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Battle of the blues

The entry of Rin into the fabric blue space is set to rev up the market, which has stagnated for some time due to the dominance of Ujala

Viveat Susan Pinto  |  Mumbai 

It’s a segment dominated by Laboratories, but now there’s a bigger rival who has stepped into the fray. (HUL), the country’s largest fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) company, has extended the into fabric blues taking on Jyothy’s Ujala, which has a 75 per cent share in the Rs 400-crore category.

The entry, say analysts, is also likely to rev up the market, which has been stagnant for some time now.

HUL’s Chief Financial Officer says the extension is logical given Rin’s brand promise of superior whiteness. “Rin stands for whiteness, while fabric blues impart whiteness to clothes. The category is consistent with what Rin stands for, which is why the entry into fabric blues,” he adds.

is not ignoring the entry of HUL, despite its strong grip on the market. Ulhas Kamath, joint managing director, Laboratories, says, “Yes, we are watching what HUL is doing. But this isn’t the first time when we have had to contend with competition from a bigger player,” he says.

In the 29 years since was first launched in Kerala by accountant-turned-entreprenuer M. P. Ramachandran, the brand has seen competition from products such as from Reckitt Benckiser and Ranipal All White from Pidilite Industries. Robin Blue, in particular, was the leader in the fabric-blue category when was first launched in the 1980s.

Today, however, it remains a fringe player with a share of just three per cent mainly because of Jyothy’s nimble-footedness in identifying consumer trends. For instance, says Kamath, helped make the shift from powder blue to liquid blue at a time when the former was popularly used to impart whiteness to clothes. Ujala today is also available across price-points - from Rs 1 to Rs 45 - for those across the consumption curve.

While competition does not have the range of products that Jyothy does, most players including HUL, say experts, are available in 75 ml and 250 ml bottles priced at Rs 15 and Rs 45 respectively.

Analysts say the most popular SKU in fabric blue is the 75-ml bottle, since it lasts for a month.

The only way players differentiate themselves is in the aspect of whiteness they bring to clothes, specifically, white clothes. HUL says that its product is better than competition in this regard. “We entered the category because we felt we could carve a niche for ourselves in the segment. While fabric blue itself is not a new segment, what we are offering is a slightly differentiated product, which has better fragrance and better uniform whiteness,” Sridhar says.

But experts say that HUL was actually keen to plug gaps in the post-wash segment - an area it has been focusing on in an attempt to mark its presence across the laundry curve. Kaustubh Pawaskar, analyst at brokerage Sharekhan says, “In the core wash segment, HUL is pretty much there across formats, be it detergent-bars, powders, etc. The post-wash category is an area it is devoting its attention to now, so that consumers stick to them throughout the length of the wash process.”

Two years ago, HUL, for instance, entered the fabric softener space with Comfort - a product used to condition clothes during the wash process. While all these segments remain niche, HUL, say experts, has no intention to concede ground to rivals in any area - whether wash or post-wash. Says an analyst based in Mumbai, “The fact is that consumers use one or the other of HUL’s detergent brands during the wash process, but an Ujala Blue during the post-wash process is something that the major is keen to nip in the bud. It would be worthwhile seeing how Jyothy reacts to this.”

Sachin not out yet
Kamath of Jyothy says the company is not looking to discontinue using Ujala brand ambassador Sachin Tendulkar after his three-year contract expires next month. “We are talking to him and are hopeful of renewing the contract with him for a second term.”

While Ujala’s extensions into detergents (Ujala Washing Powder/ Ujala Techno Bright) and starch (Stiff & Shine) have not met with the kind of success that its fabric blue has tasted in the marketplace, experts say the move to retain Tendulkar is intended to protect market share in the flagship category owing to HUL’s entry there.

Jyothy is also looking to position Ujala’s extensions (chiefly detergents) as regional rather than national brands in a bid to bring Henkel’s products (Henko Stain Champion, Mr White and Chek) in the spotlight.

First Published: Fri, June 08 2012. 00:41 IST