Explained: How the hygiene market stacks up amid coronavirus

Raids have been conducted non-stop by authorities in states such as Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka, clamping down on unorganised makers of face masks and sanitisers.
The messages are all over, exhorting people to stay safe and adopt basic hygiene standards. At a time when COVID-19 cases in India have crossed 400 and are increasing by the day, the focus on long-term habit formation is key.

A fallout of this is that the market for masks, soaps, hand sanitisers and liquid handwash is booming, resulting in stock-outs and companies ramping up production. Although price escalation has been curbed after the government stepped in last week to monitor the production, distribution and marketing of face masks and hand sanitisers, the issue of spurious products remains a problem.

Raids have been conducted non-stop by authorities in states such as Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka, clamping down on unorganised makers of face masks and sanitisers. But the journey is long and challenging, say sources within the fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) market.

In the last few days, the price of a 50-ml bottle of hand sanitiser at retail outlets in Mumbai has fallen sharply. Brands such as Godrej Protekt and Savlon, for instance, are now available for Rs 25 and Rs 27 respectively, a drop of 66 per cent in the prices. Face masks, on the other hand, are now available for Rs 50 a unit, versus Rs 100-150 a unit earlier.

For a category considered niche and only around Rs 150 crore in terms of size, experts say that it will be just a matter of months before hand sanitisers as a segment will double to around Rs 300 crore in terms of size, given the demand for it.   

Soaps and handwashes, on the other hand, have promotional offers running at groceries and supermarkets to boost consumption. But the other side of the picture is that people have been buying these products in large quantities over the last few weeks as panic buying grows, top retailers have told Business Standard.  

Officials at Big Bazaar, one of the largest grocery chains in the country, said that they are not closing any of their outlets in Mumbai and other cities even as malls are in lockdown mode. An executive at Big Bazaar said that the retailer had a standard operating procedure in place to protect people and staff from COVID-19 at all its outlets across the country. This included sanitisation of cash and baggage counters, thermal screening at entry and exit points, use of gloves and masks by security and personnel as well as disinfection of high-contact areas within stores.   

Some grocery retailers such as DMart are implementing strict crowd management policies at their outlets in Mumbai and other cities to minimise the rush at their outlets.

Random checks and tests by local authorities are being conducted at retail outlets across cities to prevent sale of spurious products as well as monitor crowds now that Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code has been implemented across cities. 

E-tailers are chipping in too, with market places such as Amazon indicating that it will monitor sellers of hygiene products on its platform to weed out fake products. Sunil Kataria, chief executive officer, India and SAARC regions, Godrej Consumer (GCPL), said these were challenging times for consumers as they battle misinformation, shortage of products and an overall health scare. 

“Busting myths and scares is important during this period. I firmly believe that the emphasis will have to be on hand-washing,” he says. “An essential category such as soaps is primarily used for bathing purposes in India, not hand-washing. The message will have to be reinforced all the time that hand-washing is important. And if done in the proper way can help prevent the spread of viruses such as COVID-19,” he said. 

Most big brands including names such as Lifebuoy, Dettol, Savlon, Godrej Protekt as well as PureHands from Himalaya have increased public awareness campaigns around hand-washing in the last few weeks. An ITC spokesperson said that awareness was being enhanced through platforms such as digital and social media. “With the surge in demand, we are trying to ensure adequate supply of Savlon sanitisers, hand wash, soaps and anti-septic liquid,” the spokesperson said. 

In response to a mail, an HUL spokesperson said that there was heightened need for hygiene products. “We have increased our efforts to ensure consumers’ hygiene needs are fulfilled. Our focus is on educating people on proper hygiene habits and providing access to products that keep them safe including Lifebuoy soap and hand sanitisers and Domex home cleaners,” the spokesperson said.   

Last week, HUL committed Rs 100 crore in the fight against COVID-19. The company also cut the price of its Lifebuoy hand sanitisers and hand wash as well as Domex floor cleaners by 15 per cent. Among other measures, HUL will make available soaps to needy people, donate Rs 10 crore for better testing facilities and increase public awareness around hand hygiene.

Experts said that the surge in COVID-19 cases in a span of three weeks in India had put pressure on healthcare professionals, companies as well as government authorities to improve hygiene habits even as sanitisation, disinfection and avoiding congregation of people at public places, offices and shopping centres is strictly implemented. Some companies are now pushing the envelope in terms of innovation, launching products that are affordable and easy to use. 

Kataria said that GCPL was pushing a hand wash in powder format under Godrej Protekt. The refill sachet of the powdered handwash, he said, was available for Rs 15 a unit. If mixed with water, it produced 200 ml of liquid handwash, allowing many more people to sample the product at an affordable price.

Soaps, a highly penetrated category in India and valued at Rs 19,000 crore, is already available at multiple price points starting from Rs 5 a unit, though Rs 10 price-point packs have been popular in recent years.

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