“Our partnership with HUL offers the rural entrepreneur a profitable business model while operating i-Shakti kiosks. Also, low cost delivery and customized products will result in higher benefit through enhanced economic gains for the rural consumers.”
~ Mr. Nachiket More www.luxerose.com
Executive Director, Wholesale Banking Group
“There’s incredible potential in rural markets. That’s where the growth will come from.”
~ Sharat Dhall, Hindustan Lever’s director of new ventures and marketing services
Sankaramma, the leader of the local Kanaka Durga self-help Group (SHG) belongs to K. Thimmapuram village’s Muddaner Mandal in the Kadapa district of Andhra Pradesh. The village has 350 households with a total population of 1200. Sankaramma’s 5 hectares of agricultural land was not sufficient for six member family due to severe drought in the region. She started a business in April 2003 with the Hindustan Unilever Ltd. By 2005, she had a regular monthly turnover of Rs.10,000 per month. Initially she sold door to door, but thereafter the customers started visiting her home for products. She sees Project Shakti as a mean for the bright futures of her children. Project Shakti also enabled her to provide mid-day meals at the primary school in her village. Today, Sankaramma has become a key development figure in her village.
Usha Sarvatai, a mother of 2, traveled 32 km everyday to work. Her husband’s income was not sufficient for the two children and their old parents. But the long distance and the odd timings of the job forced Usha to quit the job. Then she got a call from the Government dept. to attend a meeting, convened by Project Shakti. Usha became a Shakti Amma and started a new venture. In a short span the good relationships she developed with the villagers helped her do good business. She says, “I am happy fulfilling my family’s requirements and people give me a lot of respect today.” And she is now very eager to grow her business in the years to come.
The list does not end here. Hindustan Lever Ltd., a subsidiary of Unilever is counting on thousands of women like Sankaramma and Usha Sarvatai to sell its products to the rural consumers it couldn’t reach before. By 2005, around 13,000 poor women were selling the company’s products in 50,000 villages in India’s 12 states and contributed for 15% of the company’s rural sales in those states . The women typically earned between $16 and $22 per month , often doubling their household income which was used to educate their children. Overall, around 30% of Hindustan Lever’s revenue came from the rural markets in India
Started in the late 2000, Project Shakti had enabled Hindustan Lever to access 80,000 of India’s 638,000 villages . Hindustan Lever’s director of new ventures proudly expressed, “At the end of the day, we’re in business. But if by doing business we can do something positive, it’s a great win-win model.” Hindustan Lever was not the only company recognizing the vast marketing potential in rural India. With the saturation of urban market, the companies started reengineering their businesses and products to target rural consumers who are poor but are rich in aspirations fueled by the media and other forces.
Unilever in India: Business and Growth
Unilever was the world’s largest Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) company with a worldwide revenue of $55 billion in 2005 . It’s Indian subsidiary, the Hindustan Unilever Limited (HUL) was the country’s largest FMCG company with combined volumes of about 4 million tonnes and revenues near about $2.43 billion . HUL’s major brands included Lifebuoy, Lux, Surf Excel, Rin, Wheel, Fair & Lovely, Pond’s, Sunsilk, Clinic, Pepsodent, Close-up, Lakme, Brooke Bond, Kissan, Knorr-Annapurna, Kwality Wall’s etc. These were manufactured over 40 factories across the country .
In 1931, Unilever set up its first Indian subsidiary, Hindustan Vanaspati Manufacturing Company . Thereafter the Lever Brothers India Limited and United Traders Limited were established in 1933 and 1935 respectively. In November 1956, these three companies merged and form HUL. Unilever’s share in HUL was 51.55% in 2005 and the remaining of the shareholding was distributed among about 380,000 individual shareholders and financial institutions. A foray of acquisitions followed thereafter . In 1984, the Brooke Bond joined the Unilever fold. Lipton was acquired in 1972 and Ponds in 1986 . HUL was following a growth strategy of diversification always in line with Indian opinions and aspirations.
The economic and political development in the 1990s had marked an inflexion in HUL’s and the Group’s growth curve. Economic liberalization permitted the company to explore every single product and opportunity segment, without any constraints on production capacity. On the other hand, deregulation allowed alliances, mergers and acquisitions. In 1993, HUL merged with the Tata Oil Mills Company (TOMCO) 1993 . In 1995, HUL formed a 50:50 joint venture with another Tata company, Lakme Limited .
The company had also made a string of mergers, acquisitions and alliances in the Foods and Beverages sector. Some of these were the acquisition of Kothari General Foods (1992), Kissan (1993), Dollops Icecream business from Cadbury India (1993), Modern Foods (2002), Cooked Shrimp and Pasteurised Crabmeat business of the Amalgam Group of Companies (2003) .
With 12.2% of the world population residing in the villages of India, the country’s rural FMCG market had a huge potential . The Indian FMCG sector was the fourth largest sector in the economy with a market size of $13.1 billion . The sector was expected to grow by over 60% by 2010. In 2005-2006 the urban India accounted for 66% of total FMCG consumption, with rural India accounting for the remaining 34% . However, rural India accounted for more than 40% consumption in major FMCG categories such as personal care, fabric care, and hot beverages . The Bid FMCG companies such as HLL, Nirma and ITC joined the foray to tap the huge potential.
In the 1990s, a local Indian firm, Nirma Ltd. started providing detergents to the rural poor at the lowest cost. The company had created a business system with a new product formulation, low-cost manufacturing, wide distribution channel, special packaging and value pricing. After a decade, Nirma became one of the largest branded detergent makers with a 38% market share and 121% return on its capital employed .