Aishwarya Ramesh
Points of View

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

With HUL’s Vim Matic range, will dishwasher soaps, as a category, finally take off in India?

During COVID-induced lockdown in 2020, many Indians asked their household help to refrain from entering their homes in a bid to stop the Coronavirus from spreading. They took matters into their own hands (literally) and got down to the dirty task of scrubbing utensils clean.

Hindustan Unilever’s Vim has introduced the Vim Matic machine dishwasher range for people who have dishwashers. The range includes detergent powder, rinse aid, salt and an all-in-one tablet, which does the job of the first three. It claims to contain powerful enzymes which help cut through tough grease stains.

So far, Amazon India has dishwasher detergents from international brands like Finish, Crystale and Fortune. Dishwasher detergent from brands like Bosch and IFB Essentials are also available in the market.

We asked a few experts: Will dishwasher soaps, as a category, finally take off in India?

Edited excerpts:

Nisha Sampath, Managing Partner Bright Angles Consulting

During lockdown, there has been an increased interest in buying dishwashers. Brands like IFB and Bosch reported running out of stock during that time. However, it remains a relatively new category in India. Its penetration is low.

There’s an interesting concept in India right now, called 'cocooning'. The idea is to keep yourself equipped with all the items in your home that make you comfortable, safe and happy, so that within your home, you are self-sufficient.

Nisha Sampath
Nisha Sampath

People know that the lockdown is over. But they may feel that it is better to have a fully equipped kitchen in case they’re working from home and need to handle the responsibility of doing all the dishes.

I’m not surprised this product is available exclusively online. If you own a dishwasher in India, your options are to buy the special detergent for it from the company or to choose from imported products on Amazon.

Results for the search 'dishwasher detergent' on Amazon
Results for the search 'dishwasher detergent' on Amazon

If Vim Matic makes these products available at an accessible price point, then maybe it will be able to capture the market. [Note: Vim Matic tablets are priced at Rs.1200 for 30 tabs on Amazon] But it’s a limited market for sure. Among the people who have bought dishwashers are expats, NRIs, and those who have lived abroad and are now back in India with their appliances in tow.

You can’t use this detergent for any other purpose, but you can’t use any other powder or gel inside the dishwasher. You have to use the correct product or you may end up damaging a very expensive piece of equipment. Even if it’s a small audience, it’s still a captive audience.

Another thing is that there is a potential for this product to be subscribed to on Amazon. So, the subscription model may result in a stream of steady customers. HUL is a company that can afford to experiment. So, this is probably just to see if there’s a demand for the product at all.

Samir Datar, senior vice president – Crayons Advertising (ex-senior vice president at Hakuhodo, Grey Group, and Law & Kenneth)

Having worked for a fairly long time on various consumer durable brands like Samsung and LG, I think that a dishwasher, if you ask a normal consumer, doesn't even figure in the consumer durables hierarchy.

There is typically a hierarchy that people have in their minds for consumer durables. So, there is the television, the refrigerator, the washing machine, the microwave… That's how the hierarchy flows and, more often than not, upgradations keep happening in the hierarchy. The dishwasher takes up a low position in this hierarchy.

Samir Datar
Samir Datar

The simple reason for it is that if you look at a typical Indian household - we have labour, in easy supply. We may not assign washing clothes to the household help since the clothes have become very delicate and premium. Moreover, the washing machines have also become fully automatic (from semi-automatic) and are equipped to handle these garments.

From the perspective of a dishwasher, we may feel that if we have help to wash the dishes – do we really need to buy a separate dishwasher? You have to understand that the kind of food we eat as Indians – oil and grease tends to stay on it. There’s a Hindi adage that goes – ‘haat se dhona hai.’

I can see that Vim is trying to create a market for its products. But for its product to be used, there has to be a big market for the dishwashers. As an FMCG company, it will only see the benefit when it sells in large volumes. It may take time for the company to achieve a certain scale when it comes to sales – this depends on the number of installed dishwashers in Indian households. If the households aren’t buying dishwashers, what difference does the format of the product (tablet, liquid, etc.) make?

Vim Matic's product range
Vim Matic's product range

Vineet Trakroo, CEO – Evolution Strategy Advisors (ex-CMO, vice president of marketing – Usha International, former vice president, marketing (personal care) - CavinKare)

Since I have worked with both the FMCG and the consumer durables industry, I can tell you that dishwasher sales have, indeed, shot up during the pandemic. Most companies faced a situation where there was demand, but the machines went out of stock. They couldn’t keep up in terms of supply.

This is the same thing that happened when washing machines were first introduced. Companies like Surf Excel and Ariel came up with washing powders that could be used specifically in washing machines. This is the same situation we are in today.

With the cost of the dishwashers going down to an affordable price of about 20,000. The increase in volumes will lead to growth of this new segment. Plus, this is a premium segment so the growth in profits will be at a fairly healthy rate, compared to what they make on the regular dishwashing bar or gel liquid.

Suppose you buy a dishwasher, what will you put inside to clean the dishes? An Indian consumer may be unaware. The first brand to come along and make that move gets the first mover advantage. As the sales in this category go up, so will the sales in the dishwasher soap category. The biggest challenge will be to reach the customer – since there are very few today. They may be growing at the rate of 50-60 per cent in India but the numbers are still pretty low.

Vineet Trakroo
Vineet Trakroo

Many years back when Ariel launched washing powder for machines, they had a tie up with the washing machine manufacturer. I think the best that vim could do is to tie up with dishwasher manufacturers in a similar way.

The people who buy these products are quite evolved and they would be accessing and purchasing products so from a channel point of view, ecommerce would be the best channel. However, over a period of time, as the market starts growing, you’d still need to get into the A class stores and modern retail.

Suraja Kishore, CEO – BBDO, India (Former EVP & General Manager at McCann Mumbai, and National Planning Head at Truth Central, McCann’s global thought leadership unit)

I think this is a smart brand variant growth strategy for Vim. It can have three-fold impact. First, it can ignite growth for the brand by opening a new segment and a new category altogether. Second, it will also help in giving that positive nudge to people sitting on the fence as far as dishwasher purchase is concerned.

Since Vim Matic can remove the doubt of dishwasher not being effective for tough Indian grease, many will now actively consider to buy one. And third, the launch of this variant will have a great rub off on the core offering of Vim. It will enhance the effectiveness and innovative quotient of the brand.

Suraja Kishore
Suraja Kishore

Calling this variant Vim ‘Matic’ is a great shorthand for kindling right associations in the minds of consumers that this particular variant of Vim is made for the machine-job. Very much like Surf and Surf Matic, which most people are now aware of.

Lockdown has turned everyone into overnight chefs. But with elaborate cooking comes exhausting cleaning of dishes. Our heightened sense of hygiene made us keep distance from household help. It has led to the dishwasher category witnessing 400-500 per cent surge in demand. In this light, the launch of Vim Matic is very well-timed to create the category and reap more than disproportionate share of the pie that will grow as we move forward.