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Home > Business > Special

Ayurvedic products, the latest fad

Arati Menon Carroll | March 25, 2006

Ayurveda is crawling out of darkened treatment rooms across the country, where oils are poured out of faceless bottles and smells are just as indistinguishable as they are sometimes malodorous.

Manifested predominantly in the form of proprietary medicine and skincare mass brands like Ayur, Biotique and Himalaya, today there is a new contender - the well-packaged, smartly marketed niche Ayurveda brands, which are stealthily carving out a market for high-priced herbal panacea.

Kama Ayurveda is one such company. Jointly owned by four partners, one of whom is Rajshree Pathy, Coimbatore's sugar baronness, and produced under the auspices of the Arya Vaidya Pharmacy in Coimbatore, Kama prides itself on being formulated according to exacting Ayurvedic prescriptions.

According to Vivek Sahni, design director and partner, Kama Ayurveda, the biggest problem with Ayurveda has been that, while products may be authentic, packaging has done nothing to inspire confidence.

"It sounds superficial, but that's how buyer psychology works," says Sahni. He continues, "Our packaging is clean and pure looking, yet slightly old-fashioned." (They use replicas of old medicine bottles.)

Tahira Singh of Forest Essentials, which is produced out of Tehri Garhwal and uses only Himalayan spring water, couldn't agree more. "It's very important when marketing to have a product that is first smart looking and ultimately efficient," she says.

Good Earth, a part of the $350 million Eicher Group, is a home-grown design retailer that has detected the surge in interest for natural body and skincare products. It launched Amritam, which draws from traditions of Ayurveda, aromatherapy and naturopathy.

There is also assorted paraphernalia that goes along with the facial mists and glycerine soaps -- Amritam offers all you need to create your own home spa, whether it's candles, massage mats, relaxing pillows, lamps or vapourisers.

And their interest extends to retailing other similar brands. Their Home Spa section is large and deliciously aromatic. Says Anita Lall, founder of Good Earth, "Our choices (of other brands) are based on the philosophy 'Purity is Essential'. The idea is for customers to be assured of finding small, relatively unknown authentic brands as well as exclusive international brands, all under one roof."

On close inspection, most products that are Ayurveda- based are actually a bit of a pastiche of assorted philosophies - naturopathy, aromatherapy, and herbal. So are they even Ayurvedic? Yes, say all, some occasionally more, but none ever less.

For instance, Forest Essential's body scrubs and milk baths are Ayurvedic, "upgraded" with aromatherapy. Says Singh, "If I gave you the choice between an Ayurvedic oil and a lavender oil, you would choose lavender because of the smell; essential properties of Ayurveda are important, but we boost them."

All these niche brands are slightly dismissive of the proprietary brands that, according to them, are all vying for the same mass market. So they state their use of the purest, highest quality ingredients, and let their prices reflect this.

"People are looking for speciality bath and skincare products and the discerning customer will want a balance of quality and price," explains Lal.

At Rs 450 for 200 ml of bringadi hair oil and Rs 645 for 500 gms of cane sugar and tamarind body polish, this crop can be dismissed as indulgences for the rich. Lall begs to differ: "Prices are high, but actually quite affordable compared to foreign brands of similar quality."

There are luxury foreign Ayurvedic brands retailed locally, which, incidentally, are sourced from indigenous producers in India but branded in the United States.

For instance, Auromere, importers of Ayurvedic products from India, specialise in providing Ayurvedic skin and body care, from whitening toothpaste and handmade soaps to mud baths. And at Tarika, Peggy Von Sonn and her daughter spent many years in India studying with Ayurvedic doctors, working in clinics and seeing firsthand the curative effects of Ayurveda.

Their website claims the business idea dawned on them after "observing the benefits of mud-bathing among village women with beautiful skin who bathed near the river banks and ponds".

Okay, so they've laid it on a bit, but exotica does more good than harm to the growth of the industry; in fact, most companies play up on stock Indian imagery.

The Auromere website also has links to sites on alternative living, books on yoga and spiritual audio and video content, and most brands publicise the fact that they support fair trade and encourage sustainable harvesting practices with no animal testing.

Says Nilesh Rughani, Kama's UK distributor, "Our typical customer does appear to have an understanding of a holistic approach to their lives. They love the fact that Kama products are made from organically grown herbs and plants. There is increased demand for products that are pure and do not contain all the usual suspects of petrochemicals and parabens."

Spas and hotels are also lapping it up. The Four Seasons has shown interest in Forest Essentials, the Oberoi group of spas and the Ananda in the Himalayas stocks up on Kama. Spas in North America and Europe follow suit.

But the companies are trying to step up their focus on retail. Kama, which retails out of high-profile stores such as the Parfumerie Generale in Paris and Stefano Saccani in Parma, is working on a standalone store in Delhi and a treatment centre in conjunction with AVP.

Forest Essentials has four standalone shops in Mumbai and Delhi and will continue their growth. Amritam, according to Lal, will always remain a niche brand. And marketing for all will be mostly by word of mouth through satisfied customers.

Pomegranate and mint face toners, bitter orange and cinnamon bath salts, and Mongolian mare's milk cream sound like products that are good enough to eat. And today, they're also a visual delight. Of course, your wallet will be the lighter for your indulgences, but then elixirs don't come cheap.

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