Not just fairer skin, skin care solutions today attempt to offer the customer a little more — clearer, softer skin at pocket-friendly price points..

Sravanthi Challapalli

Some years ago, a unit shooting an ad film for a fairness cream found itself with a small crisis on its hands – the model who had to be covered in dark make-up to represent her pre-fairness cream avatar refused to come out of her dressing room, shy and upset about her appearance. Reassurance and persuasion finally prevailed and work resumed, but the episode reflects how the stigma attached to a dark complexion is hard to get rid of. It has made for what is now estimated to be a Rs 1,800-crore fairness products industry in India, and one that has in recent years evolved to include options for men, a hitherto untapped market.

Of late, two major brands in the market have gone in for a revamp — competition is hotting up. At most price points, skin care products now promise fairness as an extra benefit, while fairness products claim varied skin care improvements. Hindustan Unilever's Fair & Lovely, the market leader, now promises ‘ Gorepan se kahin zyaada saaf gorapan' (a clear and fair complexion rather than mere fair skin). CavinKare's Fairever, which is eyeing a market share of over 10 per cent pan-India, has been enhanced with ‘saffron whitening essence and skin-softening milk proteins'. It has also introduced a fairness indicator. At present, it has 20 per cent share in the South but only 7-8 per cent countrywide.

Apart from these two brands, the other major players in the market are Emami, first mover in the men's fairness segment with Fair & Handsome, and higher up the price ladder, more recent entrants such as Procter & Gamble's Olay, Garnier, Nivea and Neutrogena.

Penetration a challenge

Industry executives say the major challenge in the market is one of penetration. According to Ramesh Viswanathan, Executive Director of CavinKare, the penetration of fairness creams is less then 25 per cent, compared to a category like shampoo, where it is 60 per cent.

“We need a breakthrough in the number of consumers coming into the market. As an industry, we've tried a number of penetration drivers — small packs, mono-dosing, nothing seems to work. There are still barriers to its use from price and culture perspectives,” he says, explaining that a face cream is perceived as more cosmetic in nature than, say, a hair product, and hence considered rather unnecessary/a luxury. Garnier, which is a higher-end product, has launched Garnier Light and Garnier Men in sachets priced Rs 10 to drive penetration and trials, says Richa Singh, Marketing Manager, Garnier India.

Mohan Goenka, Director, Emami, says penetration is definitely an issue. “New brands find it more difficult, and at such levels,” he says, referring to the 50 lakh outlets across India in which fairness cream is sold. Emami claims its Fair & Handsome, launched five years ago, accounts for Rs 125 crore of the Rs 175-crore men's fairness products market. Goenka says this five-year-old market is growing at 25 per cent, while the 40-year-old women's fairness market is growing at 7-8 per cent.

“Pricing is very critical, especially in the context of rural markets,” he says, adding that high-end products will find it much more difficult to make a dent. Emami is perhaps the only company in India which sells mainly men's fairness cream. Naturally Fair, its other, older fairness cream, is still available but “we have reduced focus on it as it's difficult to compete in women's fairness cream. There's no clear differentiator and it's monopolised by Fair & Lovely. It's like entering the beverages market, it's a similar story there also, it's a tough fight if you want to get into it,” he says.

HUL, though, does not see penetration as a big problem, but says it “could be a challenge within segments of the skin cream market”. Govind Rajan, Category Head (Skin Care), HUL, declines to provide market share information but says male grooming presents one such, problem, as do newer segments. The skin cream market is growing at 15-20 per cent. The challenge in male grooming is to cater to a younger workforce — a 25-year-old today who is “more alive and more different” from a 25-year-old 10 years ago. “The whole task is one of market development,” he says. HUL's Menz Activ fairness cream is an extension of the Fair & Lovely brand.

Richa Singh, Marketing Manager, Garnier India, says in India, ideal skin care translates to fair and glowing skin free of marks. Garnier entered the fairness market in 2004 with the launch of Garnier Light specifically for Indian skin, claiming the twin benefits of fairness and removal of dark spots. In 2009, it entered men's skin care with the Men's Powerlight range, which includes a face wash and moisturisers. Consumer retention is a challenge, she says, adding that Garnier seeks to provide relevant, innovative and high-quality products at an affordable price.

Value-added

Besides the emergence of a men's category, the other notable trend in the market is that most skin care products come with a fairness solution. The fairness pitch has moved even to premium products. Earlier only mass market brands such as Fair & Lovely and Fairever used to rely on it. Says Cavinkare's Viswanathan, “There is an overwhelming need for fair skin. People don't relate to ‘soft skin without blemishes' as much as when the fairness benefit is layered into it.” Except for the winter care category which accounts for Rs 250-300 crore, all other categories are very small, he says.

Viswanathan believes that the average Indian consumer doesn't like to follow a regimen involving multiple products but wants a single solution to everything, and whitening becomes important. This is why high-end brands such as Nivea and Neutrogena have fairness creams as well as other products with pledges of fairness built into them. Nivea, has a 15 per cent share of the men's fairness cream market in the top 35 metros (estimated at Rs 52 crore), its marketing director, Soma Ghosh, told BrandLine recently.

Garnier's Singh says, “Consumers today look for more value-added products, and fairness has been identified as a principal demand.” HUL's Rajan is not so sceptical about the ability to build this regime. It's unlikely anyway that consumers will go straight from a single product regime to one that necessitates using four or five. “It won't get built in two days, and that's where the advantage of layering in fairness comes in.” But then, it's very difficult to look at the past and predict the future, he adds, pointing to men now using face wash and moisturiser. Consumers today are more looks- and fitness-conscious, and more aware of fashion needs, and a regime has to be cultivated piece by piece. HUL's more expensive Vaseline and Pond's ranges aim to cater to these needs, as do an array of products from other players.

CavinKare, though, does not see itself jumping on to the men's fairness products bandwagon immediately, and not with Fairever. While men account for about 20 per cent of the consumption of fairness creams, sales of men's brands is only at 5 per cent. If the category grows, the company could think of launching a new brand to cater to that section, says Viswanathan.

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(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated May 20, 2010)
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