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Dual impact of COVID-19 and smog doubles demand for air purifiers

COVID-19 affects the lungs the most and those who have tested positive are said to have prolonged effects on breathing. Also, stubble-burning during winter leads to a higher level of smog. These could make air purifiers a must-have this year. Every year, about 2 lakh purifiers are sold in India. The market is estimated at Rs 400 crore.

November 20, 2020 / 01:33 PM IST

The COVID-19 outbreak and the added fears of lung issues amidst smog is leading to an almost doubling in demand for air purifiers in the country. Consumer durables firms told Moneycontrol that the demand is higher in 2020, since there is also a prediction that the onset of winter could lead to worsened COVID-19-related breathing issues.

The air purifier market in India is estimated to be around Rs 400 crore. Large players like Blue Star, Samsung, Amway, Dyson, Philips and Honeywell operate in this segment. However, the product sales are largely seasonal and are purchased prior to winter. Every year, about 200,000 air purifiers are sold in India.

COVID-19 affects the lungs the most and those who have tested positive are said to have prolonged effects on breathing. This could make air purifiers a must-have this year. Air purifiers are available for as low as Rs 5,000 and go up to Rs 40,000.

Rajeev Bhutani, Senior Vice President, HVAC Division, Consumer Electronics Business, Samsung India, said that the company has seen a 1.5 times growth in sales of air purifiers in the September-October period this year.

“Compared to previous years, when demand started towards the end of October, consumers this year have been more cautious because of the current situation leading to the increase in sales of both air purifiers and additional filters picking up early, in September this year,” he added.

Why is it different this year?

Unlike previous years, remote working due to COVID-19 means that professionals are spending more time at home. For individuals with breathing issues, COVID-19 could worsen the situation, and, hence, air purifiers are becoming a necessity.

While the smog impact is lower on health when it one is at home, frequent visitors and houses in crowded locations on the ground floor could also see COVID-19 risks increase among residents. Here, air purifiers could help rid of viruses.

Stubble-burning during winter leads to a higher level of smog in the air pollution levels. While only North India witnessed this phenomenon earlier, appliance makers are also seeing homes in West and East India and those with small children/senior citizens opting for the product this year.

Bhutani said that this demand is being led by the top eight metro cities. Additionally, Samsung is also seeing demand coming from corporates as well as medical establishments such as dentists, doctors and pathology labs.

A recent study by the Global Burden of Disease showed that indoor pollution is one of the major contributors to the ill-health. Added to it is the COVID-19 concerns where individuals want to be doubly sure of the purity of the air.

Anshu Budhraja, CEO, Amway India, said that this year, with consumers spending more time indoors, it has resulted in heightened awareness for health and wellness.

“Given the scenario, being a wellness product, the air purifier category may naturally gain sales momentum as it makes clean air accessible that contributes to the overall wellbeing,” he added.

Products on offer for customers

Amway, which is among the new entrants in the air-purifier market, has the Atmosphere Mini product, which the company claims can capture particles as small as 0.0024 microns, with 99.99 percent efficiency.

Budhraja said that given the market demand, Amway India is eyeing a sales volume of more than 6,000 units in the next three months and looking to close this year with healthy double-digit growth.

“In a short span of time, with just two variants of the product, we achieved a market share of 5 percent, and are aiming to double our market share to 10 percent by 2022,” he added.

Newer products are also being launched in an attempt to homes cleaner air. Philips has launched its New Urban Living Series, which claims to automatically sense pollutants 1,000 times per second in the air and removes pollutants 800 times smaller than PM 2.5.

Gulbahar Taurani, Vice President, Personal Health, Philips Indian Subcontinent, said that this provides a superior level of filtration and speedy purification. He expects to see a 30 percent surge in demand for air purifiers in the next few months.

Similarly, Dyson has introduced multi-functional air purification technologies that also double up as heaters or humidifiers. Dyson is a premium player and its products are priced between Rs 40,000 and Rs 62,000.

A Dyson spokesperson said that the Dyson Pure Hot+Cool Cryptomic is an air purifier and heater and aims to destroys formaldehyde continuously at a molecular level transforming this potentially harmful gas into small amounts of water and carbon dioxide.

The spokesperson added that the hot plus cool have in-built heating functionality, which make them ideal for year-round use. The second technology is the new Dyson Pure Humidify+Cool machine, that uses UV-C technology to “hygienically humidify in winter, evaporatively cool in summer and efficiently purify” all-year round.

Apart from regular air purifiers occupying floor space, players like Blue Star have also launched components that can be retrofitted into products like air conditioners for air purification. Blue Star also sells traditional air purifiers.

“It is a seasonal business but due to the stubble-burning and COVID-19 fears, sales will be double than those of last year. However, it is still a small market in India. But now we are offering inbuilt air purifier solutions for customers who don’t want a traditional air purifier occupying floor space,” said B Thiagarajan, Managing Director of air conditioning and commercial refrigeration major Blue Star.

Fitting these air purification components (that aim to kill viruses like COVID-19) into an existing Blue Star AC will cost Rs 2,000 while a UVC filter fitting will cost Rs 4,000.

Panasonic, which also sells traditional air purifiers, has launched ‘nanoe X’ technology which is purification technology that aims to inhibit 99.99 percent bacteria and viruses, including Coronavirus.

Manish Sharma, President and CEO, Panasonic India and South Asia, said that in the coming times, this technology will be launched in their air conditioners as a defence against bacteria and viruses.

Are they effective?

While there is a seasonal demand for the products, questions are also being raised about how effective air purifiers in the Indian market are.

Blue Star MD B Thiagarajan told Moneycontrol that there should be some regulatory body or testing agency that should look into the credibility of the products sold as air purifiers in the market.

“Everyone sells air purifiers and there are products for as low as Rs 4,000-5,000 but does it really purify the air we breathe? If it is a product meant for health, it should be tested. A laboratory certification for these products will increase customer demand,” he added.

Thiagarajan said that commercial complexes must also consider air purifiers as a necessity and that this could help drive the penetration.

“At homes, candles, perfumes, agarbatti and even carpets create PM2.5 and cause indoor air pollution. Ideally, all Indian customers must have an air purifier at home but it still early days,” he added.

On the PM2.5 index, places like Delhi and Kolkata have consistently fared poorly. PM2.5 refers to atmospheric particulate matter (PM) that have a diameter of fewer than 2.5 micrometers.

Delhi has an average PM2.5 level of 299-350 over the past few days, whereas the safe level is 0 to 50. Longer exposure to polluted air leads to lung and breathing ailments, chest congestion, among others.

Having a purifier will mean the air inside the premises is constantly filtered. Depending on the size of the room, the air is filtered within 10-25 minutes of switching on the device. However, an air purifier needs a closed space (ideally air conditioned) since open windows inhibit its functions.

M Saraswathy
M Saraswathy
first published: Nov 20, 2020 01:33 pm