Trusts of Baba Ramdev, Art of Living etc emerge as large consumer product makers?
By Writankar Mukherjee & Sarah Jacob
Spiritual gurus and ashrams are widening their reach among the populace not just through their teachings but through products as well.
If Osho slippers are a craze among fashionable youngsters, Baba Ramdev’s Patanjali line of personal care and packaged food products and Art of Living’s body lotions and ayurvedic energizers too are finding takers beyond their followers.
“These products have the potential to challenge some of the top FMCG brands in the market,” Sanjiv Goenka, chairman of hypermarket chain Spencer’s Retail, says.
Industry observers say spiritual trusts such as Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s Art of Living, Baba Ramdev’s Patanjali Ayurved, Aurobindo Ashram, Pujya Bapuji’s Sant Shri Asharamji Ashram, Coimbatore-based Isha Foundation and the organisation that runs Swaminarayan Akshardham are all on the cusp of emerging large consumer product makers.
Some of them plan to widen distribution of their products-so far largely sold at their ashrams-through kirana stores, supermarkets and online retailing. Some are entering into back-end integration for commodity sourcing and are building distinct brands.
Spencer’s plans to sell such products at its outlets-there are more than 200 of them-and is open to offer larger shelf space than even some mainstream brands.
“These organisations have huge brand pull and Ayurveda products always do well. It is a potent pull factor,” says Mr Goenka.
Advertising veteran R Balki thinks it would take a while before these products compete with the established brands, but says they can create a niche for themselves. “These products have a great base or personality-they tend to connote health, nature and purity,” says Mr Balki, chairman of advertising agency Lowe Lintas & Partners.
PROFITS FOR CHARITY
Baba Ramdev started retailing his Patanjali line of FMCG products via through kiranas and modern retail in April. Acharya Balkrishnan, promoter of Patanjali Ayurved Products and a close aide of Ramdev, said this would allow the firm more than quadruple its sales to 2,000 crore this fiscal from 455 crore in 2011-12. If achieved, this would make Patanjali larger than Fair & Handsome and Boroplus-maker Emami and at nipping distance of Colgate-Palmolive. Patanjali Ayurved says it achieved a net profit of 100 crore last fiscal.
Being not-for-profit organizations, spiritual trusts plough back all their profits to sustain their organisations and charitable work. If Patanjali has decided that none of the board members will earn from the company’s profits, others too say profits from sales will be used to support their activities.
“Through the sale of the products, Art of Living funds its various service initiatives like the 185 free schools which it runs in the Naxal and the tribal belts of India,” says Umesh Pradhan, trustee at Sri Sri Ayurveda Trust, the FMCG arm of Art of Living. The trust makes creams, shampoos, body care lotion, scrubs, cleansing milk, soaps, ayurvedic energisers and juices.
Isha Foundation, which has recently ventured into the FMCG space, says the foray is to support its various activities. Pondicherry-based Aurobindo Ashram, which forayed into FMCG products as vocational development for its inmates, now retails incense sticks, soaps, candles, perfumes and furniture through Khadi Bhandar and even in overseas.
HOME, AWAY & ONLINE
Consumer goods companies take years to build a distribution channel and consumer base while devoting large investments into branding. Big ashrams already have a loyal consumer base among their devotees running into millions.
“Our devotees are our primary consumers,” says Mr Pradhan of Art of Living, which claims it has more than 300 million followers across the world. It sells its products through ‘Divine Shops’ set up at locations where it organises its programmes, as well as through the world’s largest online retailer Amazon.
Ahmedabad’s Sant Shri Asharamji Ashram sells its products through outlets at ashrams, mobile vans and at devotees’ homes.
Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha (BAPS), the socio-spiritual Hindu organisation that runs Swaminarayan temples and Akshardham in New Delhi and Gandhinagar, retails at 800 temples across India, US and UK. Its chyawanprash, honey, oil, tea, shampoo and dental care products, sold under BAPS Amrut brand, are also retailed online.
Baba Ramdev, meanwhile, has big-ticket plans for rural India. His Patanjali Ayurved plans to launch swadeshi seva kendras with self-help groups by August.
“We hope to open around one lakh swadeshi kendras, especially in villages with less than 3,000 people so that they become self-sufficient and empowered,” says Mr Balkrishnan of Patanjali Ayurved.
BETTING ON HEALTH, CULTURE
So what ties spirituality with consumer goods? “Once you come into the spiritual path, you understand how it is connected with the body and mind. You tend to become conscious of chemicals being used on your body and prefer more organic food,” says CR Sudarshan, a volunteer at Art of Living’s ayurvedic clinic and its retail chain Divine Shop in Bangalore.
Sant Shri Asharam ji Ashram’s brochures say its products extend the benefits of “the pristine rishi culture to the masses at lowest cost possible”. Patanjali Ayurved is pitching its products as “swadeshi,” claiming they are at least 30% cheaper than national brands.