Ananya Pathak
Points of View

Who's the real bad guy - germs and pesticides, or soap?

While brands in the young fruit/vegetable wash segment promise to kill germs, they find demonising soap just as important.

Hygiene and immunity are the two words that have garnered most of the attention since the outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic. While the consumers look for them in every possible product they consume, brands have also added them to their mandatory checkbox list, for most of their products. This has certainly given a push to an erstwhile non-existant category in the market, namely, the fruit/veggie wash segment.

Since March this year, major consumer goods companies have added fruit and vegetable wash liquids to their portfolio. ITC launched Nimwash vegetable and fruit wash, with 100 per cent natural action that ensures washing away of pesticides and 99.9 per cent germs. CavinKare announced the launch of SaaFoo veggies and fruits wash in a sachet format.

While both these brands focus more on killing germs, Marico, which entered the category in April with the launch of Veggie Clean, interestingly demonises soap in a recent ad. It says that using soap on fruits and veggies could be ‘harsh’. It's like face wash brands telling you to not use soap on your face because it needs ‘gentle care’.

Who's the real bad guy - germs and pesticides, or soap?

Although this isn't that surprising, given (some may argue) that washing edible products with soaps, or detergents, isn't recommended as they may leave behind residues. But then, some also believe that just washing the products under running water isn't enough. SaaFoo builds on this argument – ‘water alone can't cleanse pesticides, chemicals, bacteria and viruses’.

Getting rid of germs and bacteria from the surface of vegetables and fruits is of utmost importance – which is also what the core offering of the segment is. But, we wonder who the real bad guy is – soaps and detergents, or germs and pesticides? And, which brand in the category has got the game right.

We reached out to a couple of industry experts to see what they feel about the issue. Here’s what they had to say:

Edited excerpts:

Amar Wadhwa, founder and executive director, CrystalEyes - a marketing services organisation which supports businesses in achieving excellence in Brand Strategy, Marketing Innovations and Capability Building

At this point in time, it’s the fear of germs that is making this category more relevant. Consumers fear pesticides, but not as much as pesticides don’t have an immediate impact on health. Also, most consumers have probably internalised that pesticides can be washed off with water as they're sprayed on the surface.

Amar Wadhwa
Amar Wadhwa

Consumers have started taking extra care when it comes to fruits and veggies, and all three brands have a common narrative on this. The current consumer behaviour of washing fruits and vegetables with water alone (or even with soap in Marico’s case) is being shown to be inadequate by all three brands.

The consumers need two other reassurances, which all three brands are providing in equal measure. The first being the reassurance that it neutralises germs (99.9 per cent germ kill), and the second being the reassurance that it has no chemicals and is a natural product.

I find two things different and interesting in CavinKare’s approach. The fact that they have a Rs 2 sachet. This is likely to get the company a lot more trials and may help it to reach a much wider audience. The second thing is that it emphasises the point that the SaaFoo wash won't affect the taste of the fruits and veggies. With this message, it addresses a possible consumer misgiving that could become a reason to reject a brand/category.

Having said that, from a branding standpoint, I find Marico‘s branding – Veggie Clean – easiest for the consumer to comprehend. I think CavinKare needs to relook the relative emphasis on the brand name, and the category descriptor on the pack and in its communication, too.

Ashutosh Garg, co-founder, The Brand Called You, and founder chairman of Guardian Lifecare, a health, wellness and beauty chain, with over 230 stores across India

Indians always wash their fruits and vegetables, and have done so forever. There's a clear belief amongst all of us that vegetables are, in any case, 'sanitised' from germs and pesticides after peeling and cooking. This isn't the same for fruits because they're consumed raw and often without peeling.

Ashutosh Garg
Ashutosh Garg

I'm frankly confused about what a veggie wash will do for me that plain water won't. The following questions came up when I watched the videos.

  1. Is this good for raw fruits and vegetables? Yes.

  2. Will the veggie wash improve the taste? No.

  3. Will cooked food become any safer? No.

  4. Does anyone use soap, or neem, to wash fruits and vegetables? No.

  5. What will this do to the monthly budget? I have no idea.

Out of the three, I think ITC’s product seems to be the most credible.

Gauri Chaudhari, marketing and communication consultant, and co-founder, Brand Innerworld

The veggie wash operates in the intangible world. Everyone is concerned about the presence of pesticides and germs on the veggies, but there is no tangible evidence of their removal after using vegetable wash. There is a need for substantiation of claims.

Look at the healthy oil category. Way back, the homemaker was unaware of the advantages, or the disadvantages, of the cooking oil. The brands carried out studies and gave evidence of their action on cholesterol and heart health.

Gauri Chaudhari
Gauri Chaudhari

Similarly, the veggie wash market needs substantiation of claims. If the pandemic has got these brands into the discussion, then the key question is do they kill the Coronavirus? How can they substantiate claims of removing pesticides and other germs? What is the scientific literature based or laboratory-driven proof for the same?

Also, the homemakers read the ingredient claims. They are not comfortable seeing some chemicals being used there. So, the brands that claim natural ingredients will stand to gain. Today’s consumer can see through the claims, such as naturally derived ingredients versus natural ingredients. They need honesty and transparency, particularly when they are overwhelmed by the pandemic.