The pandemic has triggered a gold rush in the health and hygiene sector, particularly sanitisers – even if temporarily.
A severely underpenetrated category in the pre-pandemic period, sanitisers have witnessed massive adoption amongst the consumers since March 2020.
According to data from Kantar, annually, before the pandemic struck (March 2019 – February 2020) hand sanitiser penetration was about 1.2 percent; on an average in a month only 0.1 percent of the urban households bought the product.
However, during the first 12 months of the pandemic, the category reached nearly 50 percent penetration, a quantum leap.
It means everyone in two urban households are now using sanitisers, as per data from Kantar, the world's leading data, insights, and consulting company.
Overall, the hygiene category had witnessed a huge spike in sales as the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic struck the country in March last year.
Although the sales declined as the cases subsided, the demand jumped up again with the second wave of the pandemic.
Several companies had made a beeline for the category and joined the sanitiser gold rush.
According to data from Kantar, as many as 350 brands of sanitisers were launched in the first three months of the pandemic.
Consumers are also buying more products in the hygiene category such as vegetable cleaners and surface disinfectants.
Data from Kantar shows that vegetable and fruit cleaners now have a penetration of 2 percent and surface disinfectants 1.5 percent.
“For a category that is driven by a limited number of brands and has not even been there for a year, it is a huge success,” said K Ramakrishnan, MD – South Asia, Worldpanel Division, Kantar.
Though the category overall has seen an increase in demand, industry and experts expect only a few big brands with a strong legacy in the hygiene segment to sustain in the long run.
Hence companies such as Marico have already started deprioritising the category.
“Of late, we have realised that it (sanitisers) is more of a tactical opportunity for us to provide consumers what they needed then,” Pawan Agrawal, CFO, Marico, said.
“These products do not fit into our scheme of things as we understood that consumers will go back to the legacy brands with strong equity in hygiene, and hence three-four brands will have a larger play in the segment,” he added.
Marico, hence, has decided to not make any fresh investments in the category going ahead.
Raymond Consumer Care, which sells sanitisers under its brand Park Avenue, too, has similar plans.
“We believe post-COVID, the sanitiser market will shrink considerably and there will be room only for old trusted brands or bulk low margin suppliers. Given this context, we will maintain strategic presence in the chemist channel, but this segment will not be a priority,” admitted Sudhir Langer, CEO – Raymond Consumer Care.
Other companies such as CavinKare plan to focus on flagship products such as handwashes.
Said Raja Varatharaju, GM Marketing - Personal Care, CavinKare: “As the demand for sanitisers continues to slow down, our core focus will remain on offering a bouquet of products under the health and hygiene portfolio as we move forward. We will increase and strengthen our focus on hand wash, as it is a flagship product in our portfolio.”
Reckitt’s Dettol, ITCs’ Savlon and Hindustan Unilever Limited's (HUL) Lifebuoy are some of the top brands in the health and hygiene space, which are likely to benefit from this trend in the long run, indicate experts.
Consumers associate certain products and categories with certain brands and are inclined to buy from them, said Devangshu Dutta, Chief Executive at retail consultancy, Third Eyesight.Hence, companies, which saw in the pandemic the chance to tap the short-term opportunity, do not want to focus on it any longer.