Celebrating Indian Traditions Through Consumer Goods

On a recent trip to India I came across two brands that friends and family were discussing in nearly every conversation. Inspired by Ayurveda, the practice of traditional Indian medicine, these brands are targeting entirely different customers, demonstrating a bourgeoning consumer market seeking products rooted in Indian traditions.

Historically, Indian consumers relied heavily on products introduced by leading FMCG (Fast-Moving Consumer Goods) brands such as Colgate and Unilever. Not surprisingly, most of these brands adopted existing products to meet the tastes and preferences of the Indian consumer. Now, however, as the Indian economy continues to grow, more locally produced brands are emerging, tapping into their deep knowledge of Indian culture and tradition.

One of these brands is Pantanjali. Founded in 2006 by yogi teacher Baba Ramdev, Pantanjali is now growing in popularity and serving as a formidable competitor to some of the leading FMCG. According to some estimates, Pantanjali is the fastest growing FMCG in India with forecasted revenues of $740 million this year.

Part of Pantanjali’s increasing popularity can be attributed to Baba Ramdev. Although he holds no stake in the company and his name is never explicitly used in brand communications, Ramdev’s association with Pantanjali is widely known among consumers, and largely attributed to driving sales. Ramdev has more than 50 million followers, and his reputation for popularizing yoga is widely recognized across the country. From Ramdev’s thick black hair to his smooth complexion, he is the epitome of health and well-being. Ageless. Disciplined. Calm. These images of Ramdev greatly contribute to the brand’s credibility.

At the same time, the price/quality ratio of Pantanjali’s products is attractive to consumers across all economic situations. Affordable Ayurveda is the essence of Pantanjali. Most of its personal care products, for example, are range between Rs. 6 to 95 ($0.10 to 1.40). The affordability makes the products accessible and promotes inclusiveness across a country where economic disparity is rife.

At the other end of the spectrum is Forest Essentials. Founded in New Dehli in 2000 by Mira Kulkarni, Forest Essentials began as a collection of handmade soaps and candles. Now the company has an extended line of personal care products, including massage oils, night serums and body scrubs. Compared to Pantanjali, Forest Essentials is an upscale brand with products ranging from Rs. 475 to 4,200 ($7 to $62.50) serving affluent Indian consumers looking for high-end beauty products rooted in Indian tradition. And the company not only understands its target with taglines such as ‘Luxury Ayurveda,’ but controls the brand at multiple touchpoints to maintain consistency and create desire. In fact, after launching the brand in personal care stores, Kulkarni decided to build her own retail shops in 2005 to control and shape brand perceptions. And whenever you enter one of their retail locations, it’s clear that the brand wants to create a unique experience for its consumers.

Despite the divergent consumer targets, Pantjali and Forest Essentials are able to coexist thanks to the shifting spending habits of middle-class households, as well as the increasing demand for products that celebrate tradition Indian culture and heritage.

While there are several pieces written about the modern Indian consumer, what I am most interested in witnessing is how brands, both local and foreign, address the divergent attitudes and behaviors of consumers across multiple generations. What other brands will emerge? And how will they infuse Indian traditions across generations with ostensibly different attitudes toward price, quality and local production?

Each trip to India reminds me that the FMCG market is rapidly unfolding in unpredictable ways. But brands regardless of their origin should pay close attention to how brands such as Pantajli and Forest Essentials are using Indian heritage to create differentiation and drive sales.

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