Ashwini Gangal

What next for hygiene and immunity brands?

2020 gave us the 99.9% germ kill promise and chyawanprash flavoured ice cream. Will the frenzied demand for immunity and hygiene products wane in 2021?

Over the last nine months, FMCG and packaged food brands feverishly rode a wave of mass consumer anxiety and launched a slew of ‘pandemic products’, in the hygiene and immunity segments. But as pandemic fatigue takes over and behaviour patterns stabilise and swing from cautious to careless, how will these brands stick around on the consumer’s shopping list? In a bid for longevity, should specialised products be repurposed to solve non-virus related needs?

The initial sampling phase is fizzling out; which hygiene and immunity products will continue to find scale in 2021 – and which brands will struggle? Were nine months enough to crystallise behaviour patterns into lasting habits and long term rituals?

At a recently held seminar (CMO Week, organised by afaqs!), I spoke to a group of marketers in the hygiene and immunity space about this.

Anuja Mishra, head of marketing - personal care and hygiene, Godrej Consumer Products (GCPL), said, “This year we saw a heightened trend of consumers adopting new behaviours – initially, we saw insecurity-led paranoid behaviour patterns, which were short term. But there are some behaviours like frequent hand washing, for instance, that have been incorporated into everyday rituals and have now penetrated lifestyles,” insisting that brands will, hereon, do well to pick their battles basis this classification. Sensible marketers will know which products have a short life and can thus be "let go of", according to Mishra.

This year, GCPL launched products across 12 categories, including hand sanitisers, fabric sanitisers, air disinfectant sprays, fruit/vegetable washes, wipes, body washes and dish wash solutions, among others.

“As the situation changed, we tried to adapt to the changing needs of our customers,” said Jayen Mehta, senior general manager - planning and marketing, Amul, referencing the 60 new products Amul has launched since March, including packaged panchamrit, a chocolate with ingredients like haldi, tulsi and ginger, camel milk powder, and other milk based beverages/ice creams with ashwagandha, saffron, star anise and the like. “These are long term trends; we look forward to meeting the changing requirements of our customers in the years to come,” he said.

Later on in the discussion, Amul’s Mehta also spoke about an overall shift in consumer markets from loose (say, 'khulla' dahi, paneer, chaas, mithai, etc.) to packaged goods, unorganised products/commodities to organised brands, and within brands, from local/regional players to reputed companies. “This is the low hanging fruit,” he said.

Nikhil Gupta, head, marketing and integrated communications and commercial operations, South Asia, Signify Innovations (formerly Philips Lighting), spoke about the company’s ultraviolet disinfectant box, essentially a scaled down, household version of what is popularly used as factory level equipment and as part of the anatomy of appliances like water purifers. Sold under the Philips brand and priced at Rs. 8,000+, it rivals brands like Godrej and Borosil that also market UV led hygiene solutions.

“It’s a niche product that targets the top 10 per cent of the consumer pyramid,” Gupta said, which puts it in a league far removed from the more affordable germ-killing sprays (CavinKare’s Bacto-V gadget cleanser and ITC's Savlon Hexa, for instance) that, effectively, promise to solve the same problem. The UV box is also positioned as a chemical free alternative to fruit/vegetable cleansers like the kind Marico (Veggie Clean), CavinKare (SaFoo) and ITC (Nimwash) have launched this year, despite the huge difference in price between the UV box and these cleansers.

Prashant Agarwal, head of marketing - health supplements, Dabur, (who handles Dabur’s chyawanprash, honey, glucose, immunity kit, hand sanitiser and skin care businesses), said, “The need for immunity and hygiene (products) was always there; it was heightened in the last nine months and will settle at a much higher level than it used to be pre-covid, because people are more aware now. These categories are gradually becoming part of people’s lifestyle and health needs.”

He added, “The pandemic situation has broken a lot of myths around chyawanprash,” referring to the popular belief that it’s a product that’s meant to be consumed only during the winter or monsoon season. “But this year, during peak summer months – May, June – we broke that myth.” Other myths include those around age (that it’s meant only for the elderly or kids) and taste (that it’s the proverbial bitter pill that tastes awful but is good for health). “It’s an all-year-round, family product. All these barriers were broken this year,” Dabur’s Agarwal clarified.

Moving on to the subject of Dabur Honey, Agarwal said the team repurposed the product proposition of honey from weight management to immunity building, starting March.

We also discussed whether, in 2021, purity would emerge as the third obsession among consumers, after immunity and hygiene. The context for the question is the CSE’s (Centre for Science and Environment) recent study that declared several honey makers, like Dabur, Patanjali and Emami, impure.

Agarwal reminded us that the very reason food products like honey or milk were packaged in the first place was purity, that is, consumers’ discomfort with the loosely sold version of the product. “That was the reason Dabur Honey was launched 35 years back,” he said, adding, “So I wouldn’t call purity the third pillar; for food categories; purity is the most important pillar… as long as brands comply with the parameters and control mechanisms laid down by the FSSAI (Food Safety and Standards Authority of India), consumers should be confident about the purity of the product.”

Well, whether the halo of suspicion around purity will extend to categories like packaged milk, salt, tea-like segments in 2021 remains to be seen.

About the future of the immunity category, Suman Varma, chief marketing officer, Hamdard, said, “Google searches around health, immunity, vitamin C as well as single-ingredient products and herbal ingredients like giloy, ashwagandha, tulsi are high – and are here to stay. We’ve all grown up knowing these jadi bootis, so easy solutions like kadha are here to stay.”

The Hamdard portfolio comprises around 600 products, among which brands like Kulzam, Joshanda, Infuza, Cinkara, Safi and Joshina were among the ones that kept the team busy this year.

The panel also fielded questions about the hazards of reckless advertising during these insecurity-ridden times.

In conclusion, broad trends for the immunity and hygiene categories, that may pan out next year, include – new launches, product diversification, category consolidation, focus on deeper market penetration, and an absence of premiumisation.

Watch the full session below:

The session was sponsored by India TV and powered by Nickelodeon Sonic.

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