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NEW DELHI : Pandemic lockdowns with work-from-home mandates lifted sales of Philips grooming range, including hair trimmers, straighteners and epilators. In an interview, Vidyut Kaul, head of personal health at the company’s Indian subcontinent division, said Philips is focused on further increasing category penetration and driving growth for its mother and child care brand Avent. Edited excerpts:

 

Has covid changed the way consumers use grooming products?

During covid, people were restricted at home and this played out differently for men and women. Among men, 35-40% consumers that entered the (grooming) category were first-time users. Everybody actually started trying their hand at cutting their own hair at home. When offices were on virtually, people still had to turn on the camera. We saw men paying a lot more attention to their facial appearances. Women, on the other hand, took  up a lot more on the epilation portfolio. The haircare part was almost flat. Post- covid we are seeing many men upgrade to better products. Though from a volume perspective, we’re not seeing the crazy growth that we saw during the covid period. On the female grooming side, it’s actually quite the opposite. We see a huge volume uplift; in fact, immediately after the lockdown, we saw the entire female grooming business, especially haircare, starting to explode.

But grooming product category penetration in India is still low.

It’s not a highly penetrated category. From a consumer perspective, I think we are still at the end of phase one of category creation, which means there’s a lot more penetration that will happen. This is getting fuelled by two factors. One, ours is still a very young population. 

Two, we also see that self-care as a concept is on the rise and so is electrification of care. As a society, we are transitioning from “do it for me", to “I can do it myself or DIY".These are the big shifts which are happening. There’s a long way to go, but with consumer behaviour changing, we see a massive headroom to grow.

How will you increase reach and penetration?

In India, still a lot of awareness needs to be created when it comes to explaining the benefits of the product. You see a lot of fake products or poor-quality products in the market, which are manufactured in low-cost countries. They give a bad experience around the category to consumers. So, there’s a lot of education and awareness that we’re doing; we rope in celebrities. 

As a brand, we believe in the philosophy of understanding the consumer’s unmet needs, and then creating solutions. In India, 70%-80% of the portfolio has been created around the needs of the Indian consumer. This means a lot of consumer work, understanding the price elasticity, usage patterns etc. Many of the products that we sell here, and are in the process of creating more, are not products that are sold in other parts of the world.

Will you increase your marketing budgets this festive season?

We have been investing quite a bit of money in advertising. We know that we have to play the role of a brand that created the category. We’re making sure that the money is spent where the consumers are. Hence, the whole two-pronged approach of bringing the message with mega celebrities at the top, but also going through influencers and local opinion leaders to make sure that the message lands. Virat Kohli has been an ambassador for men’s grooming, and Alia Bhatt has been brand ambassador for female grooming. Both of them will continue to champion the products. On the product side, we have been innovating, that is in the DNA of the company. While we understand the need for the right price points to unlock the category and drive penetration, at the same time, we have been pushing innovation to make sure that it’s relevant for the premium audiences as well. We recently launched UV-protect hair straightener. You will see a lot more emphasis on mid-premium and premium because that’s where we can bring a lot more meaningful innovation for consumers.

How are you driving mother and child care under Avent?

Mother and child care is a very different industry. Here, we are dealing with the health and well-being of a child. So, there’s a lot of science involved and co-creation with the medical fraternity. Because of government regulations and WHO guidelines which promote mother’s milk for babies—which is absolutely the right thing to do—we cannot advertise our products.

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