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ITC tries to find its feet in personal care

April 15, 2010 10:08 IST

Cigarettes-to-hotel major ITC entered the consumer products business in 2007. In three years, it has managed to corner a two per cent market share.

But ITC feels that's no mean achievement for a late entrant. The consumer and personal care products market is highly competitive, dominated by well-entrenched brands from companies such as Hindustan Unilever (HUL), Procter and Gamble, L'Oreal India, Dabur India and Cavinkare. The lion's share is with HUL, whose brands -- Lux, Dove, Sunsilk and Clinic Plus -- have about half the market.

Some analysts agree with ITC's view. Anand Shah of Angel Broking, says it takes about five years for a brand to break even. If ITC gains 5 to 10 per cent market share in 10 years, that should start earning the company profits, Shah adds.

In absolute terms, two per cent of the personal care market is not a small share. According to Nielsen, the personal care market between March 2009 and February 2010 touched Rs 16,313 crore (Rs 163.13 billion), which is a growth of 10 per cent over the same period in the previous year. While the men's personal care market is estimated at Rs 1,429 crore (Rs 14.29 billion) and growing at 10 per cent, that for women is worth Rs 6,678 crore (Rs 66.78 billion) and growing at nearly 21 per cent.

ITC knows it's a tough fight and is willing to give time. Innovation and extensive marketing are the company's mantra to strengthen its footprint in the personal care domain.

"We intend to build on innovations to find a foothold in the already cluttered personal care market," says Sandeep Kaul, chief executive of ITC's personal care business.

The Fiama Di Wills transparent gel bathing bar is an example of product innovation which is developed with liquid crystal freezing technology that intends to combine a shower gel in a bathing bar format. ITC's current personal-care portfolio includes soaps, shampoos and fragrances. These products are marketed under the Fiama Di Wills, Superia and Vivel brands. Superia caters to the mass consumer segment, Vivel targets the premium and Fiama the so-called super-premium market.

According to Kaul, the personal care sector holds immense appeal for ITC due to the category's size and growth potential.

But the personal care segment in India is immensely competitive. Anand Ramanathan, analyst with KPMG, says, "In categories like soaps, the competition is quite intense. But ITC is likely to combat it with its distribution muscle. However, because of intense competition, ITC would be under margin pressure and so the personal care business for the company would not be as profitable as its other businesses."

"ITC, however, can recover from the margin pressure to some extent with the help of premium products in niche categories," Ramanathan points out.

Devangshu Dutta, chief executive of specialist management consultancy firm, Third Eyesight, feels that market leaders like HUL still feels it reaches only 60 per cent of the market. So, even a new entrant like ITC can find potential in the personal care segment.

"ITC has diversified over the last 10 years as part of its strategy to expand into non-cigarette categories. The real challenge will be effective communication and marketing," Dutta adds.

Ramanujam Sridhar, CEO, Brand-Comm, says: "There is a reasonable amount of loyalty among consumers for personal care products, especially in skincare, which can pose a challenge for any new entrant, including ITC.

However, ITC enjoys a strong brand recall and its strongest qualifier is its distribution muscle, which should help the company establish itself in newer categories as well."

Pradipta Mukherjee in Kolkata
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