Consumer products giant Hindustan Lever Ltd (HLL) is quietly working on a mammoth task of reaching out to the last rural consumer in the deepest part of India’s hinterland. The mission: to deepen its roots and cover the whole of rural India by the end of 2005. The vehicle: Project Shakti.
As part of its new ventures, Project Shakti had initially started operating in rural parts of Andhra Pradesh, empowering women through self-help groups to increase awareness of HLL’s products. The project has now been extended to Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Chattissgarh, Uttar Pradesh and Orissa, which, as planned, will cover 100 million rural population.
“Project Shakti will be our vehicle to deepen our rural reach to the entire rural India,” MS Banga, chairman, HLL, told FE.
HLL has married its rural penetration programme with Project Shakti to achieve better results, as coverage through the stockist route will not be as effective as using the rural women folk as agents for marketing its products, in a manner which is similar to door-to-door selling.
“In 10 years from today, Project Shakti will contribute in a major way to HLL’s sales,” said Mr Banga.
HLL currently draws a larger sales contribution from the urban market, of about 60 per cent, even as the Rs 10,138 crore maker of Lifebuoy, Surf Excel and Lux is considered to have the largest rural backbone — its key strength — among consumer product companies. Launch of this major mega offensive to increase rural penetration to 100 per cent would eventually lead to HLL’s sales contribution coming from the rural market to go well beyond 50 per cent. Statistics show that there are over six lakh villages in India, with a population of over 650 million.
The multinational had about six years back launched Project Bharat, a massive rural sampling initiative in two phases. According to Mr Banga, the current plan will be at a much more larger scale as compared to Project Bharat.
The company had earlier also launched Operation Streamline to further increase its rural reach with the help of rural sub-stockists. It had appointed 6,000 such sub-stockists, with the distribution network directly covering about 50,000 villages reaching about 250 million consumers.
Since 70 per cent of the country’s population resides in rural India, penetration into this critical market is every marketer’s dream.