Competition from a giant corporation like the ITC or from the widespread unorganised sector has not shaken Cycle Pure Agarbathies from the leadership position it holds. The company has been expanding its product range to move with the times.
It is common to associate manufacturing agarbattis (incense sticks) with the unorganised sector. But there is an exception—tucked away in Mysuru, Cycle Pure Agarbathies has been making branded agarbattis since 1948. It is the largest incense stick manufacturer in the country, probably the world.
Arjun Ranga, the managing director, is a third-generation member of the family-run NR Group and also the managing partner, N Ranga Rao & Sons Pvt Ltd. Ranga. who holds an engineering degree from Karnataka and an MBA from Thunderbird, US, returned to India to join the family business after working in the US for a few years. He is playing a major role in taking an old-age product firmly to the new age.
“It’s an emotional and personal product used mostly for puja (worship). We take special care to ensure the purity of the ingredients that go into the sticks. We have been one of the largest selling brands since the 1980s and continue to maintain our position,” says Ranga. “Our supply chain is vertically integrated. We need wood products, wood powder, charcoal, natural adhesives and fragrances to make agarbattis. We make sure all these ingredients are environmentally friendly.”
The NR Group recently received a carbon-neutral certification from the UK-based The Carbon Neutral Company, the leading provider of carbon reduction solutions in the world. This makes Cycle Pure Agarbathies the world’s largest carbon-neutral agarbatti manufacturer. The company makes recycled corrugated boxes at relevant units. All the packaging material is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). “We need specialised bamboo that is flexible to make agarbattis. This bamboo is actually a grass that grows very fast. It disturbs the ecological balance. To prevent this, we harvest bamboo in the forest,” says Ranga.
“We use only natural ingredients that are International Fragrance Association-certified aroma materials and are not harmful to the environment or health. We have been perfumers for generations. My family members have been trained abroad. We create every fragrance in-house. Our fragrance creation and application is IP-protected.”
Cycle Pure currently has an annual capacity of 12 billion sticks. They are made from its own facility in Mysuru and other third-party manufacturing sources, spread across Tamil Nadu, Bihar, Odisha and Punjab. “The introduction of GST has made it possible for us to create manufacturing clusters all over India. Our R&D facility is located in Mysuru,” he adds.
Ranga says that Cycle Pure provides opportunities for rural women to enhance family incomes. Tamil Nadu is home to 15 agarbatti clusters, and these consist mostly of homemakers making agarbattis from homes. The company provides indirect employment to 35,000 women. Cycle Pure maintains an organised supply chain of raw materials and provides these women agarbatti machines and teaches them how to use it. Women do the packaging as well. “Women are better at it than men,” Ranga says.
The manufacturing process was entirely manual till recently. Now it is semi-mechanised to increase production to meet delivery targets. The company has introduced automation and machines in some processes to ensure a high level of standardisation and quality. “Mechanised sticks were introduced eight years ago. They proved to be very expensive. Now it has been reversed. Handmade sticks are more expensive,” he adds.
Agarbattis made in the factory and clusters are sent to warehouses. The company has a network of distributors with 4 lakh retail outlets in the country. “We have introduced ERP-enabled supply chain management. Internet of Things-powered sales force automation application ‘Sales Diary’ has helped us become a more efficient and connected enterprise. Cycle Pure has been awarded ISO 2015 certification as well.”
Cycle Pure is one of the top-50 Indian brands as rated by AC Nielsen. Competition from a giant corporation like the ITC or from the widespread unorganised sector has not shaken it from the position it holds. Ranga estimates the country’s puja market to be around Rs 10,000 crore, of which the share of agarbattis is around Rs 6,000 crore.
The company has been expanding its product range to move with the times. It has launched Pooja Packs for all occasions, ranging from birthdays to festivities. The Pooja Pack is an all-inclusive kit complete with everything one needs to conduct a puja at home. It comes with the Pure Puja app, which gives instructions to conduct a puja and also gives the option to reach out to a pandit.
In Tamil Nadu, which is the company’s most important market, Cycle Pure recently launched three new products—Om Shanthi Pure Cow Ghee Diya, Om Shanthi Pure Chandan Tika and Om Shanthi Pure Puja Oil. Ranga says, “We have taken into consideration the rich culture and traditions of Tamil Nadu and have designed our products accordingly.”
Markets such as Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and West Bengal are growing fast. The quality markets are Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala. Ranga adds, “Cycle Pure has been part of every Indian home and their prayer. Mothers always light a lamp to pray for the future of their children. We are now making region-specific, easy-to-use puja products. These will help take our products to the next generation seamlessly.”
Ranga predicts exponential growth in this market. People are veering towards quality products. Consumerism is catching up in the puja market. Even a state like Tamil Nadu, dominated by rational parties, is seeing increasing religiosity.