Shreyas Kulkarni

We are aiming for the post-Covid hand hygiene space says Bisleri's Anjana Ghosh

With brands like Dettol, Savlon, Lifebuoy, etc. holding sway, how will the bottled water giant gain share with its premium hand purifiers? By insisting they're not sanitisers for starters.

“We didn’t want to enter a cluttered hand sanitiser zone,” says Anjana Ghosh, Bisleri’s director of marketing and business development.

Ghosh was speaking to afaqs! about her company’s latest line of scented hand purifiers that will keep your hands “safe and soft”.

Bisleri’s move last week came as a surprise. We didn’t expect to see a company that’s known for its bottled mineral water of the same name, enter the hand sanitiser category, this late.

For the longest time, Reckitt (Dettol), Hindustan Unilever (Lifebuoy), and ITC (Savlon) were the leading players in the category.

After the COVID-induced nationwide lockdowns in March 2020, we saw many brands enter the category because the demand for hand sanitisers far exceeded the available supply. From Dabur to Asian Paints to Nycil to Chik to Diageo India to Cipla to Mahindra.

So, why did Bisleri decide to make a move a good one-and-a-half years later?

"If you see the first lot (brands), one-and-a-half-year ahead of us, they have nothing to talk about. It’s just a sanitiser, 99.9% germ kill, a clinical packaging... There is no real brand value in any of the products. It's just a sanitiser," remarks Ghosh.

Anjana Ghosh
Anjana Ghosh

She reveals an interesting observation about the consumers going to a store to buy a sanitiser, without paying much notice to the brand. “There is no connection to the brand.”

When Bisleri did a research to understand the market, it noticed that nobody had a strategy in mind. After 6-7 months of using a sanitiser, people complained of dry hands/nails and blisters on their kids’ hands. “We thought of developing a product that will address these needs of the consumer,” says Ghosh.

Bisleri’s hand purifiers come in gel/spray formats, and premium packs. They are available in 50, 100, 200 ml SKUs, and contain vitamin E, aloe vera and glycerol to keep your hands moist. And, of course, they kill 99.99% germs.

“We are not positioning it as a sanitiser. This is something you will need as you move out of a pandemic, and not during one,” states Ghosh.

Aerosol versus fomite

Today, we are more worried about social distancing and wearing a face mask because of Coronavirus’s ability to spread via the air (aerosol) than from surface-to-surface (fomite). It must have appeared in the 'cons' section of Bisleri when it was brainstorming.

"We never wanted to address the need of COVID," states Ghosh. She explains that while it is the predominant infection and taking a toll on our health, it will settle down over a period of time, like H1N1 and swine flu, with vaccines. "The worry about masking and aerosol is current, and not futuristic."

She says that Bisleri is looking post-COVID, where it will be important to maintain a regular habit of washing hands because viral, bacterial and fungal infections enter the body through touch.

The last-mover advantage

While most folks tout the first-mover advantage, Bisleri had the opportunity to observe the sanitiser category closely, and learn from the hits and misses of other brands. New and established ones, such as Asian Paints, Dabur, Dettol, Lifebuoy, among others.

Bisleri is a brand that adds value to its offerings and so “we don’t believe in taking a product out for three months and then pulling it off the shelves… we’ve never pulled a brand,” remarks Ghosh.

From the product to its mix to its packaging, “we took eight months to develop it” and sometimes it pays to enter last. “When everybody is exhausted and has fallen off, that’s the time you make your entry.”

The battle of equity

Bisleri doesn’t want to position itself as a hand sanitiser. It is a premium hand purifier that wants to lead your hand hygiene habit, post-COVID. But it certainly won’t be able to shake off the likes of Dettol and Lifebuoy, or their germ kill equity built over decades.

Says Ghosh, “We are not getting into Lifebuoy’s, or Dettol’s equity... We are trying to build a new category… Dettol’s zone is more of wash. We are trying to create our niche, where you don’t need water.”

So, will Bisleri only distribute it to modern trade and e-commerce platforms to keep that premium niche intact? It’s a clear no.

“Our biggest advantage is that we reach almost 3.5 lakh counters across India, along with 50,000-70,000 chemists… We have not priced it high and want it to be available everywhere,” responds Ghosh.

The hand purifiers are priced between Rs 25 to Rs 120 and rival the prices of a Dettol in comparision.

However, this does belie the mindset that a premium product is only effective if it is expensive. Says Ghosh, “When you say high value (cost), your market shrinks to a small size… we don’t want to deny those customers not living in the city the opportunity that a city consumer is using. Thus, the economical pricing.”

And, what’s a premium product if it does not smell good. Bisleri’s hand purifiers come in three fragrances: By the Bay (Beach), Hello Sunshine (Citrus), and Lovely (Floral).

On how Bisleri chose the fragrances, Ghosh says that it all came down to a consumer’s mind, as they wait for things to get normal and are free to travel.

“The moment your (consumer) mind works in that direction, you think of a beach to go to, a hill station, or a garden. You want to be around nature because you’ve been denied nature for a long time. We chose the fragrances keeping those clues in mind,” Ghosh signs off.

Have news to share? Write to us