Feature

The soap opera begins

Godrej No.1 became a ₹1,000-crore brand in FY15. So what? And what next?

Photograph: Shutterstock; Illustration: Manish Marwah

Adi Godrej takes a moment to gather his thoughts before answering. The question is about a 1997 research finding on the opportunity in the toilet soaps market. It had been less than a year since the joint venture between Godrej Soaps and the Cincinnati-headquartered Procter & Gamble had been called off. Hindustan Lever, as the company was known then, had over a 70% share of the toilet soaps market and over the past five years, had been facing heat from Nirma, its old nemesis from the detergent industry. At that point, Godrej’s biggest soap brand was Cinthol. “Research indicated that people liked the quality of our soap. We realised there was an opportunity for a good soap at an affordable price,” says Godrej, who is the chairman of the eponymous group. At that point, Lifebuoy was still the largest selling soap in India and with other brands like Lux and Rexona, Lever was sitting very pretty.  

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A challenge from Nirma, which had entered this segment in 1992, was brewing. Nirma Bath was in direct competition with Lifebuoy. Godrej needed to get a foothold in this market and the answer was in the form of Godrej No.1, a soap that had been around for many years (it goes back to the 1920s when it was called Godrej No 2 before it was renamed) but had done very little. Even in the mid-1980s, it was priced at ₹6.5 for a 100 gm bar, which was 50 paise more than Cinthol. A decision to relaunch No.1 was taken in 1997 and the brand was in retail outlets the following year. About 17 years later, the soap brand has finally broken into the ₹1,000-crore club. In FY15, sales of the brand touched ₹1,000 crore, an 40-fold jump from ₹25 crore in 2001 and a two-fold jump from ₹500 crore in 2009. With a market share of 10%, it is the third-largest brand by volume (after Lifebuoy and Lux) and the fifth by value, where it has a 7% share. 

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