Spiritual gurus ride on the Swadeshi wave to do business


Making a beeline to the profits counter, spiritual gurus have proven their acumen when it comes to business as well. The religious heads have been aggressively chasing rivals to grab a bigger slice of the Swadeshi market pie — a segment that was largely ignored by multinational companies — amid other brands pulling up their socks to stay in the Swadeshi league.

Baba Ramdev’s unparalleled success as a yoga guru and founder of FMCG brand Patanjali, which crossed Rs 10,000 crore in revenues in FY17 from nearly Rs 500 crore just six years ago, is astounding. More so because even conglomerates like ITC and P&G have taken over a decade to reach that milestone.

Ramdev says in three years, he will “take Swadeshi products of Patanjali to great heights and leave the foreign intruders in our dust”. He also seems confident of crossing its ambitious target of Rs 20,000-Rs 25,000 crore by 2020 and making Patanjali the biggest brand globally by 2025.

Industry observers ascribe the popularity of the Swadeshi wave to a clever mix of advertising and spirituality by the gurus. “If savvy marketing has helped Ramdev cause jitters among FMCG heavyweights, the consumer and wellness arm of the Art of Living, Sri Sri Tattva, owned by spiritual guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar has strongly capitalised on the charisma of its guru,” said an analyst. Sri Sri had spent as much as Rs10 crore on TV advertising during the latest IPL season. According to multiple reports, this year too, it will focus on ‘healthy’ advertising.

Acknowledging the desi segment, the entrant aims to open 1,000 outlets, 600 of which would be operational by March 2019, and earn Rs 500 crore in revenue by 2020. There are other baba entrepreneurs, too, who have gone the ‘Patanjali way’ to scale up their business of Swadeshi products. In February 2016, Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh — the leader of Dera Sacha Sauda, a sect in northern India — launched about 150 products, marketed as Swadeshi (indigenous) and organic, including rice, pickle, and bottled water, among others. Besides, the Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha and Pondicherry Sri Aurobindo Ashram have entered the FMCG space thanks to Patanjali’s winning streak.

“Going forward, it will not be easy for the niche brands to make it big considering the challenges such as building a distribution network, getting regulatory approvals, availability in retail among other factors, that usually takes a long time with sustained marketing efforts,” pointed out Rajat Wahi, partner at Deloitte India. The consumer goods segment may continue to be a niche sector for the small players with consumers restricted to their own followers, he added.

Meanwhile, the growth of Patanjali Ayurveda faltered during the past one year as the MNCs launched herbal products to counter its challenge. Notwithstanding the efforts of several firms trying to veer consumers away from the Swadeshi products by pulling up brands, particularly Patanjali for “misleading” ad campaigns disparaging competitors, the babas remained unfazed and desi juggernaut rolled on.

Recently, Patanjali’s foray into the apparel segment through its brand “Paridhan” added another wing to its empire. While the Haridwar-based company took three years to launch the brand since its announcement, Sri Sri went ahead and launched a range of ethnic wear, yoga wear and accessories for men, women and children under the brand BYOGI early this year. The competition is further heated up as both brands are set to make an aggressive distribution push in the country.

What’s next? Patanjali plans to go after junk food chains such as McDonald’s and KFC by launching its own chain of nutritious fast food restaurants with desi flavour. It seems that the spiritual gurus have hit upon the perfect mantra to influence people’s mind by bridging the daily needs of customers with cultural roots and clinging on to their core grassroots strategy.

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