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Focused on fundamentals

GSK Consumer Healthcare has retained its momentum, even as the Indian consumer market shows mild signs of recovery

Viveat Susan Pinto 

Zubair Ahmed

"When we come into a job, we come with our experience and learnings. A leader also brings with him his vision and strategic thinking. I did the same," says Zubair Ahmed, managing director, (GSK) Consumer Healthcare, recipient of the Business Standard Award for the - the second time in four years that GSK Consumer won the award, the first being in 2010.

Since he took over in January 2007, GSK Consumer's top line and bottom line have grown four times. It has also expanded its largest brand (the malted beverage drink Horlicks) into areas such as women's health, launched products such as Sensodyne (a toothpaste that targets a dental problem called sensitivity) and refurbished brands such as Eno (an antacid), Crocin (an analgesic), and Iodex (a pain balm). GSK has also had some false starts. Its 2009 noodle launch called Foodles has been scaled down, as have biscuits and oats, whose presence is restricted to a few pockets in the country, while products such as cereal bars and flavoured milk under Horlicks and a sports drink called Lucozade were withdrawn from the market.

Ahmed, 60, says that hits and misses are part of the game. "Our products have to be based on science and if they don't, we will take a call appropriately on whether we want to continue with them or not. I keep asking my team: What is the science a product brings to the table? How can it be efficacious based on science? If that is answered we proceed further during product development or launch."

GSK has not hesitated to withdraw products that do not meet its internal benchmarks and has also sought to convey its scientific links in its brand and marketing communication. Horlicks, for instance, has been relaunched three times in the last four years and with every relaunch the company has attempted to get sharper with its communication.

Organisational capabilities and go-to-market strategy are other areas on which Ahmead has focussed, to ensure that GSK Consumer stays ahead of the curve.

"When I first came here I saw that this organisation had great brands that were category leaders. However, I did feel that they could be leveraged better. That has been my endeavour in the last seven years. Alongside, I have worked to fill capability gaps in the company, focus my attention on the people and the organisation. I have also looked at how we can improve the reach of our products better, notably into rural areas and modern trade."

The company's products are now available in nearly 2.6 million outlets - an over two-fold jump in the last few years. Rural coverage has also grown from 10,000 to 20,000 villages, with plans to take it up to 50,000 villages by 2016.

While Horlicks still gives GSK Consumer some 64 per cent (Rs 3,000 crore) of its Rs 4,683-crore revenues, the company has been trying to bring down this dependence by pushing its over-the-counter and dental products. Some months ago the company relaunched its calcium supplement Ostocalcium to boost its OTC portfolio (Rs 662 crore), its second-largest after health food drinks. Oral care, led by Sensodyne, gives GSK about Rs 150 crore in sales.

Though Ahmed is not forthcoming, the buzz is that the firm is expected to beef up its oral care portfolio, with possibly a new mouth wash in the coming months. The firm will also ramp up its rural infrastructure and launch smaller stock keeping units of products such as Horlicks, to tap rural markets.

First Published: Thu, February 12 2015. 23:34 IST