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A new battleground

Viveat Susan Pinto/Mumbai 12 Dec 12 | 12:56 AM

The players remain the same, but the battleground has changed. The attention of the two big brands in health - Lifebuoy and Dettol - is shifting to new emerging categories such as handwash.

The numbers justify the move. At nearly Rs 300 crore, handwash though a fraction of soaps, whose size is Rs 10,000 crore, has grown at an average of 37 per cent in the last three years. Soaps, in contrast, are growing at 8-10 per cent per annum.

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What is driving growth in this segment is increasing awareness and the need for better hygiene standards in the wake of epidemics such as swine flu.

“For a long time, the institutional segment drove this category, but now households, especially urban households, are picking up the product," says Anand Shah, senior fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) analyst at Mumbai-based brokerage Elara Capital.

According to industry estimates, almost half of the category continues to be driven by the institutional segment. It is not uncommon, for instance, to find either a Dettol or Lifebuoy handwash in office washrooms. But its presence in households is rapidly growing, say experts.

Both Lifebuoy and Dettol have attempted to capitalise on this trend with product innovations aimed at luring lay consumers. In the process, the fight between the two brands has only got stiff. In soaps, Lifebuoy remains the leader with a share of 15 per cent, according to industry estimates. Dettol, which oscillates at number three or four (it fights with Santoor for the number three slot, but is behind Lux which comes at number two), has a share of about 8.5 per cent.

In handwash, however, the picture is reversed. Nielsen data shows that Dettol is the leader in the handwash category with a share of 53 per cent. Lifebuoy has a share of 29.1 per cent. But Hindustan Unilever (HUL) executives say that Lifebuoy’s share was much lower than the current figure three years ago. They did not specify how much it was.

“There were a few things we did," says Sudhir Sitapathi, category head, personal wash, HUL. “For instance, the introduction of the ten-second formulation in 2010. Here we said that your hands could get clean in 10 seconds. The premise was that illness is a consequence of not washing your hands. So you need a good product to be able to clean your hands. That’s one. Second if there is something that can help you do it quickly and neatly then there is nothing like it."

HUL didn’t stop there. It changed packaging, drove down price points prompting a reaction from Dettol (a 215-ml Lifebuoy Protection handwash, for instance costs Rs 54; a 225-ml Dettol Original Handwash, on the other hand, costs Rs 65, but there is a free refill pack worth Rs 22 that owner Reckitt Benckiser is pushing with the product). By and large, HUL has kept the momentum going with the introduction of new variants off and on. It has, for instance, just launched a new handwash that simply changes colour from white to green to indicate that one’s hands are clean following wash. This product is primarily targeted at children though it does not preclude adults from use, Sitapathy says.

Dettol has been equally fleet-footed in retaining its edge as the original germ-killer, point out experts. Reckitt, for instance, introduced a No-Touch Handwash last year, a first in the category, to drive home better hygiene standards. A spokesperson for Reckitt says that the company continues to look at newer ways to excite the consumer and raise the bar as far as improving hygiene standards go.

Reckitt has also attempted to drive attributes of freshness, energy and skincare even as it dwells on germ-protection. Variants in handwash (Dettol, Sensitive, Dettol Skincare, Dettol Fresh) besides soaps have borne out the company's new strategy, say executives from the firm. Analysts say that Reckitt is now looking to expand its canvass as Lifebuoy seeks to appropriate the space of germ-protection. It was ten years ago that Lifebuoy shed the tag of being a generic health brand as indicated by the tagline Thandarusti Ki Raksha (or protection of health) to protection from germs. Abneesh Roy, associate director, research, Edelweiss, says that the latter (protection from germs) is a more compelling proposition than protection of health. “The feeling that you are indeed being protected from harmful germs is stronger when the brand is positioned on the germ-killing platform," he says.

Dettol, he says, has managed to extend this attribute successfully from the legacy anti-septic liquid, where it enjoys an 85 per cent share to soaps and now handwash and even hand sanitizers. HUL appears to be following closely behind.

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