By Venkata Susmita Biswas
The quintessential green, no-frills soap bars wrapped in boxes bearing images of neem leaves once enjoyed a place of prominence thanks to their ‘medicinal value’. Today, even as Indians are increasingly opting for ‘natural’ and ‘herbal’ beauty and skincare products, these green soaps are finding fewer takers.
Hindustan Unilever’s Hamam, Jyothi Labs’ Margo, Wipro’s Chandrika soaps and Cholayil’s Medimix have been trying to up their game by adopting brand purpose, brand ambassadors and, in some cases, even product innovation. But popularity, especially amongst the youth, evades them.
These green soaps are mainly the traditionalist’s favourite; they do not have a pan-India consumer base. K Ramakrishnan, MD, Kantar Worldpanel, South Asia, says that the segment of natural soaps is led by and grows most in the South.
Oddly, these soap brands have not been able to leverage evolving consumer preferences — towards organic and herbal products across categories. According to Ashwini Deshpande, co-founder and director, Elephant Design, it has to do with the brands’ indifference towards enhancing user experience.
Lack of product innovation, unappealing marketing and dull packaging haven’t helped matters. “As newer products and brands have come up, consumers who can afford better products are gravitating towards multinational brands or Indian brands with better fragrances and brand positioning, rather than these green bar soaps,” points out Devangshu Dutta, CEO, Third Eyesight, a consulting firm.
Marketing communication from these brands has typically focussed on attributes like the authenticity of the ayurvedic formula and the purity of ingredients. Deshpande says that while prioritising these aspects, “brands miss out on enhancing internal and external sensorial factors such as shape, fragrance, colour of the product, and the look and feel of the packaging”.
Neem-based and herbal products from brands like Himalaya or even the premium Kama Ayurveda have found takers owing to their appealing positioning and product innovation. Whereas traditional legacy brands, Dutta says, are consciously pitching to a customer who is looking at price as the driver.
To appeal to younger audiences, Margo underwent a revamp in 2017, and Medimix brought on actor Parineeti Chopra as its brand ambassador earlier this year. The Rs 300 crore soap brand Hamam has used brand purpose to establish the soap as one that empowers women. Meanwhile, Wipro’s Chandrika soap refreshed its packaging this month.
Product innovation has been conspicuously missing in this category, though. Medimix launched a green ayurvedic face wash in 2017 that looks similar to the Himalaya Neem Face Wash. Margo, which earns Rs 192 crore from its personal care segment, plans to launch a face wash variant of its neem soap later this year. Additionally, to expand its market share by getting non-traditional users into the fold, Margo experimented with a glycerin-based neem soap in West Bengal in 2018. In its annual report, the company mentions that it plans to roll out the product in other parts of India.
Since the prices of these soaps (around Rs 30 per 100gm) are similar to that of the soap category leaders Lifebuoy, Santoor and Dettol, they do not have an edge. In the face wash category too, the pricing is not much different — a 100ml face wash of Medimix costs Rs 99 as against Rs 120 for Himalaya. The choice is, hence, not difficult for the brand conscious consumer.
Medimix has tie-ups with hotels which helps in sampling, but does not yield high dividends. “Only 3-4% of the total revenue comes from hotel tie-ups because the value of the product sold is low, even though the volume sold is high,” informs Pradeep Cholayil, CMD, Cholayil.