Dabur’s boquet of flagship brands includes Hajmola, Chyawanprash, Dabur Amla, Vatika, Pudin Hara, among others.

Dabur brands
Dabur brands

On the other hand, Marico has its roots in Bombay Oil Industries (BOI), an oil and spices trading entity set up in 1947. When Harsh Mariwala (Marico’s founder) joined Bombay Oil in 1971 as a third-generation entry to the family business, he focused on building a consumer facing side for the company. The following years were spent on creating small consumer packs and building a nationwide distribution network for BOI’s coconut and other edible oils.

The Marico identity was created in 1990 and was driven by 200 ex-BOI hands led by Mariwala. The company started out with core brands Parachute (coconut oil) and Saffola (cooking oil) and has hence expanded its portfolio to include brands like Mediker, Set Wet, Nihar, Kaya, etc. Today Marico identifies as a consumer products company in the business of “beauty and wellness”. Its brands have diversified accordingly.

Marico Brands
Marico Brands

In financial year 2019-20, Marico raked in revenues worth Rs 7,315 crore with a net profit of Rs 1,043 crore. In the same period, Dabur generated Rs 8,704 crore in revenues and a net profit of Rs 1,445 crore.

Marico leads the market when it comes to its core segments - coconut oil, value added hair oil (VAHO) and super premium refined edible oils. The company’s growth in these segments is driven by deeper penetration and the conversion of unbranded product consumption to branded.

Coconut oil contributes almost 44 per cent of Marico’s India business which is followed by Value Added Hair Oils (VAHO) with a contribution of 24 per cent. Premium refined edible oils contribute another 23 per cent.

Dabur is a market leader when it comes to packaged fruit juices (Real), Chyawanprash, Honey, Facial Bleach (Fem, Oxy), Air Fresheners and Mosquito Repellent Creams (Odomos). Close to 58 per cent of the company’s revenues comes from its consumer care business. Hair care contributes the largest share with 21.1 per cent. This is followed by health supplements (18.9 per cent), foods (15.9 per cent), digestive (6.3 per cent), home care (6.9 per cent), skin care (5.1 per cent), oral care (17.0 per cent) and OCT/ethicals (8.8 per cent).

Expansion and diversification: Two very different companies brought closer by similar interests. Here’s a look at how each of the companies expanded their consumer product businesses in India over the years.

Dabur:

Dabur is primarily an Ayurveda company with a wide portfolio of Ayurvedic mediciness. It operates in key consumer products categories like hair care, oral care, healthcare, skincare, and foods. The company's FMCG portfolio includes nine flagship brands with Dabur as the umbrella brand. The top Dabur brands are — Chyawanprash, Honey, Lal Tail (baby massage), Pudin Hara and Honitus in the healthcare segment; Amla hair oil, Lal/Red toothpaste and Vatika in the personal care category; and Real in the foods category. These together account for more than 70 per cent of Dabur’s sales.

Dabur's revenue share FY 19-20
Dabur's revenue share FY 19-20

The company’s medicine portfolio consumer health division (CHD) covers a wide range of ailments, from diabetes to cancer. Apart from partnering with pharmaceutical companies, Dabur also engages with the Government of India’s Ministry of Ayush (Ayurveda, Yoga & Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homoeopathy). The products also have a huge presence in the overseas markets and are available in over 120 countries across the globe.

Dabur India was incorporated in September 1975 for manufacturing high-grade edible and industrial guargum powder and its derivatives (thickening agent for food and industrial uses).

Dabur’s prime hair care brand Dabur Amla Hair Oil dates back to 1940. The company launched Chyawanprash in 1949 and was the first packaged and branded Chyawanprash in the country. Dabur launched Hajmola (digestive tablet) in 1978. A decade later in 1989, Hajmola’s Ayurvedic digestive formulation was tweaked to create Hajmola Candy for kids. The company has been selling its Dabur Honey brand since 1965.

Dabur first launched Vatika hair oil in 1995. Vatika shampoo was launched in 1999 followed by soap in 2005. Over years Vatika saw several extensions with varying value propositions. The company launched its range of coconut oil under the brand name 'Anmol' in 1992.

Dabur commenced its foods business in 1996 with the launch of Real fruit juice. In the year 1998, the Burman family handed over management of the company to professionals. This was followed by the demerger of Dabur’s pharmaceuticals business from FMCG (in 2003) to help focus on both the businesses. The company today largely comprises of FMCG, while the pharmaceuticals business includes Allopathic Oncology formulations and bulk drugs.

During the 2009-10 period, the company acquired Fem Care Pharma (FEM skin bleach). It was also around 2010 that Dabur launched its first fruit-flavoured Chyawanprash.

In 2013, Dabur marked its entry into the yogurt drink market with Real Activ. This was accompanied by launches of a new fruit juice range Real SupaFruits and packaged Coconut Water. The company also expanded its skincare portfolio and launched Oxy Life Gel Bleach.

Dabur announced its entry into the Jasmine Hair Oil category in 2015, with the launch of Vatika Jasmine Non-Sticky Coconut Hair Oil. It also introduced the sugar-free version of Chyawanprash named Ratnaprash SugarFree the same year.

Dabur vs Marico: How two disparate desi FMCG giants ended up fighting

These years are also dotted by several launches in its CHD and B2B businesses. In March 2017, Dabur announced the launch of its Mobile Honey-Testing Lab in India. It was designed to check quality of raw honey at source.

This year’s (2020) pandemic shifted the focus of consumers towards immunity and natural remedies which is Dabur’s native ground. Dabur has launched over 50 new products and variants over the last several months. The new launches include Dabur Apple Cider Vinegar and the Dabur Baby Care range. Dabur also strengthened its immunity-building product portfolio with the introduction of a whole new range which includes health juices like Amla, Giloy, Giloy-Neem-Tulsi and Aloe Vera, besides products like Tulsi Drops, Haldi Drops, Ayush Kwath Kaadha, Immunity Kit and many others. The company also made an entry into the edible oil segment with ‘Dabur Cold Pressed Mustard Oil’.

Marico:

Alongside building its oil businesses, Marico started exploring newer product segments. In 1993, the company introduced Revive instant starch powder for clothes, creating an organised market for the product. In 1995, it acquired the jam brand `SIL' from Kanmoor Foods. It also extended its Sweekar sun-flower oil brand (launched in 1988) during 1997 by expanding into cotton seed oil and mustard oil.

In 2000, the company launched Parachute Dandruff Solution Coconut Hair Oil combining coconut oil with anti-dandruff properties. It was also around the time when the brand underwent premiumisation and saw the expansion of Marico’s VAHO (value added hair oil) portfolio. Its hair care business saw extensions like Parachute Jasmine, Parachute Advanced, etc.

Dabur vs Marico: How two disparate desi FMCG giants ended up fighting

Marico forayed into the beauty products segment in 2004 with the launch of Silk-n-Shine a post-wash hair care product. Soon after, in 2006, Marico acquired mass premium hair oil brand Nihar from Hindustan Lever Limited (today’s HUL).

Marico sold of its processed foods business `Sil' to Danish business house Good Food Group in 2008. While it got rid of Sil, Marico expanded its food business by launching Saffola oats in 2010. The oats portfolio was further expanded with the launch of Saffola Masala Oats in 2012.

In 2011, Parachute Advanced entered the skin-care category with the launch of Parachute Advanced Body Lotion. The same year, Marico announced the divestment of its refined sunflower oil brand `Sweekar' to Cargill.

The following year, Marico acquired a bouquet of personal care brands (including Set Wet, Livon, Zatak, etc.) from Reckitt Benckiser (RB). This helped Marico tap into the deodorant and male grooming categories in India.

Dabur vs Marico: How two disparate desi FMCG giants ended up fighting

In January 2013, Marico broke off its Kaya skin clinic solutions business into a separate company named Marico Kaya Enterprises (MaKE). This was followed by the relaunch of Livon Serum in a new avatar in 2015.

In 2017, the company announced a strategic investment in Zed Lifestyle, a men’s grooming startup that owns grooming brand Beardo. The following year, 2018, saw two key shifts: Marico announced an investment in Revolutionary Fitness, which owns Revofit, a fitness oriented mobile app. And, the company launched True Roots ‘Botanical Hair Tonic’ for delaying hair greying.

2019 saw the launches of ‘Coco Soul’ (vegan gourmet products) and Saffola FITTIFY Gourmet (high protein slim meal shakes and soups).

Dabur vs Marico: How two disparate desi FMCG giants ended up fighting

Year 2020 perhaps is among the most eventful years for Marico. The company entered three new segments. First was Ayurveda with the launch of Saffola ImmuniVeda range (of haldi and kadha mixes). ImmuniVeda was further bolstered with the launch of Saffola Arogyam Chyawan Amrut Awaleha, Marico’s own variant of Chyawanprash.

It entered the home and personal hygiene space with the launch of Mediker/Protect hand sanitisers and Veggie Clean fruits and vegetable washes. In the food segment, it launched Saffola Mealmaker Soya Chunks.

The convergence:

Dabur leads the branded honey market (of over Rs 1,500 crore) with over 40 per cent share. Honey is synonymous with fitness and health. Marico’s launching Saffola Honey fit well with the brand’s ‘healthy lifestyle’ propositions. With such developments unfolding in the segment, Dabur wouldn’t settle for a ring side view. Instead, in July, Dabur filed a case in the Delhi High Court against Marico for 'imitating' the bottle, trade dress, label and packaging of Dabur Honey. Dabur even launched an ad campaign educating consumers about ‘Dabur-like’ bottles of honey available in the market.

Saffola Honey vs Dabur Honey
Saffola Honey vs Dabur Honey

A month later, Saffola Honey released its ad with a claim that it is 100 per cent pure and better that the older existing brands. The fight turned nasty when the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), a Delhi-based public interest research and advocacy organization, said that several major honey brands including Dabur failed the Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR), a key purity test conducted by a German laboratory. Saffola Honey was the only big brand which cleared it. This was followed by both the brands asserting their quality in their communications. Both ended up knocking the ASCI’s door for a resolution.

Again, Marico’s Parachute commands almost half of the Rs 5,000 crore branded coconut oil market. Ever since its launch in 1992, Dabur’s Anmol coconut oil has been trying to grab share from the flagship Marico brand. A few months back, Parachute featured in Anmol’s brand campaign. Anmol took the comparative route pitching itself as a pocket friendly alternative to Parachute. The ad campaign (TV, print) highlighted the fact that while Dabur’s Anmol was priced at Rs 30 for 100 ml, Marico’s Parachute sold at Rs 39 for the same quantity.

In 2018, Dabur took Marico to the Delhi High Court for trademark violation for one of Marico’s print ads comparing its Nihar Shanti Amla Oil with Dabur’s Amla oil. Dabur also responded with a print jacket dissing the quality of the cheaper Nihar Amla Oil. The ad featured a silhouette of the Nihar bottle.

While the aforementioned instances are only the currently reported conflicts. With further convergence of interests, there’s scope for more.

Marico’s foray into Ayurveda with launches like Saffola ImmuniVeda and Saffola Arogyam Chyawan Amrut Awaleha (Marico’s Chyawanprash variant) placed it right in the backyard of Ayurveda specialist Dabur. Dabur is currently the market leader in the Rs 700 crore chyawanprash market, with a share of over 60 per cent.

Dabur vs Marico: How two disparate desi FMCG giants ended up fighting

Again, Dabur’s launching its premium Cold-pressed Mustard Oil brings it face-to-face with Saffola which currently commands around 76 per cent of the super premium refined edible oils market in India.

Both the brands also have very similar offerings in their ‘value added hair oil’ ranges. For example, Both Dabur Vatika and Parachute have ‘Jasmine’ extensions. We have already seen that hair care plays a vital role in both the company’s portfolios.

Although a nascent category, both Marico and Dabur have shown keen in interest in the hygiene and disinfectants. Marico upcycled Mediker and launched Keepsafe disinfectants. Similarly, Dabur created its Sanitize line of germ-kill products.

While the marcom fraternity looks forwards to a honey war (like the Cola wars), pressure might be building in other segments as well. Given the way its unfolding, it might just be a matter of ‘who goes first?’