Abid Hussain Barlaskar
Points of View

Will the hot new 'produce wash' segment fizzle out like a fad, or grow?

Marico, ITC, and CavinKare have launched specialised cleansing products for fruits and veggies. People may sample these products, but will the segment thrive?

The last few months have given rise to some new product categories, and one such in the kitchen space is called 'produce wash'. Several large FMCG companies have recently launched specialised cleansing products that promise to help us clean our fruits, veggies, and in some cases, meat and fish, better.

Better than? Well, regular kitchen soap and water. Which means, brands in this space are tasked with category creation, in a sense. Marico's Veggie Clean, ITC's Nimwash and CavinKare's SaaFoo aren't rivalling one another as much as they are competing with dishwashing liquid and the conviction of sceptics.

Sure, products positioned to help us remove pesticides and insecticides from fruits and vegetables did exist, but now, the threat has taken on a whole new level of seriousness.

We take a look at what kind of longevity this category is likely to have. While it may see some demand due to initial trails led by panic, or FOMO-led sampling, will it see sustained demand, and find a permanent place in Indian kitchen shelves? And, what will determine this demand?

In a value-conscious market, the dilution format is a winner. So, in the days ahead, will the market belong to the brand that gives the largest volume of usable liquid after diluting the least number of drops? And do these brands need to aggressively drive this point home, making advertising the most important aspect?

Or, will it come down to cost? Sample these prices: Veggie Clean is priced at Rs 149 and Rs 289 for 200 ml and 400 ml, respectively. Nimwash costs Rs 99 for 500 ml. Nimwash’s one litre pack is priced at Rs 190. SaaFoo veggies and fruits wash is priced at Rs 99 for 500 ml, and Saafoo meat wash costs Rs 120 for the same quantity.

Another factor is ease of use: ITC has a 'spray and wash', and 'soak and wash' variants. CavinKare, of course, has the sachet pitch, which may encourage trials. Marico has made the usage format clear in a press release: "One is only required to soak and hand rub the fresh produce in a solution made of one capful of Veggie Clean and two litres of water, followed by rinsing the soaked produce in running water 2-3 times for about 30 seconds." Hereon, the chore-burdened Indian will favour products that help reduce their time in the kitchen.

Ingredients - and the messaging around this - may matter, as well. Will consumers favour products that boast strong, 'certified', microbe-killing capabilities - on the pack, or in an ad. Or, will more 'natural' components, like Neem and Turmeric, go down better with the buyer? Or, will the absence of harmful items, like parabens and sulphates, be a selling point?

Experts Speak

Lloyd Mathias, business strategist, and angel investor (former Asia Pacific marketing head of HP)

The COVID pandemic has heightened concerns about safety and hygiene, and has made the consumers ultra-cautious about the food they’re consuming. In this context, it is natural for companies to offer solutions addressing these concerns. Indian companies - with their shorter product development cycles - have been quick off the block - with Marico’s Veggie Clean, CavinKare’s SaaFoo, and now, ITC’s Nimwash in the market in the last few weeks.

Lloyd Mathias
Lloyd Mathias

While these launches have been an immediate reaction to fears around the spread of the Coronavirus, this need will likely be prolonged as consumers get used to a new standard of hygiene (the bar is reset). Until now, for most consumers, ensuring sanitation of fresh products is limited to rinsing with water. Now, with fresh concerns, many consumers are going to consider using these enhanced washes as a safety precaution.

Preventive and domestic hygiene solutions are going to be part of the ‘new normal’, just as hand sanitisers and face masks since the pandemic spread. Fear around infections, and spread of disease will make usage of such product washes commonplace, just as RO water purifiers have become a way of life with most Indian consumers.

Lubna Khan, brand strategy consultant

This is a category whose time has come. In my experience of tracking health and food-related consumer trends, I had noticed a segment of consumers who, even pre-COVID, were compulsively washing their fruits, vegetables and meats with home-made solutions, like soda bicarbonate and potassium, even diluted soap. They were driven by fears of chemicals and pesticides, unsafe food handling, or to provide extra protection to vulnerable family members, like children, elderly, or the chronically sick.

Lubna Khan
Lubna Khan

There were a couple of niche brands available online that fulfilled this purpose, but no mainstream brand had looked at the opportunity seriously, presumably because of the size of the segment. Now with COVID, of course, consumer orientation towards food hygiene has increased substantially, and the lack of trusted solutions makes this a good category to enter and innovate.

I predict that the category will continue to exist post pandemic, too, because there are plenty of other environmental threats that are perceived to make raw food unsafe. The success of individual brands, however, will depend on how effectively they remind people of their propositions, as well as finding the ideal price point.

Amar Wadhwa, founder and executive director, Crystal Eyes Consulting

Given this concerted effort to build the category on the back of the fear of catching the virus, we can expect significant consumer trials in the coming months. We will see early adoption amongst the upper middle class, and the rich. Typically, once they adopt a category like this, it becomes a part of their regular shopping repertoire (Lizol being a good example). However, in the case of produce wash, there will always be the lurking fear of contaminating your food items with more chemicals, which will become one big issue for the industry to address.

Amar Wadhwa
Amar Wadhwa

We will also see this need being addressed by other technologies, such as UVC (Ultra Violet Light 200-280nm). Devices which will address the sanitisation needs without any harmful chemicals and extra washing effort. Moreover, UVC Sanitisation Devices will address sterilisation across surfaces, such as metal, wood, paper, ceramics, and fruits and vegetables.

The only caveat would be to ensure that humans are not exposed to those rays. I foresee a big adoption of that technology in times to come (a device like your microwave). And, if that were to happen, it will significantly impede the growth of fruit and vegetable sanitisers. The one time investment of a few thousand rupees for the upper middle class won’t be an issue, especially if they find the UVC technology safer and more convenient.

N Chandramouli, CEO, Trust Research Advisory (brand intelligence and data insights company)

This segment will take a long while to catch up. It might be having a good time now, but I don’t think it will take off as an FMCG product very strongly. Solutions as such have been there for some time. It is a temporary phenomenon, and will be a pretty slow growing segment.

N Chandramouli
N Chandramouli

For these players, creating such a product is not a difficult thing. They are trying to innovate, and are attempting new businesses. You run several products, keep the ones that work, and drop the rest. The COVID opportunities are not clear for anyone. So, what do you do if certain products are not working in your portfolio? You create new ones. You have the supply chain, shelf space, same factory, same type of buyer, etc.