When Mallika Srivats moved from Bengaluru to Delhi for an office project, she was prepared for the haggling with autorickshaw drivers and dealing with weather extremes. But what she hadn’t taken into account was the Capital’s air pollution levels, which affected her lungs within three months. Apart from medicines, her doctor prescribed an indoor air purifier — a machine that traps dust particles as well as microbes in the air, making it more breathable.

In Dwarka, among the city’s most polluted areas, Venkateshwara School has installed air purifiers on its premises. The school has obviously taken to heart a Greenpeace finding that 35 per cent of schoolgoing children in India suffer from poor lung health.

Patna, in Bihar, is among the country’s top five polluted cities. At its Sheikhpur area, consumer electronics dealer Sai Sanjeevni is hard-selling the benefits of using an air purifier. Demos both at its showroom and in customers’ homes are helping sell two to three units a month. Store employee Ajay Sinha is confident that in a city where people now wear masks before stepping outside, air purifiers will prove hot-sellers before long.

“The awareness about the product is not as high as it is for water purifiers. But it is gradually building up,” says Sinha over phone.

According to TechSci Research, the air purifier market in India will see a compounded annual growth rate of 40 per cent during 2015-20. And this is what domestic and international manufacturers are betting big on — a latent demand that will get a boost once products reach the shelves.

Swedish firm Blueair will readily testify to this. “In 2014, the year we entered India, we sold in tens. The next year, our sales were in hundreds and this year, it will be in thousands,” says Vijay Kannan, Blueair’s business head in India.

The company has been in India through a distributor since 2009, but the deteriorating air quality over the last few quarters has boosted sales, Kannan says.

Philips India, too, has seen sales growing six to seven times since launching its air purifiers in 2014. That’s also perhaps because the market is still small in terms of unit sales. Jayati Singh, business head — health, wellness and air for Philips India, pegs the market at around ₹400 crore.

This demand has proved to be enough to prompt water-purifier maker Kent RO to diversify into the segment. “We have been analysing the market demand for indoor air purifiers for a while. The products were launched (in November 2015) in response to that demand,” says Mahesh Gupta, chairman, Kent RO. Within six months they sold 6,000 units.

An indoor air purifier works on a simple mechanism. Its filters can trap dust particles as small as 0.01 microns. The smaller the particle trapped, the higher the purifier’s cost.

Blueair’s range starts at ₹45,000 and the unit has a shelf-life of nearly 20 years, says Kannan. “We don’t buy OEM (original equipment manufacturer) products in China and label them. We have a research centre in Stockholm and develop our own products,” he says. Blueair uses HEPA filters that capture up to 0.1 micron dust particles, absorb up to 99.9 per cent of toxic gases and trap all types of microorganisms, he says.

The filter costs ₹5,000 to ₹17,000 and should be replaced every six or eight months. The 30 watts electricity usage per day is equivalent to that of a small LED bulb.

The unit from Philips has a four-stage purification process using a pre-filter, multi-care filter, HEPA filter and activation carbon filter. The starting range at ₹16,000 is ideal for a 400 sq ft room.

So who are these early adopters of indoor air purifiers? Rather than individual consumers, the commercial sector accounts for almost two-thirds of the sales, with schools, offices, hotels, hospitals and even embassies driving the demand. “Earlier, offices were buying smaller air purifiers (costing just over ₹3,000) to address indoor pollution from smoking. But now, they are moving to bigger machines,” says the Patna store worker Sinha.

Philips is seeing more demand from the B2B segment, says Singh. “Expats were among the first to adopt,” she says.

The company has installed air purifiers at the embassies of Italy, Canada and Chile besides several schools, hospitals and offices.

“The residential segment is small right now, but growing very fast,” she adds.

Both international and domestic players are currently importing their air purifiers, either fully or in parts for assembling in India. China, Korea and Germany are the main countries of origin. As demand increases, the companies are ready to explore domestic manufacturing. And that is when the prices will come down. Till then, users will have to literally pay a high price for a fresh breath of air.

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