December 15 was an important date in the 117 year old history of Hindustan Lever in more ways than one. The first was the decison to appoint an expat CEO.
It also marked the day that the home grown detergent brand Wheel became a Rs 1000 crore brand. This in effect makes it the largest detergent brand in India, and for a brand that has been around only since 1976, that is some achievement.
“Brands are not made because they are global or local, but because the consumer buys them,” is what Harish Manwani, chairman, HLL and president, Unilever Asia and Africa believes, and Wheel is probably the best example of that.
He attributes the brands’ success to the company strategy of focusing on the core businesses and brands rather than trying to introduce new products and gain share there.
“We focus on the core, and the idea is to renovate not innovate,” says Manwani, adding that the bigger challenge as a consumer goods company is to make sure that the offerings look fresh.
Keeping this in mind, the company has over the past year been increasing the investments behind its core brands both in the home and personal care as well as foods business.
As a result, the consolidated Brooke Bond brand at Rs 800 crore is probably the largest food brand in the country which has gained market share by 120 basis points. And this in part has been bolstered by increasing variations in the category like Brooke Bond Naturals, an herbal blend.
Manwani says it has been innovations like these within the range of existing products which have resulted in an increase in their market share.
“While there may have been no new brands, there have variants introduced as well as brand extensions like the 9-9 hair conditioner brought in under the Sunsilk brand which are equally important,” says Manwani.
In addition to this, HLL will continue to beef up its distribution system and supply chain in order to improve sales capability and customer management as well as take advantage of the IT connectivity. “Part of the sales team is working on creating demand at the point of sale and we will work to increase our supply chain efficiency,” says Manwani.
Although Unilever has gone in for a unified name and logo globally, in India it continues to remain Hindustan Lever, and Manwani says that the name change is something they are evaluating but it can be brought about only after the resolution will be passed by the board and shareholders.
Since the new structure and committee will be effective only from 1st March 2006, HLL is unlikely to see a name change happen before that.