In an interview with businessline, Prabha Narasimhan, MD & CEO, Colgate-Palmolive India Ltd, discusses the brand equity Colgate holds, building greater oral care awareness in India, and Colgate’s premiumisation journey.

What would you say are the challenges that Colgate as a company faces today?

The Colgate brand being synonymous with oral care in India presents a significant advantage for the company. It is also a great responsibility to build oral care habits in the country. The brand has existed for 85 years in India, and as a result, everything oral care starts with Colgate. Close to 140 million children have been educated on good oral habits. It has an incredible legacy and equity. How can we make sure we are growing healthy oral care habits in this country and which leads to the growth of the overall category?

It is, perhaps, the only oral care company that has the full portfolio of oral care products – toothbrushes from the basic to the premium electric toothbrushes and toothpastes with all different benefits. In that lies the second opportunity to drive premiumisation. The equity of Palmolive is under-served at the moment and a real opportunity for us. The brand has 60-65 per cent brand awareness, which is difficult to build in these days of fragmentation. There is an opportunity to build a robust personal care business there.

Colgate has high brand awareness and is a highly penetrated category. How do you intend to push both even more?

Colgate exists in nine out of ten households in this country. The significant advantage over the next brand is 5X the awareness and perhaps 3X the penetration. So, how do you drive consumption of the oral care category? Then, you start looking at oral care behaviour in the country. For instance, in rural India, only about 45 per cent of consumers brush their teeth every day, so the challenge is to get the other 55 per cent to brush every day. The foundation of good oral health is consistency. Brushing twice a day, as advised by dentists, in urban India is only 20 per cent, moving the remaining 80 per cent to brush twice a day becomes another opportunity. These are two obvious opportunities for us to increase volume.

If you apply the same logic to toothbrushes, your dentist will tell you should replace your toothbrush once every three months. Once we get consumers adopting to right habits for oral care, there is a significant opportunity to boost volume, and on top of that, you layer the whole premiumisation journey.

How many outlets does Colgate reach directly and indirectly?

The company reaches about 1.7 million outlets directly, which then eventually ends up with the product being available in about 6.5 million stores. The remaining comes through indirect coverage and which is why the valuated distribution of this brand is also the highest in the oral care category. This is something we have worked on a lot, particularly with a view to bringing in tech into how you reach and how you service these 1.7 billion stores.

Then, of course, we have modern trade which allows us to do a proper planogram that allows consumers to see what is the range of benefits that get offered and how she then gets to pick

the benefit that is relevant to her. So, I think the execution machinery of this company is really one of the key strengths, along with the quality of this brand.

How is Colgate seeking to achieve market leadership in the herbals and natural toothpastes category?

Consumers buy benefits. In and of itself, herbal or natural is not a benefit. This is a great opportunity for me to talk about the technology and science that goes into Colgate’s products. Probably amongst the highest expenditure on oral care R&D in the world. I think some 10,000+ patents, many of them sit within everyday-use products that we have, and numerous scientists work every day on delivering the best possible toothpaste for oral care.

I, as a consumer, say want cavity protection, so I will buy the toothpaste that I believe gives the best cavity protection. Whether that comes through natural sources or that comes through science, I don’t think that’s where the decision starts.

How fast is the herbal toothpaste segment growing?

It is plateauing. Over the last couple of years, the segmental growth is plateauing at around 24-25 per cent, and not growing beyond that. It comes back to consumers buy benefits. As long as we have a strong understanding of the benefits that consumers seek and are delivering best-in-class products, I think we are on a good wicket.