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The big small brands go for gold

July 19, 2003 11:30 IST

The message on the noticeboard is unambiguous. Do not make the mistake of thinking you are working for someone else.

It's Jayesh Choksi's way of motivating employees at Gufic Biosciences, a company that operates from a nondescript building near Mumbai's domestic airport.

The pharmacist managing director of the Rs 43-crore (Rs 430 million) company, which has branched out into consumer products, insists that his staff must feel and act like entrepreneurs.

And he has every reason to push hard because he has big plans for the future. His Shapers, a sanitary product, is already an irritant for a battery of multinationals like Johnson & Johnson, Procter & Gamble.

Now, he's planning a bouquet of products, mainly cosmeceuticals (like medicated beauty products), that are scheduled to hit the market very soon.

They've been called the Davids which toppled the reigning Goliaths. But the giant-killers have even bigger dreams for the future.

Many of them in the last few years made life miserable for established giants like Hindustan Lever Ltd. There is, for instance, Hasmukhrai & Co's Society Tea which is still brewing up a storm in Mumbai.

Or, look at Kanpur Trading Company's Ghadi detergent which has a dominant 40 per cent share in Uttar Pradesh and 10 per cent nationally, sending shivers down the spines of executives at both Nirma and Hindustan Lever.

Or look at Jyothi Laboratories, the makers of Jiva herbal soap and Ujjala fabric whitener. The herbal soap is cleaning up in the marketplace even as HLL's Ayush herbal offerings are floundering.

And Ujjala is beating Reckitt Benckiser's Robin Blue black and blue. And CavinKare's brands -- Chik and Fairever -- continue their forward march.

Similarly, north-based Surya Foods, the maker of Priya Gold biscuits, is munching away at the market and is already a Rs 100 crore (Rs 1 billion) brand.

So what's new? Small and medium-sized brands like these have been making their presence felt for quite some time now, forcing established players to go on the defensive and slash prices.

But having tasted blood, many of them are now nursing loftier ambitions. They might have entered through the low-end mass market route, but they are now extending their brand basket and rearranging their offerings.

And no, they insist that they'll be selling on quality, not just on price.

Can they sustain this growth? And more importantly, for some, do they have the ability to take on competition nationally on so many fronts? Will they have the financial muscle and the requisite professional depth to cope?

The players think they can pull it off. "The myth that we are small players is a misnomer.

"We have successfully gained market share year on year while our competitors are losing market share," says Atul Shah, managing director of the Rs 150-crore (Rs 1.50 billion) Anchor Health and Beauty Care.

A switchmaker --Anchor Electronics and Electricals -- turned consumer products upstart. Shah is obviously very pleased with his efforts at wiping the smile off both Colgate Palmolive and HLL.

In the six years that it has been in existence, Anchor toothpaste with its 100 per cent vegetarian proposition has picked up a 10 per cent market share according to retail audit house AC Nielsen-ORG Marg.

By this year, Shah says, it will be a Rs 300-crore (Rs 3 billion) brand. And by 2005, he hopes it will brush 28 per cent of the market. There's more to come.

With Anchor confectionery already in the market, soap, talcum powder, shampoo and a host of skin care products will be unfurled by then. And the turnover? Rs 650-crore (Rs 6.50 billion).

"Give some of the players a couple of years and they will reach the size of Marico Industries," says an analyst tracking the fast moving consumer goods sector at an Indian broking firm.

In some industries the smaller players are already catching up with their larger rivals. Take Dandi salt, from the Rs 100-crore (Rs 1 billion) Surat-based Kunwar Ajay Foods Pvt Ltd which is now talking big about the future.

In the Rs 500-crore (Rs 5 billion) branded salt market, Dandi, positioned as "not an ordinary salt", has an 18 per cent market share. It is running close behind HLL's Kissan Annapurna at 20 per cent. The market leader is Tata Chemicals' Tata salt with a 40 per cent share.

Now consider its hunger for growth. By Dussehra, KAFPL which also has Friendly Wash detergent retailing at Rs 24 a kg, will launch Sher-e-Punjab atta (flour), making a foray into yet another commodity market.

Suresh Agarwal, chairman & managing director of KAFPL, says his company has an exciting blueprint ahead. There are plans to invest Rs 500 crore (Rs 5 billion) in the next five years and it hopes to have a bouquet of 25 products on its platter and a turnover of Rs 5,000 crore (Rs 50 billion).

Unbelievable? May be. "It all depends on how well you respond. The ability to respond at times needs a lot of money," says a marketing consultant.

Adds a senior manager at a leading multinational, "This market share grabbing strategy only works for the short term. Soon, with size, they will have the accompanying problems that come with it."

Today, Ghadi detergents, which is giving players, especially Hindustan Lever, a drubbing in Uttar Pradesh wants to go to the neighbouring states.

After 70-years in Mumbai, Hasmukhrai & Co is planning to make people in Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu drink its Society tea.

Ludhiana-based Mrs Bector's Cremica, wants to flex its culinary muscle in other parts of the country. Its range of condiments including mayonnaise, sandwich spreads, ketchups and dessert toppings are being rolled out in the south, while trial runs are underway in Mumbai and New Delhi.

And even Ahmedabad-based Paras Pharmaceuticals, where an alleged family feud temporarily put its over-the-counter brands on the block, is rethinking strategy.

Its Moov pain relief ointment (which has made life painful for Reckitt Benckiser's Iodex), cold reliever D'Cold and anti-fungal creams Itch Guard and Ring Guard will now see more fund infusion.

Or look at Gufic. A few years ago, it decided that life in the pharmaceuticals industry after 2005 would be too difficult, and sold off its brands to Ranbaxy. That's when it entered biosciences and consumer products with its Shapers sanitary napkins.

Today, Shapers has a 6 per cent market share and it's looking at ways to touch 15 per cent in the next two years.

In fact, all the players are now using the same corporatespeak as the market leaders. They are all talking about line and brand extensions, a stronger distribution network and growing communication costs and strategy to strengthen their products.

Anchor, for instance, is pushing its distributors from the current 2,500 to 4,500.

The bigger competitors are not impressed by such bravado. They believe that their smaller counterparts can grow only this much and no further. And they predict that distribution and advertising costs will prevent the smaller players from growing any bigger.

Besides that, there's the danger, they say that overheads will start to climb. "They perform well as regional plays and not in the national arena," says a manager in a consumer goods company.

But Jagdeep Kapoor, head of Samsika Marketing, whose clientele comprises a host of these HLL wannabes emphasises that his clients can easily sustain their business. Adds Choksi, "Any sensible player with good products can sustain its business."

For every Onjus fruit drink (N K Texofoods) which went into oblivion, there is a Priya Gold biscuit or a Navratan oil.

In detergents alone, there are at least 10 assorted brands in each Gujarat town. Detergent making is almost a backyard activity and it doesn't need a large capital outlay which is why a number of new players have tried to follow Nirma's example and clean up in a big way.

Or take a look at the Rs 264-crore (Rs 2.64 billion) CavinKare.

Managing Director C K Ranganathan has been talking about 12 new products, but only a few have hit the shopshelves so far. But they are making competitors jittery.

Its Chik shampoo with a 21.4 per cent share is the second largest selling shampoo in the Rs 1,200-crore (Rs 12 bllion) shampoo market while its other brand Nyle has a 4.6 per cent share.

It has a 9 per cent share in the Rs 750-crore (Rs 7.50 billion) fairness cream market with the Fairever brand. Then others like Meera hair wash and Nyle moisturising lotion have national shares of 23.4 per cent and 4.2 per cent, respectively.

Even so, the challenges for the players are many. Take finance for instance. Most of the companies are family owned. They are all talking about going public sometime in future and generating cash from internal accruals and bank loans.

But the road ahead isn't going to be easy. Says Akshay Bector, managing director of Mrs Bector's Cremica, "The biggest roadblocks will be logistics and an understanding of the diversities of the market."

Adds Bakul Shah, director, Hasmukhrai & Co, "It is difficult to play with our own funds. If you want to go national, then you have to come out with a big bang."

Choksi believes that any regional player with national ambitions must have marketing muscle and distribution strength.

"Equip yourself with both and any small player can match the might of a national player," he says. Gufic is a listed company but the promoter holding is 75 per cent.

The players say that being family-owned is not a great disadvantage. They point out to a host of homegrown listed companies with high promoter holdings.

For instance, the Godrej family's holds 67 per cent in Godrej Consumer Products. At Marico, the Mariwala's still hold 65 per cent, while Karsanbhai Patel and family have a 77 per cent stake in Nirma Industries.

Then there is the issue of professionalism. Most of the players claim they have professional managers. But family members in the organisation proliferate.

But what about the costs? "Sure we have to keep costs low, but we are realistic enough to know that we have to change the way we operate if we are to go national," says a small detergent manufacturer.

It isn't that their products are cheap. They might have introduced their brands at the base level, but they are all scaling up. Ghadi which has a Rs 18 kg detergent has Dog Day which retails at Rs 50.

KAFPL's five kg atta pack will carry a competitive price tag of Rs 120. And they are generous to distributors.

While players like HLL and P&G give 8 to 10 per cent trade margins, their counterparts down the line have no qualms doling out margins of between 15 per cent and 25 per cent to retailers.

Coping with national advertising could be a problem for some brands. The proliferation of regional channels, has helped local brands to build their strength in a particular area.

But with a national reach, ad budgets, which today account from anywhere between 10 per cent to 20 per cent of their turnover will have to be hiked.

It should be said that some companies are already spending heavily on advertising.

Today, KAFPL has an ad outlay of Rs 25 crore (Rs 250 million) while Anchor spends around Rs 20 crore (Rs 200 million). With a bulging portfolio, they claim they are ready to shell out more.

One analyst puts it bluntly: "All expansion plans and the desire to scale up depends on the promoters' hunger." Judging by the trends, it looks as if they are famished.

Nandini Lakshman