Catalyst

Babies mean business

MADHUMATHI D.S. | Updated on March 21, 2012 Published on March 21, 2012

Hey baby, it’s Target You!

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From medicine and fashion to electronics and swish birthing centres, there's much riding on all aspects of the baby business.



Warmth, wellness, and wonderful stuff. Welcome to you, Baby, hang on to it all as you come in. There are big bucks riding on your whimper.

Just ‘look' around the newborn: there is a whole new material world lying at its rosy feet even before the little one takes its first breath in the outside world. You have boutique delivery centres waiting with open arms, there are baby warmers to save premature arrivals. The have-it-all international store eagerly waits to kit out the newborn from its first hour.

Taking a peck at it all are pharmaceutical big daddies, corporate hospitals, medical electronics majors, fashion labels, medicine men, celebrity investors and retail chains funded by large corporate houses. If you went online, it is another maze altogether. Oye Baby, you couldn't have it better.

Pan to South Bangalore's low-profile, middlish-upper class Jayanagar neighbourhood. Some may call the 30-bed Cloudnine a maternity home ‘with a twist'. In that twist lies its zing. Opening in 2008 as Cradle, it wants to be “all things that a DISK (double-income single kid) couple would wish for” in its one-time parenthood.

“The baby is the occasion. We play around the experience factor a lot,” says M.A.Rohit, engineer-turned-IIM-B grad, who is Director at the birthing boutique. “People want to feel good when they are going to have a baby. We pamper the parents-to-be, make them feel special. These days people have just one child and want to give it the best. Why not live it up with the first-born?” Hark at Rohit's words - he recently became a dad himself at Cloudnine.

This little ‘baby factory' - which, coming at 85 per cent of corporate hospital charges, calls itself premier rather than premium - found out from a survey that expecting parents easily spent Rs 25,000 on an average even before the child is born. “People have come to us from Tirupati to have their triplets, or from Mysore. These are people who have seen the world and want novel experiences.”

As people get highly aspirational and demanding, Cloudnine, Rohit says, wraps their bundle of joy with nurse-at-home service and an MBA (management of baby affairs). Growing at 30 per cent a year since neonatologist Dr Kishore Kumar floated the birthing concept, Cloudnine – no surprises – is trebling itself with a Rs 45-crore fund from Matrix Partners.

MULTI-SPECIALIST

The fact that 25 million-odd babies are being born in India every year, and the prospect of catering to even a small portion resulted in the landing of Italy's €1-billion ‘baby multi-specialist' Chicco, last November. Chicco's parent, Artsana, “took a decade to expand from 20 country-subsidiaries to the 21st, that is India,” emphasises Shahana Hameed, Brand Manager for Chicco. “We were distributing here. As product demand rose, direct presence became necessary.”

Chicco sells every category for the baby except food, says Hameed. Operating through seven exclusive stores in premium locations in Delhi, Mumbai, and Bangalore, the brand has products for sleeping, eating, fashionable clothing, nursing, toiletries, toys, skin care, even furniture and travel stuff for the under-3 age. The showpiece is the small but significant store at Greater Kailash's landmark feminine attraction, Fortis's La Femme Hospital.

“Moms are demanding it, whether they are gifting, buying flowers or choosing a place to have their baby,” Hameed observes. “We chose to be at Fortis as it enhances the experience of the mom-to-be in an environment she trusts.”

Chicco chose to enter as a premium brand with an India-suited lower pricing; it rules in Europe as a luxury one and in Russia as a super-luxury brand. It sells soothers, feeding bottles, fragrances, prams, strollers, car seats and carry cots or bouncers, walkers and high chairs, all in a range of Rs 60 to Rs 46,000. Back home in Italy, 35 per cent of its revenue comes from nursing but the Indian scene of feeding bottles, sterilisers and pumps is seen as a nascent and small Rs 400 crore.

SMALL & SHOOTING UP

Retail consultancy Technopak values the general kids' market – mainly clothes and footwear – at Rs 22,000 crore. Add to it the Rs 1,000-crore toys market and all other stuff you can conceive, it swells. Assocham, by another estimate, predicts that the overall children's retail market should touch Rs 80,000 crore in the next three years.

Purnendu Kumar, Technopak's Senior Vice-President, Retail, says baby products are still a small market within the FMCG pie, with Johnson & Johnson (J&J) in the lead.

“Every year we are adding more than 20 million babies; people's income and affordability have risen. Many dual-income families have less time to spend on children. As a result a lot of products that we did not require or had not thought of earlier have become necessary. For instance, you need a baby stroller to take the baby out. The market for baby seats in cars is growing.”

People are also becoming conscious of brands and product categories. “Some of the baby-centred brands start hitting you right from the airport,” he says.

The baby segment is not impulse-driven and parents buy after a lot of thought for child safety. Yet, Chicco's Hameed says, this part of the market is almost completely unorganised, with no ready data. The organised market could be at least Rs 6,000 crore. As for the toiletries including soaps, shampoos, skin lotions and nappies, behemoth J&J is said to be entrenched with 80 per cent share of the Rs 1,000 crore-1,200-crore pie.

“Because of the nature of Indian retail, 55 per cent sales in the baby segment come from fashion - or apparel,” Hameed says. For footwear and travel items, Chicco is counting on the 15 million-odd Indians who keep travelling abroad. Bangalore's Cloudnine, too, has added a retail patch, Blues & Pinks, in a tie-up with Mahindra & Mahindra's own retail baby, Mom & Me.

Purnendu Kumar says for the multinational companies, “It's important to be in India in order to grow.” Or maybe a desperate geographical shift from shrinking old domains in the West. Overseas players who entered the scene long before Chicco did have gone on to new routes. J&J pre-baby online information site Babycentre has subtly taken its presence to another level.

WARM WISHES

A GE Healthcare or a Philips would probably agree, enamoured as they, too, are of the India-baby story. Both the medical electronics giants are trying to keep the local baby segment warm, with Philips set to join this race very soon.

Their business here is not on the consumerist path but the social, semi-urban trot. They aim to save hundreds of premature babies with made-for-India warmers, incubators and phototherapy or ‘blue-light' devices at a marked-down India price tag.

‘Lullaby' and `Embrace' is how GE Healthcare plans to cocoon neonates born in a hurry. Terri Bresenham, who recently took over as President & CEO, GE Healthcare South Asia, says in an e-mail, “We are at work for a healthier India. One of the critical focus areas for us is helping India reduce the maternal and infant mortality through technologies and partnerships.”

‘Embrace', which it is shortly adding to market, resembles a mini-spacesuit. Elsewhere it may tag above Rs 10-12 lakh but over here, it could easily knock off a zero - as it was done with the made-for-India Lullaby. GE's other upmarket pitches have not entered our shores yet but who knows! The portable blue-light ‘Biliblanket' for jaundiced newborns; or the ‘Giraffe' and ‘Panda' warmers cost a few lakh rupees.

Bresenham, citing multilateral agency reports, says India lags behind the UN millennium development goals in this area and almost a million newborns and many new mothers die every year post-birth. GE believes many of these deaths could be prevented with the right training and technology.

At Philips Healthcare, Ravi Ramaswamy, Senior Director & Business Manager for the PCCI division (short for Patient Care and Clinical Informatics), recently said the country was estimated to need 1,500-2,000 incubators and 15,000-18,000 warmers a year. The domestic market devices for babies would be about Rs 100 crore or 10 per cent of the global take, growing at nearly 20 per cent. The baby and mothercare segment, he says, is an important part of their roadmap in India and Philips would be entering many products in this range.

Close on Baby's heels, “The others are coming,” notes Technopak's Purnendu Kumar. UK's lead baby care retailer, Mothercare Plc, has already been in the country for a few years. Or it could well be local dreamers converting gurgles into hard cash.

Published on March 21, 2012
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