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A file photo of yoga guru Baba Ramdev. Some spiritual leaders are parlaying their influence, spiritual as well as political, to launch a portfolio of consumer products as millions of Indians welcome their products inside homes. Photo: Vipin Kumar/HT
A file photo of yoga guru Baba Ramdev. Some spiritual leaders are parlaying their influence, spiritual as well as political, to launch a portfolio of consumer products as millions of Indians welcome their products inside homes. Photo: Vipin Kumar/HT

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar vs Baba Ramdev: the new consumer product war?

Sri Sri Ayurveda first started selling products in 2003, but its expansion comes at a time when Patanjali Ayurved's advertising blitzkrieg has made many large multinationals uneasy

Bengaluru: Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s consumer products brand Sri Sri has taken a leaf from the playbook of yoga guru Baba Ramdev’s Patanjali, according to a Monday report by brokerage Edelweiss Securities.

“We are seeing renewed aggression (mass media, events, more products) from Sri Sri Ayurveda," said the report, authored by Abneesh Roy, associate director of institutional equities and research analyst at Mumbai-based Edelweiss Securities.

The report doesn’t mention the amount Sri Sri Ayurveda (SSA) Trust, the FMCG arm of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s Art of Living Foundation, is spending on marketing and Mint couldn’t independently ascertain this.

Some of India’s spiritual leaders are parlaying their influence, usually spiritual as well as political, to launch a portfolio of consumer products, as millions of Indians, who already follow their sermons and teachings either through television or mass gatherings, welcome their products inside homes.

Marketed as ayurvedic and organic, such packaged products are flying off shelves.

SSA first started selling products in 2003, but its expansion comes at a time when Patanjali Ayurved Ltd’s advertising blitzkrieg has made many large multinationals uneasy.

Through 2015, Patanjali inundated the market with launches—flour, ghee, biscuits, noodles, spices, honey, toothpaste—going head-to-head with well-heeled and deeply entrenched rivals such as Hindustan Unilever Ltd, ITC Ltd and Dabur India Ltd. In December 2015, Mint reported that Patanjali hoped to spend 360 crore on advertising in the four months to March.

SSA is slowly building a portfolio similar to that of Patanjali.

Products promoted on the company’s website sattvastore.com, its Twitter handle, and Facebook page include creams, toothpaste, shampoos, body care lotions, scrubs, cleansing milk, soaps, ayurvedic energizers, ayurvedic medicines, juices, herbal tea, anti-diabetic tablets, balms and syrups—all under the Sri Sri brand.

In the pipeline, said Roy, are breakfast cereals, cookies, atta, edible oil, spices, and ready-to-cook items.

SSA has a facility in Bengaluru with a research and development division, quality control unit and a marketing department. It is, however, not known whether all products are manufactured in-house or made on a contract basis.

A senior marketing executive at SSA had not responded to phone calls, emails and text messages till press time.

Even though it trails Patanjali, whose revenues are expected to soar to at least 5,000 crore in the year ending March 2016, by a huge gap, SSA is doing more to add distributors, the report added.

Mint couldn’t independently ascertain SSA’s revenue.

Calls and emails sent to Patanjali’s spokesperson remained unanswered.

SSA products are primarily sold through 600 franchise stores and so-called ‘Divine Shops’, set up at Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s gatherings. They are also available online at bigbasket.com, amazon.com and SSA’s own dedicated site www.sattvastore.com.

SSA plans to open 2,500 stores across India by 2017 with an extended range of modern, daily consumption products with the essence of ancient wellness, the report added.

Tie-ups with retail chains across the country (which has been a major growth driver for Patanjali) are also in the works.

Future Group promoter Kishore Biyani recently said that he is open to selling Sri Sri products at his stores. Biyani already sells Patanjali products at Big Bazaar outlets.

“While existing digital presence will aid growth, what’s needed is expansion of physical distribution as well for building a robust consumer products company," Roy added.

Other spiritual leaders could follow suit, the report added. Some, such as Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev’s Isha Foundation already have entities (Isha Arogya in this case) that sell ayurvedic products.

Roy’s belief is that they will also become more aggressive.

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