Aishwarya Ramesh

HUL's Prabha Narasimhan discusses Vim Matic dishwasher range...

What prompted the company to create the product line? Is it still relevant, as India 'unlocks' its economy?

During COVID-induced lockdowns, many Indians stepped into their kitchens to wash their own dishes for the first time in their lives. Thanks to the absence of household help, washing dishes suddenly became a dreaded task after the exhausting processes of cooking. This is the time when dishwashers started becoming increasingly popular in India.

The gadget is still largely foreign in India and requires a certain level of upkeep. The dishes have to be placed inside in a certain way, any leftover food needs to be disposed first and you have to use a special kind of soap inside the device. Conventional liquid soap doesn’t cut it – dishwashers need non-foamy soap so that the device doesn’t get spoiled during the washing (cleaning) process.

Keeping this in mind, Hindustan Unilever (HUL) launched a range of dishwasher-only soaps under its Vim brand. HUL’s Vim Matic range includes a cleaner - detergent powder, which does the job of degreasing; two additives – rinse aid and salt; and an all-in-one tablet, which does the job of all three...

Also Read: Is there a market for 'dishwasher-only soap' in India?

The products include enzymes, which allegedly help cut through tough Indian grease (in the dishes), a result of oil/ghee, masala, milk and tea. The company mentions that compared to detergent powder, tablet is a relatively new format and not many consumers are aware of the benefit of all-in-one. The Vim Matic range is designed exclusively for machine dishwasher use and can’t be used to wash vessels by hand. The products are competitively priced to encourage trials.

Also Read: Will dishwasher sales finally take off in India?

Over an email, Prabha Narasimhan, executive director - home care, HUL, informs us (afaqs!) that the insight behind creating a new line of dishwashing soap is from a myth that dishwashers are not meant for Indian households. This is primarily because Indian style of cooking includes heavy grease and burnt food, which is not seen in the west, where machine dishwashers are commonly used.

“This probed us to launch a product which is designed to remove tough Indian grease in a dishwasher. We went by testing the product with oil/ghee, masala and other tough and greasy ingredients, which represent the Indian style of cooking, and thus achieved the confidence to bring this product in the market.”

Narasimhan adds that while washing dishes by hand, the liquid soap needs to create an adequate amount of foam since the effort in manual cleaning differs with every user. This is not the case in a machine dishwasher. “If one uses a hand dishwashing liquid in a machine, it will not just create mess on the floor, but also damage the machine dishwasher’s plumbing system.”

Prabha Narasimhan
Prabha Narasimhan

India is currently in Stage 5 of 'Unlock', and for many Indians, life is returning to normal. Some households have started employing maids again, but Narasimhan believes that a dishwasher still holds relevance in this context.

“Even pre-lockdown, consumers who upgraded to a dishwasher wanted to be 'maid-independent'. Planning meals basis the household help’s schedule, accepting their quality of dishwashing, and unplanned leaves were the key triggers to buy a dishwasher. And these reasons are relevant post-lockdown too.”

According to Narasimhan, the key challenge, as a marketer, in India is market development. “The category has tremendous growth potential – not just in the metros, but in small towns too. We are looking at partnership with machine brands that help make the consumer move from consideration to purchase. Once consumers have bought a dishwasher, they will look for an effective product and that’s where Vim Matic steps in. We have recently joined hands with Voltas Beko to build the category, together.”

In India, brands that sell dishwashers include Bosch, Siemens (both owned by BSH Home Appliances), LG, Whirlpool, IFB, Voltas Beko, Hindware, among others. Google Trends reveals that the search interest in the term 'dishwasher', shot up between April and June 2020, before declining and eventually increasing again towards the end of October.