The pandemic has brought a sea change in the way we look at health. People have become more aware of what they eat and how it can help save them from falling ill. The pandemic has also given a fillip to the nutraceutical market in India that is poised for unprecedented growth. This intersection of food, nutrition, health and technology, backed by availability of authentic and high-quality supplements, has spurred the growth of the health and wellness market, and brought trends like plant based and vegan nutrition to the fore. In an exclusive interview with Financial Express Online Sameer Maheshwari, CEO, HealthKart shares his outlook on how Indians may have made a permanent shift to eating healthy. Excerpts:
While most of the businesses reported a downward growth chart during the covid pandemic, how has business been for HK?
Thanks to the increased health awareness, post-Covid, the entire health and nutrition industry in India has experienced tremendous growth. Compared to pre-pandemic level, HealthKart revenue has almost doubled, with some categories, such as vitamin supplements and healthy foods, tripling in size because of the new-found emphasis on preventive care rather than curative. We are confident that this is the face of new India and the trend is here to stay.
COVID has made health and wellness one of the most lucrative sectors. How is HK different from its current competition?
While it’s true that the health and wellness industry is on an upward growth trajectory, what sets us apart is that HealthKart is one of the unique entities which plays at the intersection of health, consumer and technology, three major macro trends that will compound over the next several years.
HealthKart is India’s only platform which offers guidance to customers on nutraceutical product selection, basis their individual fitness goals via use of technology, nutritionists and fitness trainers. Technology leverages a combination of app, AI based diet recommendation engine, chat support and teleconsultation platform. Additionally, HealthKart’s 90+ physical stores also act as counseling centers for in-person nutrition consultation. HealthKart delivers ~20K such consultations in any given month.
In addition, with its in-house brands, such as MuscleBlaze, TrueBasics etc, which have been developed with deep R&D efforts, HealthKart offers best-of-breed product solutions to consumers. HealthKart has a 30 member R&D team consisting of PhDs, food scientists, etc., who consistently bring cutting edge nutraceutical innovations to the market. HealthKart holds several patents and continues to innovate across nutraceutical segments.
What are the key developments in the Indian market for nutrition supplements in the last year?
The nation as a whole is moving towards a healthier lifestyle which has been further accelerated by the pandemic. As the consumers adopt a preventive approach, there has been a significant uptake in demand of protein, vitamins, and immunity supplements along with healthy food substitutes. Brands have responded to the increased demand by increased offerings in each of these segments along with innovation in form factors such as powder, sachets, effervescent tablets, gummies etc. HealthKart brands offer over 500+ SKUs to customers across various need states. Also, the marketing mix has significantly changed since last year, with digital gaining a significant share of marketing spends. Digital marketing, which allows for long form targeted content, has allowed for category creation/education with tonnes of content created on health products on social media platforms.
What are the major challenges health and wellness companies face when it comes to women and children?
Women and children segment requires several products to cater to various needs of the customer. Because of limited ability to support large product assortments in offline models, traditional health and wellness companies have not been able to provide proper solutions to this segment.
HealthKart, which derives 75% of its revenue from online channels, is able to cater to this segment with deep product assortment. As an example, GritZo, HealthKart’s in-house kids brand, offers 30+ personalized products for kids based on their age, gender, height, weight and activity levels. Similarly, HealthKart offers several specific products for women’s needs, such as Women Multivitamin, Protein with Herbs etc.
Do you think carving a separate category for women’s health is a profitable business decision, especially for businesses eyeing the whole of the country and not cities only?
E-commerce, with its ability to distribute to every nook and corner of the country, has eliminated accessibility barriers of products to consumers. Customers in the remotest part of the country are able to buy the most innovative and niche products through a click of a button. Western market is a thriving proof that niche categories can go on to become multi-billion dollar businesses by reaching out to a wider spectrum of consumers online.
While niche categories like women’s health were difficult to profitably build through traditional offline distribution models, it has certainly become viable with the D2C approach. The new age model allows for deeper product assortment, along with low cost pan-India distribution and targeted digital marketing.
The MOHFW / Ayush Ministry has recommended Ayush supplements for better immunity and consequently fighting covid. What are your views on this?
Ayush and herbal supplements rely on traditional ayurvedic science and can undoubtedly help provide effective preventive care solutions to consumers. Historically, the challenge has not been the science, but the spurious claims and lack of transparency for customers with respect to ingredient quality.
At HealthKart, we do offer Ayush supplements like TrueBasics, ImmuoBoost, Ashwagandham etc, but they come with the promise of quality and transparency. To maintain transparency with customers, trust content, such as clinical study data etc, is made available through websites, blogs and videos. We also offer a 14 day return policy on these products so that customers don’t have any apprehension in trying the products.
Has this decision impacted the sale of herbal products offered by companies that are not known as ‘organic’?
No, we have not any material change in product mix against non-organic brands and products.
New trends like plant protein and vegan food habits have become quite popular in cities. Do you think they are a fad or here to stay?
We believe that plant based nutrition and vegan nutrition are definitely not fads, but larger macro trends towards adoption of natural and sustainable products. In developed countries, there are several examples of scale companies in these spaces. These companies are growing bigger and bigger by the day pointing towards the fact that these are longer term trends.
While in the western world, the adoption of plant based products is driven by factors such as reducing animal cruelty etc, the reason for adoption of these products in India is intrinsic belief toward natural products consumption. To tap into the trend, HealthKart launched bGreen, which is a dedicated brand of plant based and vegan nutrition products. We hope to scale this brand several fold in years to come.
What is the future of the nutraceutical market in India?
We believe that the nutraceutical market has hit a critical mass and will continue to compound at rapid growth rates for the next several years. The growing consciousness of Indian consumers, making the shift from reactive to proactive measures for a healthier lifestyle, will continue to fuel the market demand. As the per capita income of the country grows, healthy eating reaches the masses, and more and more companies invest in category growth, we can expect to witness unprecedented growth in this segment.
Quality and authenticity of food supplements are still contested ideas in India. Do you think roping in Neeraj Chopra can help in gaining consumers’ trust?
With spurious companies trying to make a quick buck, quality and authenticity of food supplements continues to be challenged in the industry. Infact, HealthKart was founded 10 years ago to be able to address exactly this challenge when counterfeit products were rampant. HealthKart has solved the authenticity problem by several industry-first solutions, such as barcode product verification, protein certificate with every product, and transparent supply chain information on the website. HealthKart’s flagship brand, MuscleBlaze, was founded on authenticity premise and has been a leader in implementing several of the authenticity-first solutions.
While we have a solid loyal base of customers who trust HealthKart for its authenticity, endorsement by Neeraj will only strengthen the belief.