Aishwarya Ramesh

Can Apple Cider Vinegar become the new Chyawanprash?

Apple Cider Vinegar made an entrance on the immunity block recently. Can this alien 'flavour' go mainstream in India? It caught Dabur's eye, after all.

An ‘all natural’ ingredient, which was previously well known for weight loss, skincare and haircare usage, has now found its way into the ‘immunity booster’ category, thanks to the Coronavirus. Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV) is fighting for share in a space previously occupied by honey, chyawanprash, ginger, tulsi, and other ingredients that Indians have used for years to boost their immunity.

However, the main difference between these ingredients and ACV is that the former are commonly used in Ayurveda and homeopathic medicine. ACV is not as readily found in an Indian’s pantry as, say, ginger, lemon, turmeric, or honey.

With Dabur’s recent foray into the space, we can’t help but wonder if ACV is finally catching on. Not as a dandruff cure, or an ‘at-home’ solution to belly fat, but as a way to boost a person’s immunity against the Coronavirus.

Dr. Sudhakar Gayakwad, vice president of FCB Health, agrees that this is a fairly non-traditional way of building immunity, but who buys it depends on the kind of consumer that marketers reach out to.

According to him, there are three kinds of consumers in the Indian market. The first is information indifferent, the second is information passive, and the third is information active. The information indifferent consumer might not care about this new ingredient, even if he/she is exposed to information about it.

The information passive consumers might hear/read about it, or might not buy it. The information active customer might search for the ingredient on Google to understand how it is used.

Dr. Sudhakar Gayakwad
Dr. Sudhakar Gayakwad

Gayakwad adds that with the third category of consumers, it’s easy to communicate with them. Digital marketing allows marketers to target those who are searching for information and, hence, help close the loop with them.

He says that the consumers left behind are those who aren’t actively looking for that information. For such people, the call to action becomes important – to enumerate that ACV has 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 benefits, and where the product can be purchased.

He also mentions that India has a long tradition of Ayurveda and people might not trust this new ingredient immediately. “It’s a hard journey for Apple Cider Vinegar vis-a-vis a product like chyawanprash. We’ve heard our grandmothers tell us things like amla/’haldi’ is good for health. So if there is a product with any of these ingredients in it, we are more likely to trust it,” he says.

In the case of ACV, it’s something that’s alien, so for it to achieve the status of an ‘immunity booster’, a lot of work has to go into marketing to convince users to buy it. Gayakwad also says that doctors can play a veto role in getting consumers to adopt and use this ingredient when they (the consumers) want to know about its (the ingredient’s) immunity boosting benefits.

“A brand needs to use doctors and senior health professionals as influencers to push the benefits of Apple Cider Vinegar and back that information up with clinical trials and proof,” he says.

Talking about consumer behaviour, Gayakwad explains that due to the pandemic, people are leaning back on trusted brands – ones that have been around for a long time. This could pose another challenge for the product, as it has not been around in the market for a very long time.

“People might trust a brand, like Dabur, or Patanjali, when it comes to Apple Cider Vinegar, because these brands can ride on the equity of their other products. Consumers are likely to trust these brands. For other brands, trust has to be earned by talking through influencers and clinical studies/trials,” he says.

ACV has been used for skincare and haircare DIYs in the past, but this does not necessarily increase its adoption as an immunity boosting ingredient.

“Something you apply on the skin may not necessarily be able to boost your immunity. Immunity is something you take inside your body and, hence, credibility is a challenge. That's why FSSAI has requirements that these claims have to be approved,” he adds.

He mentions that brands, like Dabur and Patanjali, will be able to ride on the trust factor. “It’s easier to trust a Lifebuoy/Dettol sanitiser than a new UV light-based sanitiser, which has recently entered the market. Over a period of time, it can become a habit/part of the routine. Right now, trial generation is the bigger challenge,” he says.

In the case of adoption and convincing Indians to use this product, category communications matter, opines Gayakwad. According to him, if more brands enter this category and create noise, it will create more impact.

Viren Razdan, managing director at Brand-nomics, mentions that the culture of wellness gathered momentum in the last few years, and ACV has gathered buzz, but largely as a weight loss aid. "However, in these times, as marketers and consumers scamper in the immunity wave, ACV fights for attention in the growing list," he says.

Razdan points out that vinegar, as an ingredient, has a firmly established spot for the mainstream. ACV, on the other hand, has had a fairly niche and arguably elite following.

Viren Razdan
Viren Razdan

He adds that the benefits (aspects of goodness) of ACV haven't yet been established in a consumer's mind. Chyawanprash still holds the top spot in this category in consumers' minds. He also acknowledges that in this high-tide of immunity building aids, many new spots are emerging, as a cross section of consumer segments gravitate towards their mix of favourites.

"ACV has operated in the fractured fringe. Now as the category gets cultivated, the codes need to be established before we expect a greater traction and following," he says.

"ACV would, perhaps, choose its own territory and build consumption habits. The category has, up until now, been built on its own steam, with word of mouth marketing pulling it through and creating patches of traction. But with the opportunity (presented by the Coronavirus) and the resources, we should see a new flavour of goodness emerging," Razdan signs off.

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