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Current environment won't hamper launches: Harish Manwani

Interview with Chairman, HUL

Business Standard 

The difficult economic environment has taken a toll on Hindustan Unilever Ltd (HUL), India's largest consumer goods maker. For the March quarter, the company recorded volume growth of three per cent, the lowest in two years. Chairman Harish Manwani talks about how the company plans to address this. Edited excerpts:

Will you continue to emphasise on volume growth, given the sequential decline the company has seen on this count in the past five quarters?

Volume is always a focus area. Our approach to volume growth isn't quarterly. We always want to ensure we grow both volume and value.

How do you plan to focus on growth, given the cut in consumer spending? What will be your focus areas in the next three-four quarters?

I wish to clarify the rate of conversion into our categories is slowing. It is not about consumers cutting expenditure; people do not stop consuming essential products during a slowdown.

At best, they may down-trade to rebalance expenditure. India is relatively under-developed, in terms of consumption. Therefore, growth primarily comes from new users or existing users consuming more. This is where our attention will be.

For instance, in the last few months, low-unit packs, with price points of Rs 5-10, have grown faster than the category average in certain segments. It is not a widespread phenomenon. But this is something we will focus our attention on, and see how we can accelerate growth in these challenging times. Also, we will step up our emphasis on consumer insight, as that will give us clues on consumer behaviour. That will be critical.

Will the pace of your launches continue, given the environment is expected to remain uncertain through the next six-eight months?

What we bring to the market is a factor of how we read and address consumer needs. The consumer is important to us and staying relevant to him/her is a must. I don't think the current economic environment will hamper product launches. Despite a slowdown, we introduced products such as Tresemme and Magnum into the Indian market in the past year. Our idea is to understand consumer needs effectively and respond to those.

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First Published: Tue, April 29 2014. 00:47 IST