Judy Franko
Jul 11, 2013

‘Ayurveda is not a positioning – it’s who we are’: Cholayil

Q&A with Subarna Sen, brand manager, Medimix, and Saket Govind, brand manager, Krishna Thulasi

Saket Govind (L) and Subarna Sen (R)
Saket Govind (L) and Subarna Sen (R)

Chennai-based Cholayil Pvt. Ltd., owner of ayurvedic soap brand Medimix, has extended its product portfolio over the last few years and ventured into prickly powder, face wash, talc and deos. The company took over marketing rights for brand Medimix for India (outside the four South States) and export markets following a split in the family in 2007 (AVA Cholayil Health Care has the marketing rights for Medimix in the South). Medimix is the flagship, but there’s action beyond - brands like Cuticura are being extended to more categories.

Campaign India caught up with the company’s brand managers Subarna Sen (Medimix) and Saket Govind (Krishna Thulasi) to understand marketing plans, extensions and the challenges that the company is facing as it tries to leave its footprint beyond its stronghold – the South.

From a single brand Medimix (soap), Cholayil has expanded to toiletries, personal and health care. Can you elaborate on the journey of Medimix and its growth so far?

Saket Govind: When I joined this company in November 2010, it was just Cuticura in Kerala and Medimix in North East and West regions of India. So, to grow, prosper and get wider acceptance, to have a wider distribution base, we needed more brands. For any company to grow and go to a bigger league, it has to have more brands in its kitty. That’s why we took this journey and from then to now, we have Krishna Thulasi, we have Medimix prickly powder, Medimix face wash and Cuticura has expanded to talc, deo and more product categories are coming soon.

Subarna Sen: The only way to grow for a company is either organically or inorganically. Either you buy a new company or buy a set of brands or you grow by your own set by category expansion. As an ayurvedic company, our notion was to give a quality product to consumers - authentic ayurvedic products.  So, how do we do that? A soap alone actually does not meet with our vision which says we would like to offer a range of Ayurvedic products. So we needed to have one offering in each of the categories that consumers use in their personal care kitty. To that extent, from the brand Medimix and also from brand Cuticura, we are trying to enter into various categories wherein we see a fit, wherein we believe that through our ayurvedic formulations, we can offer a good product.

And we are doing all of this through holistic research – we have done more than six months of research for Medimix. A similar period of research was done for Cuticura and Krishna Thulasi. After such research, we are entering into new categories which are viable and logical extension of the product portfolio.

You talk to the consumers, understand what actually made you successful in the first place, and what are the other things and various other places where the consumers would like to see you.
Consumers are very loyal to Medimix as a brand. We have very strong brand in Medimix in South. But when we look at rest of India, people know us as a green soap they have seen in some of the hotels or institutions. Most of them see us as a medicinal, problem-solving kind of soap. That was one of the key findings of the research. That’s when we decided that we need to do a major overhaul of our imagery, become relevant to the consumers of today and give them an offering with which they will identify.  The journey so far has been eventful. We haven’t seen smooth sailing so far. It’s been a rocky journey and we love the challenge that we are facing. Hopefully we will be able to tide over it.

What are the new categories you plan to enter going forward?

Subarna Sen: We have gotten into talc; we have gotten into face wash. There are more categories; till the time we come up with solution, we will not able to reveal that. We as a company we have decided that we will not launch a me-too product. Because being a smaller company, for us to make a dent in a marketplace which is already crowded by biggies, we need to have strong ayurvedic solutions, strong talking points which will be distinctive and keep us differentiated from others. So, every category that we enter, we would like to enter with something very different and very distinct from what’s there and currently available. This year, we entered three new categories: face wash, prickly heat powder and body wash.

What is the market current market share of Medimix?

Saket Govind: It’s very miniscule. We are talking about a huge category. But if you look at Medimix soap in the ayurvedic category, it’s 25 percent. The ayurvedic, herbal category is actually not that well developed in any other part of India except South. We are one of the significant players in the ayurvedic category in the North, East and West.

Can you talk about the various sub-brands under Medimix, Cuticura and Krishna Thulasi and how they have been doing in the market?

Saket Govind: All the brands are doing really well in their own space. Cuticura was primarily known for talc. From talc, Cuticura expanded to deo and then soap. The soap is doing fantastic in Kerala. Deo is doing really well in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. Cuticura, as a brand, stands for beauty.

Krishna Thulasi was acquired one and a half years ago. At this moment, we have a range of soaps under it. This soap talks about divine herb thulasi (basel). And how thulasi purifies your soul, the same way we say Krishna Thulasi purifies your mind, body and soul. We are planning to extend this soap into a much wider range but I can’t reveal the details right now.

Subarna Sen: As far as Medimix goes, we have Medimix Ayurvedic face wash, body wash. Medimix is still remains the brand name, however, the variants are called as per the categories wherein we are offering them.  In Medimix soap itself, we have variants: a moisturising and a sandal variant, the classic.

For decades, Medimix has been known as an ayurvedic soap brand. How difficult was to market your host of sub-brands like hand wash, shower gels, face wash and others?

Subarna Sen: It’s very difficult because it’s still a one-brand company. Major part of our business comes from Medimix classic soap that you know and everybody loves. Getting that out to other variants and other categories is really challenging but the good part is Medimix has a very positive connotation - it’s an ayurvedic and very effective soap. So, that brand equity which goes with the brand name Medimix can actually be taken on to things like prickly heat talc and face wash. So the efficacy of these new categories is enhanced due to the Medimix legacy. In a way it aids us when we are introducing a new category of products.

Though people still see Medimix as soap, but they are not averse to trying a Medimix face wash or prickly heat talc. It’s not a deterrent; it’s rather aiding us in our venture to enter new categories with powerful ayurvedic solutions.

(Read the full interview in the issue of Campaign India dated 12 July 2013)

Campaign India