In agarbatti business, unbranded players smell success in lockdowns

Topics Coronavirus | Lockdown

Arjun Ranga, Managing Director of Karnataka-based Cycle Pure Agarbathies.
As places of worship shut in lockdowns to contain the spread of the Covid-19 disease , incense stick (agarbatti) manufacturers hoped their businesses would keep going.

The industry's prayers were answered: organised players' revenues fall when distribution channels clogged and unbranded players stepped in to fill the vacuum.

Temples closed but agarbatti consumption didn’t drop much: something of an aberration as India’s economy slows down. “You see, during COVID-19 people didn’t stop praying. Only difference was that they were doing this more within the confines of their homes,” said Arjun Ranga, Managing Director of Karnataka-based Cycle Pure Agarbathies, one of the biggest companies in the organized segment.

Ranga said companies found it difficult to move their products as agarbatti weren’t considered essential items, so unorganized and local players filled in to meet demand.

According to industry estimates, the branded agarbatti business in India is worth around Rs 7000 crore annually based on retail sales. Unorganized business is almost 60 per cent more than this.

“It is difficult to gauge the size of the unbranded segment of agarbatti business as there are no entry barriers. Anyone, sitting at home can make an agarbatti stick and supply to the neighborhood store. There is so much of loose agarbatti being sold, it is difficult to find out the size,” Ranga said.

Cycle Pure, according to estimates, comprises about 15 per cent of branded segment. The company plans to expand its online presence before the festival season, reckoning that people will pray at home as pandals restrict mass gatherings.

“The coming festival season is the major sales time for us, starting with Ganesh Chaturthi in west India, followed by Durga Puja in the east and so on. With big pandals and mass gatherings likely to prohibited which could mute our overall demand, we are planning to expand out digital presence manifold so that people can pray from the safety of their homes,” Ranga said.

He said that the company aims to expand the reach of its "home puja" kits. “We are aggressively marketing this (the kits) through our website and have also launched an app called, ‘pure puja’ for this,” Ranga said.

Cycle Pure has tied up with 28 temples in Mysore where devotees can do online puja through another mobile application. “We are just facilitators between the temples and the devotees and are not charging any fees from either. The Karnataka state government is helping us in this,” Ranga said.

“More than sales, we want to keep the culture and ethos alive in these difficult times and agarbatti is one ingredient which is must in any puja thali,” he said.

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