Packets of Lifebuoy soap, manufactured by Hindustan Unilever Ltd.(Photographer: Vivek Prakash/Bloomberg)

India’s No. 1 Soap Brand’s Crown Is Slipping

The maker of India’s largest-selling soap is losing its grip over the No. 1 crown in a slowing market.

Hindustan Unilever Ltd.’s Lifebuoy, the nation’s most selling soap brand, has been consistently losing share at least since 2016, according to Kantar Worldpanel data reviewed by BloombergQuint. Wipro Consumer Care and Lighting Ltd.’s Santoor, marketed as a natural product, gained at its expense. It’s already taken over second-placed Lux, also made by HUL.

“There is a shift towards the naturals segment as consumers are worried about chemicals,” said Alpana Parida, managing director of brand strategist DY Works. “Multinationals have not acted swiftly enough to adapt to changing consumer preferences and have not expanded their offerings in the natural and ayurved-based brands.”

To be sure, while Santoor has sandalwood oil and oleo resin turmeric, its other raw materials such as sodium palmate, sodium palm kernelate and perfume are common with Lux and Lifebuoy, according to ingredients disclosed on the packs.

Santoor is catching up with the market leader even as growth slows. Euromonitor International expects the Rs 21,130-crore soap market to grow at 2.3 percent till 2022 compared with a pace of 9.8 percent from 2012-17.

Lifebuoy and Lux have lost volume market share by 340 basis points and 150 basis points, respectively, since June 2016, according to Kantar Worldpanel data. Santoor and Godrej Consumer Products Ltd.’s Godrej No. 1 contribution to total industry volumes rose by 140 basis points and 110 basis points, respectively, during the period. Patanjali Ayurved Ltd.’s share also rose to 3.7 percent.

Even in the premium category, the share of HUL’s Pears and Dove largely remained stagnant at 1.5 percent and 1.6 percent, respectively.

HUL, in an emailed response to BloombergQuint, said Lifebuoy remains the largest soap brand and Lux keeps itself relevant “in the face of the changing paradigm of beauty”. India’s largest consumer goods maker didn’t comment on the falling market share of its brands.

Both Wipro Consumer Care & Lighting and Godrej Consumer have yet to respond to BloombergQuint emails.

Similar Pricing

Pricing is not a factor behind the churn in the mass-market brands.

Both Santoor and Lifebuoy are similarly priced. A pack of four Santoor bars of 53 gram each costs Rs 40, the same as a similar pack of Lifebuoy bars of 59 grams each. A pack of four Lux bars of 54 grams are also priced at Rs 40. Godrej Consumer charges Rs 68 for three bars of 100 grams each with one free.

Wipro Consumer Care & Lighting sees the highest contribution of 42 percent from soaps to its Rs 6,682.6 crore revenue. For HUL, soaps account for 30 percent of its Rs 35, 218-crore sales and while they contribute 33 percent of Godrej Consumer’s Rs 9,937-crore top line.

Brand consultant Santosh Desai said since Santoor is marketed as a herbal product, one can hypothesise that consumers are partly walking away from chemicals.

It’s not that Hindustan Unilever doesn’t make herbal soaps. In its annual report for 2017-18, the company reiterated its focus on naturals through its Lever Ayush toothpaste, soap, handwash, shampoos and face wash. The company revived the brand after Patanjali started gaining momentum in India’s consumer goods market with its ayurvedic toothpaste to shampoos.

Still, according to brand consultant Harish Bijoor, there has been no innovation or disruption in the category which has caused a certain degree of boredom for the consumer. Moreover, the concept of family soap doesn’t exist anymore, and individuals prefer using their own bars, he said. “Brand loyalty does not exist as consumers search for more choices and are brand promiscuous.”