Baba Ramdev may be controversy's child, yet he has a fan following not just in India, but almost all over the world.
Sanjeev Nayyar recounts why he is fida about Patanjali products.
I was introduced to Baba Ramdev's consumer goods about five years ago when a close friend gifted me a Diwali hamper of Patanjali products. I looked sarcastically at my friend as if to say, 'You don't like me hence this hamper.'
Within a few months I thanked him for introducing us to a whole new range of products, be it coconut oil, shampoo, body lotion, balm or soap.
In 2010 there was no Patanjali outlet in our area. A Google search showed that I needed to travel about 5 km to reach the nearest outlet. The first time I entered the small outlet I was impressed by the sheer range of products.
Varieties of soaps in Indian fragrances like mint-tulsi, mogra, turmeric-sandal and multani mitti; balm, cough tablets, hand wash, atta, tooth brush, shampoos, eye drops, jams, ketchup and of course not to forget the usual range of Ayurveda-based nutritious products like chawanprashmuraba and amla candy. There was a never-ending stream of customers, 90 per cent of whom were women.
The products were not only packaged smartly, the prices were also reasonable.
I loved the mint-tulsi soap that costs Rs 24, it became a favourite gifting item of mine, and also aloe vera gel and rose soaps, shampoo (lathers well and is soft on the hair) and the pain balm (tiger balm became history). A US-based friend liked the smell and feel of Keshkanti shampoo so much that he asked for 12 bottles!
However, not all products are equally good. I found the toothpaste too strong, and the toothbrush bristles too hard. Honey is another item that I do not fancy. Increasing demand for Patanjali products has resulted in smaller outlets opening at almost every nook and corner of Mumbai.
Compared to other Ayurvedic products, Patanjali's have fared better against the MNCs.
Two new products have caught my fancy. One, Marie biscuits made of wheat. They are crisp, healthy and do not stick to my gums like the maida biscuits. Two, noodles. They are lighter to eat and on the pocket, tastier as compared to the legendary Maggi.
I am, however, yet to try three items -- the juices, masalas and Divya Peya, a brand of a herbal tea that contains a variety of herbs and spices and is nicotine free.
It is quite amazing how Patanjali outlets dot the horizon even in small towns. From Bomdila, half way between Tezpur and Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh, to Kishtwar in Jammu, Patanjali products are quite popular.
So what makes Patanjali tick?
One: Its brand ambassador. Millions worldwide have benefitted from Baba Ramdev's yoga. Thus, his credibility is high. Usually brands are first introduced and then trust is built. In this case it is the opposite. First Baba Ramdev built trust, then the brand followed.
Two: His rustic behaviour and inability to speak convent educated English have endeared him to the masses and middle-class alike.
Three: The controversy that surrounded Maggi noodles broke the implicit trust that Indian consumers had in MNCs.
Four: Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Make in India campaign has, though indirectly, urged consumers to buy goods made for India. Patanjali stands to gain.
Five: When faced with problems in life we tend to return to our roots. Similar is the case during an economic slowdown. Our roots are the type of products made by Patanjali.
Six: The UPA government's arrest of Ramdev and lathi-charge on a gathering of his followers struck a chord with a large number of people in the belief he was wronged.
Seven: The secularists find it difficult to target Baba Ramdev, an Arya Samaji (The Arya Samaj was a reformist movement in Punjab founded by Swami Dayanand Saraswati in 1875) and a Yadav, both of whom enjoy large support in North India.
Eight: An associate who runs a market research company said there has been a surge in assignments from other reputed Ayurvedic companies. It is a tribute to Baba Ramdev who has rekindled the demand for Ayurvedic products.
I did a quick WhatsApp survey with friends across the country, on why they use Patanjali's products. The answers are:
- It is based on Vedic wisdom and consumers know the efficacy of ingredients used.
- There is an increasing awareness of benefits of using natural ingredients.
- Has an image of being a non-profit, unlike MNCs.
- Demonstrated knowledge of Ayurvedic and Vedic preparations, so has credibility.
- Consumers tired of relaunches, want to try new products with desi fragrances, -- mogra soap.
- Very good quality.
Deep down Indians always knew about the effectiveness of our natural plants. But there was no genuine delivery platform till now. Himalaya Herbal did it, but became expensive and caters to the high-end market.
Some words of caution
Will the quality of Patanjali products deteriorate with increasing volumes?
Two, now that Patanjali has started advertising in a big way, would prices increase?
Three, a friend asked if I had visited the Patanjali manufacturing facility. She is willing to trust Unilever products because it is a global brand but Patanjali...?
Four, by expressing an opinion on all issues, Ramdev runs the risk of diluting his brand equity.
At a recent Hindustan Unilever (my alma mater where I learnt work ethics and skills) gathering, I urged finance colleagues to use Patanjali products so they get to know about the competition. We paid a heavy price for underestimating Nirma in the 1980s and cannot afford a repeat with Patanjali today.
Sanjeev Nayyar is an independent columnist and founder of www.esamskriti.com
He also worked with Hindustan Lever.