Mumbai: Twenty-five years after launching a laundry brand inspired by Nirma, Ghari detergent appears to have edged out, at least temporarily, Hindustan Unilever's Wheel from the number one slot in the Rs 13,000-crore laundry industry.
Ghari, manufactured by Kanpurbased Rohit Surfactants Pvt Ltd (RSPL), had a higher share in October and November than Wheel, a brand that contributes over Rs 2,500 crore, or 12%, of the Rs 20,000-crore top line of Unilever Plc's Indian unit.
"As per value market share data, on a 12-month average share basis, the gap between Wheel and Ghari now stands at just 30 basis points; however, Ghari's shares were higher than Wheel for the last two months," said brokerage firm Prabhudas Lilladher in a report, dated January 2, quoting numbers from market research firm The Nielsen Company.
In November, Ghari had a 17.4% share compared with Wheel's 16.9%, according to people familiar with the numbers. The market researcher will generate data for December in the third week of January.
Ghari's achievement is reminiscent of the feats of Ahmedabad-based Nirma, whose eponymous washing power evicted HUL's Surf from the top slot in 1985. Nirma achieved this by pricing its products considerably lower than Hindustan Lever (HLL), as the company was then known as.
The resultant rumpus and the incumbent's fierce response are part of Indian business folklore and have made it to management textbooks.
HUL, which contributed 6% to Unilever's top line in 2010, eventually prevailed as Nirma's challenge faded in the early years of this century, with the global consumer giant stepping up marketing and advertising spend to levels its homegrown rival could not match. Wheel, the detergent whose market leadership is under threat, is very much a product of that period.
A powder variant of Wheel was introduced in 1988 to take on Nirma's challenge. Despite the wobbles in October and November last year, HUL still dominates the detergent market with Wheel as the country's largest brand on a yearly comparison, though the gap has been narrowing each quarter. The Hindustan Unilever spokesman declined comment on the data.
"Our laundry category has grown significantly ahead of market in both volume and value in the period from January 2011 to September 2011. Wheel also contributed significantly to this with strong double-digit growth driven both by volume and price," the spokesman added.
The company said it could not validate the Nielsen data. "We cannot confirm the factual correctness of the market share data you have emailed as it is proprietary data of Nielsen. We request you to contact Nielsen to validate the data.'' The Nielsen Company's spokeswoman said: "As per company policy, I will not comment on brand specific data and will not be able to verify and validate the data."
Both Wheel and Rin, another detergent from the HUL stable, have increased their market shares compared with the same year, but have been lapped by the faster growth achieved by Ghari, which was launched in 1987 by brothers Muralidhar and Bimal Kumar Gyanchandani.
The Ghari phenomenon, emerging as it did from Kanpur, a business backwater, has been widely celebrated by many as an example of small town entrepreneurial chutzpah. "Losing share isn't as big as losing leadership in its largest brand.