The brand has survived by changing with the times.
Viveat Susan Pinto reports.
Tune into any of the old Horlicks advertisements from the 1970s and the 1980s and a few things stand out; the distinctive glass bottles, a recurring narrative around a young mother, Suchitra, who looks after her family through summer, monsoon and ill-health and the unmistakable British accent of the voiceover.
Over the years nearly everything has changed, glass bottles have been replaced with more modern packaging variants, the positioning is around children's and women's health and the brand speaks in multiple tongues. But the brand's rise through the category has been steadfast; it continues to be the market leader more than 80 years after it was launched in the country with over 50 per cent of the market share.
One reason for the brand's longevity in the Indian market, say experts, is its ability to change with the times.
The most recent set of advertisements, for instance, play on the present dominant societal fear of stress. Be it height and stamina concerns around children, lack of energy among urban males or healthy bones, Horlicks has been quick to change.
And that believe many is among the many reasons it continues to be the leader in the ₹60-billion domestic health food drink market.
As the fate of Horlicks and other health food drinks in the portfolio of GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Healthcare India is decided over the course of the next few months thanks to a strategic review of the business, its position as India's favourite nutritional drink is likely to play a significant role in the deal making.
While Horlicks, developed by two British-born brothers William and James Horlick in the United States in 1873, came to India only in the 1930s at the end of World War II, it was only in 1960 that the brand began being manufactured and marketed in the country. Till that time, Horlicks was imported from Slough in Britain.
The first Indian factory in Punjab set the pace, say experts, for Horlicks' rapid adoption as a daily source of nourishment.
Horlicks faced its first crisis in the 1970s when India kicked off Operation Flood, the country-wide milk programme started by the National Dairy Development Board under Dr Verghese Kurien.
The campaign, which emphasised the nutritional properties of plain milk, apart from encouraging its production within the country, threatened to upend Horlicks' hold on the consumer.
This brought about a change in the communication around the brand. Ads featuring Suchitra, a fictional character, who would never hesitate to stir a spoonful of Horlicks in milk whenever possible, were visible through the 1970s.
The brand also set up its second plant in 1978 in Andhra Pradesh.
In the decades following the Suchitra ads, Horlicks reinforced its positioning with 'Why do I drink Horlicks?' in the 1980s and then focusing on specific consumer needs in the 1990s and the first decade of the 21st century.
In 2005, Horlicks came up with the 'Taller Stronger Sharper' campaign.
In 2010, Horlicks was repositioned as a wholesome food and beverage brand coinciding with its extension into biscuits and cereal bars (noodles were launched in 2009 and oats in 2011).
And in 2012, it was positioned as a drink fortified with 26 vital nutrients.
Cut to the present, Horlicks is reinventing again as rivals Bournvita (from Mondelez), Complan (Karft-Heinz), Milo (Nestle) and Protinex Grow (Danone) get more aggressive.
Ads talk of stress reduction, a common concern for most households and last month, a protein variant of Horlicks called Horlicks Protein+, targeted at adults, mostly, males, was launched.
It also appointed actor R Madhavan as brand ambassador. Madhavan's appointment preceded that of actor Tapsee Pannu's in November 2017, when she was brought on board to promote Women's Horlicks.
Vikram Bahl, area marketing lead, nutrition & digestive health, GSK Consumer Healthcare,India, said the launch (of Horlicks Protein+) tapped into a felt need for relevant products. 'It delivers on the benefit of quality proteins to help lead a healthier, more fulfilling lifestyle,' he says.
While Horlicks has been launching products beyond its core base of mothers and school-going kids over the last few years, this effort has been galvanised now. The brand is also widening its appeal, targeting college-going youth as a recent digital campaign '#FearlessKota' emphasised.