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How Hind Lever plans to take on Patanjali

By Viveat Susan Pinto
Last updated on: November 13, 2017 16:16 IST
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In the coming months, Lever Ayush will venture into categories beyond soaps, shampoos, toothpastes, lotions and moisturisers, its current segments of operation, as it seeks to give the brand a horizontal push.

Baba Ramdev has actor Akshay Kumar as competition.

In Hindustan Unilever’s ongoing campaign for Lever Ayush, the actor in an all-Indian attire looks into the camera exhorting consumers to go beyond the superficial when choosing ayurvedic products.


As HUL takes on Patanjali, positioning its Ayush brand as a trusted name for herbal, natural and chemical-free personal care products, it is open season for claims, counter-claims and competitive advertising.

As the naturals market, estimated at Rs 18,000 to Rs 20,000 crore in India, increasingly gets competitive, legacy personal care brands and companies are pushing the pedal to the metal on investment, taking the fight right to rival Patanjali's door.

In Hindustan Unilever's case, counted amongst the country's key personal care majors, this has meant stepping up its focus on master brand Lever Ayush, first launched in the southern markets in January this year and subsequently taken across India in August.

HUL has also appointed a brand ambassador in Kumar for Ayush in August, signalling it is in no mood to allow the yoga guru to walk away with all the attention in the category.

In recent years, Ramdev, co-founder of Patanjali Ayurved, and his partner Acharya Balkrishna, who is the company’s managing director, have appeared in ads for the brand, highlighting the need to use products that are chemical-free.

Staying relevant

While Kumar acts as the voice of reason in ads for Lever Ayush, currently playing on national television as well as digital, actress Tamannah Bhatia, who also features in the brand’s commercials alongside Kumar, adds much-needed glamour and appeal to the communication, experts said.

This is required, they say, in a category that basically rides on the science of ayurveda, a traditional form of Indian medicine.

Too much emphasis on the latter can drive younger audiences away, he says.

As Harish Bijoor, chief executive officer, Harish Bijoor Consults says, “Baba Ramdev has built his equity on the platform of health, exhorting people to stay fit with the right lifestyle, products and food.

Companies who are now digging their heels deeper into the ayurveda products category will have to take this thought further, and ensure that the segment appeals to a wider section.”

Lever Ayush, say experts, is playing to this script, targeting men and women of all age-groups, with a dash of glamour and knowledge.

HUL also seeks to position itself as an able rival to Patanjali, which has marked its presence across personal-care categories from baby care to hair care, skin care, oral care, men’s shaving cream, toiletries and eye care.

Patanjali has also increased its presence in foods, home care and health care as it looks to emerge as a well-rounded ayurvedic products company.

HUL’s MD & CEO Sanjiv Mehta says the company will, in the coming months, push Lever Ayush into categories beyond soaps, shampoos, toothpastes, lotions and moisturisers, its current segments of operation, as it seeks to give the brand a horizontal push.

This will be backed by a vertical push as well, he says, with the company continuing to launch herbal variants of existing skin and hair-care brands (such as Dove, Ponds, Fair & Lovely) as well as keep its attention firmly on “specialist brands” such as Indulekha (hair oils) and Citra (skin care) respectively.

This horizontal and vertical push, say experts, is needed if the Patanjali juggernaut has to be tackled effectively.

According to market research agency Nielsen, naturals as a category is growing nearly two-and-a-half times that of the non-naturals segment within personal care and could constitute half of the market in the next few years from 41 per cent now.

Non-naturals, on the other hand, will shrink from 59 per cent to 50 per cent, Nielsen says, putting into perspective the effort being made by the country's largest consumer goods company in the category.

Keeping in step

HUL is not the only conventional personal care major transforming its portfolio.

A number of traditional heavyweights in the category are doing the same to cater to the need for chemical-free products.

Companies such as Colgate-Palmolive, the country's largest oral care player, which has been hit hard by both Patanjali and Dabur in recent quarters, now wishes to play aggressively in the naturals space and come up with more innovations as it seeks to counter competition, Ian Cook, Colgate's global CEO said recently.

The trend of chemical-free products in personal care, Cook said, was reflected in neighbouring markets such as China and Russia as well, prompting Colgate to take note.

Colgate would, he said, launch products on the naturals platform in all principal Asian markets by the end of 2017.

Eurasian markets, which include West Asia (Middle East), would see naturals-based products being launched by the first quarter of 2018, he said.

HUL’s Mehta says that a third of the oral care market in India today makes up the naturals segment, indicating how concerned people are about the ingredients going into their toothpastes.

Colgate, which launched Cibaca Vedshakti, its first toothpaste on the naturals platform in 2016, has since then, like HUL, come up with variants of existing products in its portfolio that consist of ayurvedic ingredients.

It has also like its rival come up with a specialist brand in Colgate Swarna Vedshakti, a premium offering in the natural space, in October.

In the coming months, many more personal care brands are likely to jump into the fray. And the chemical-free campaign is only going to get shriller.

Photograph: Ayush/Facebook

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Viveat Susan Pinto in Mumbai
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