16th July 2016, ECONOMIC TIMESParticipating in a senior leadership seminar in 1989 on ‘Quality Convenience Foods’ at Four Acres, Kingston-upon-Thames, along with twenty four Unilever managers, I sliced and diced reams and reams of data over an exciting fortnight.
Participating in a senior leadership seminar in 1989 on ‘Quality Convenience Foods’ at Four Acres, Kingston-upon-Thames, along with twenty four Unilever managers, I sliced and diced reams and reams of data over an exciting fortnight. The wellness market included natural, chemicals-free, organic, traditional and similar attributes in food, and personal care products. Mentored by Unilever Director Iain Anderson, we finally presented our judgments for those times: natural, organic and health foods were a fringe market, selling at premium prices to niche consumers; this niche will develop towards mainstream, but only in an evolutionarily gradual way.
Today twenty seven years later, I am fascinated to learn that the wellness market is indeed mainstream. The Economist (9th July 2016) ran a lead business story on how FMCG majors are struggling with low growth compared to emerging health-orientated companies, who have collectively snatched as much as three percentage points of market share from the biggies. Kiehl’s Cosmetics (based on herbals and an apothecary tradition) is an 1851 New York start-up, but after its acquisition by L’Oreal in 2000, its sales have quintupled. The Global Wellness Institute Study 2015 (www.globalwellnessinstitute.org) has estimated that wellness is one of the world’s largest and fastest-growing industries. The research on their behalf by S.R.I International states that the wellness market size is three times the size of the pharmaceutical industry (USD 3.4 trillion versus 1 trillion). Recently Nestle announced the appointment of a new global CEO from outside rather than an insider, the more traditional choice of large companies. Reports state that Nestle must be “looking at a world in which packaged and processed foods can help treat or alleviate health problems”. French food major Danone paid $ 12.7 billion for a 1991 start-up company, named WhiteWave Foods. Something significant is happening in the world out there, truly mind blowing! What about India?
The Indian FMCG market is estimated at about $45 billion (Rs 300, 000 crores) of which the wellness slice has been negligible. Evidence suggests that Indian wellness also is rapidly transitioning towards mainstream. The Madhya Pradesh government has announced a Department of Happiness—based on yoga, and ayurveda! The Indian wellness-resurgence is led by our traditional concepts: yoga (relieves impurity of mind) and ayurveda (relieves impurity of body).
My instinct is that the trend is powered by Indians experiencing a Zeigarnik effect with respect to yoga, ayurveda and indigenous solutions.
What is the Zeigarnik effect?
Bluma Wolfnova Zeigarnik was a Soviet psychologist. In her 1927 research paper, she gave the world what psychologists now refer by her name: that people remember uncompleted or interrupted tasks better than completed tasks. The trigger for her research was her professor’s observation that waiters in restaurants remember unpaid bills better than fully paid bills. Yoga and ayurveda have been’ interrupted items’ for Indians for centuries. How so?
Indian tradition celebrates the confluence of physical, mental and spiritual harmony as a totality. Around 200 BC, Sri Patanjali enunciated the Yoga Sutras, which embraced what modern day writers refer to as yoga, ayurveda and dhyaana. This intellectual property has survived in a word-of-mouth, subcutaneous form for centuries. More recently the attribute of good male physique got a fillip when in 1905 German body builder Eugene Sandow visited Kolkata; his visit triggered a cult of the muscular and sculpted male body. When I was growing up in Kolkata, any boy interested in body-building was greeted with the remark, “Kee, Sandow hobey naa kee?” For long I thought Sandow was a Bengali word! Indeed the Bengalis took to body building in such a big way that the only Indians to have won the Mr Universe title are two Bengalis– Monotosh Roy and Manohar Aich!
In the early 1900s, a young man named Mukunda Lal Ghosh graduated from Scottish Church College, Kolkata, and chose the career of spreading Kriya Yoga. From the age of 27, he lived in California after representing India in the International Congress of Religious Liberals. He became famous as Paramahansa Yogananda, and authored the celebrated book, “The autobiography of a yogi”. Yoga continued its strong global advance when in 1966, BKS Iyengar, the purist, initiated an eponymous violinist, Yehudi Menuhin into yoga.
Within India, for centuries, yoga and ayurveda lurked around as the activity of indigenous vaidyas, somewhat second fiddle to an upcoming western medicine system. Ayurvedic pharmacies of Kerala have been flagbearers in institutionalising traditional knowledge, particularly the Kottakkal pharmacy pioneered by PS Warrier. Companies like Dabur, Zandu, and Charak started making and marketing their products from the early 1900s and grew successfully as niche players. Hatha yoga exponent and Ms Indira Gandhi’s yoga teacher, Dhirendra Brahmachari, must get the credit for democratizing yoga among modern Indians through his weekly yoga classes on Doordarshan during the 1970s. Twenty years ago the government created the department of Indian Systems of Medicine, which got reincarnated in 2014, as a full-fledged Ministry with a cabinet rank minister.
The role of the media in this awakening must also be noted. Bennett Coleman’s initiative of publishing The Speaking Tree has certainly brought these traditional Indian thoughts and practices into lay consciousness. This publication began in May 1996 as an edit page column. By early 2010 it had developed into an eight page broadsheet published every Sunday. For the last two years, 21st June is formally recognised as International yoga day, and this has further spot-lighted yoga within India and also internationally.
This history of yoga and ayurveda is important to understand; yoga, ayurveda and meditation have had a long-standing but unfulfilled existence in the subcutaneous memory of Indians. After decades of being a niche market (proprietary medicines, honey, and personal products)—the size of the Indian products market is estimated to be Rs 5000 crores–these products have burst forth into the collective consciousness of the Indian consumer. The share of natural and ayurvedic products in the segment markets has started to rise. Among investment bankers, ayurvedic brands are beginning to be hot property for sale and purchase, fetching 10-15 times EBIDTA earnings, as illustrated by the transactions of Kesh King and Indulekha. The Zeigarnik effect has started to manifest.