Vanishing act: FMCG industry buries recession in fairness cream

Looks-conscious consumers propped up sales of fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) companies, who in turn rewarded loyalty by not raising prices of fairness, anti-ageing creams, bathing bars and their likes, although input costs have risen in an economy ravaged by drought and then floods

As the global economic crisis consumed nearly every sphere of business, one industry held out against recession through 2009 by promising to help Indians look fairer, younger and their teeth whiter, kids stronger and taller, and toilets cleaner, reports PTI.

Looks-conscious consumers propped up sales of FMCG companies, which in turn rewarded loyalty by not raising prices of fairness, anti-ageing creams, bathing bars and their likes, although input costs have risen in an economy ravaged by drought and then floods.

Instead, they downsized the packaging to balance costs and margins.

"The sector has coped well with recent challenges and grew by 15% over the last year," says the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI). The FMCG market in the country is worth $25 billion (about Rs1,20,000 crore).

Year 2009 also saw modern retail format stores and aggressive marketing help home-grown FMCG firms wrest market share from leader Hindustan Unilever Ltd (HUL), according to market research firm AC Nielsen.

HUL's share in the estimated Rs8,000-crore personal care market fell to 44.5% from about half last year, as others like ITC Ltd, Godrej Industries Ltd and Wipro Ltd fought for space in markets like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Gujarat with a rural push, says AC Nielsen.

Mergers and acquisitions (M&As) were few and far between during the year, and Wipro's Rs210 crore acquisition of UK-based Yardley's overseas operations was a highlight.

As for foods and beverages (F&B), the Indian market proved to be the growth driver for the world's biggest players like Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, even as their US parents grappled with falling sales.

PepsiCo's optimism in the Indian market was reflected in the global major holding its board meeting in India for the first time this year. The company has stepped up investments by another $100 million, from the $500 million announced last year for the next three years.

Surging input costs remained a pain area this year for F&B firms in the foods and beverages segment, mainly on account of soaring sugar prices which doubled to almost Rs40 a kg in the national capital in a year. Companies like PepsiCo, Britannia, ITC and Parle seriously mulled increasing prices of products to mitigate the rising costs, but held back.

Elsewhere, Dabur and Emami completed consolidation and restructuring after their respective acquisitions last year of Fem Care and Zandu Pharmaceuticals.

While Wipro went premium with Yardley, FMCG companies went in for a big push in rural areas, upbeat on the government's thrust on agriculture and increase in allocation for rural jobs.
 

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