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Vivek Bali on India’s Beauty Business

The industry’s sales are growing dramatically, having doubled between 2006 and 2011, when revenues reached $4.25 billion.

Vivek Bali

India’s beauty business is “looking great and feeling good,” according to Vivek Bali, vice president and business head of cosmetics and fragrances in the lifestyle division of Reliance Retail Ltd., a diversified behemoth.

The industry’s sales are growing dramatically, having doubled between 2006 and 2011, when revenues reached $4.25 billion. “And the business will accelerate to about $5.8 billion by 2013,” he projected.

“India rides the look-great, feel-good wave,” continued Bali, noting consumer demand for beauty products is developing due to a myriad of reasons, including a rise in hygiene and beauty consciousness, income, media exposure and greater product choice.

“More women joining the workforce are looking glamorous and confident and, with purchasing power, are spending on personal grooming,” he said.

Increasingly, teenagers are becoming more “modern” in their approach to beauty, and male grooming is on a strong growth track, boosted by products such as scent and shower gel. Indian men are interested in spa and wellness treatments in salons, too.

There’s fierce price competition in mature beauty categories, like hair and skin care, where products with “fairness” claims drive the market for both sexes, said Bali.

Hair — a segment in which shampoos and colorants are the largest categories — and skin care together generated 79 percent of India’s beauty business last year. The third largest-selling segment was color cosmetics, in which lip and nail products are the most popular, followed by deodorant, which with mass-market aftershave reaches 7.2 million general-trade doors. Fragrance, 20 percent of whose activity is in prestige, came in fifth.

In descending order, the fastest-growing categories percentagewise between 2008 and 2013 are expected to be deodorant, color cosmetics, fragrance, skin care and hair care. Bali noted the deodorant and makeup businesses hold huge potential.

Indian consumers are trading up regularly. While denizens of urban areas look to premium products, led by the growth in “organized” retail, mass brands still reign in rural India, where 70 percent of the country’s population resides.

“Department stores and specialty stores are the preferred channels for beauty distribution, but [brands wanting] to win in India need a lot of coverage in all channels across the country,” said Bali.

He maintained that India’s fragmented retail scene, where about 12 million mom-and-pop stores account for 93 percent of the business, creates a favorable development opportunity for the “modern” retail channel, comprising the likes of supermarkets, hypermarkets and department stores.

“There is increased interest and activity,” said Bali, referring to multinationals — such as Wal-Mart, Tesco, Metro, Spar and Starbucks — that have already launched in India through joint ventures.

“The 100 percent [foreign direct investment] in retail is also a great opportunity for people to start and own their own business,” said Bali, adding that 50 percent FDI in multibrand retail is anticipated soon.

Overall, India’s total retail sales are likely to almost double, to $804 billion by 2020 from $411.3 billion in 2011.

Bali ticked off the country’s broad merits, including a stable economic and political environment, a swiftly developing economy and a growing middle class with a youthful population (65 percent of which is younger than 35).