Lest we forget, 2017 was also the year of godmen. Yoga and spiritualism have come a long way. Thirty years ago, for the westernised elite, it was associated with outlandish sadhus in the Himalayas and ‘Hare Ram’ was a fad that the Beatles pursued with Maharishi Yogi. Today, spiritualism is going through a renaissance and yoga is the new route to both mental and physical wellness.
Tantrics and godmen have always had a place in the economy. Earlier, they had sold products like amulets and herbal concoctions. But these are small change compared to the current multi-billion dollar market for ‘organic’ products of daily use like soaps, branded ‘atta’ and noodles.
The new tribe of spiritual entrepreneurs is tapping the world-wide rejection of processed foods and the new focus on health. The wellness industry worldwide is estimated to be worth $3.4 trillion, and three times the size of the pharmaceutical industry.
The Patanjali story
No one has succeeded in growing the ‘spiritual economy’ as Baba Ramdev has. Brand Trust Report India 2017 declared Patanjali as the most attractive brand in India among 10,000 brands vetted in the study. From yoga guru, Baba Ramdev has moved rapidly to become the third-largest producer of fast moving consumer goods (FMCG).
His company Patanjali Ayurved Ltd claims to have doubled sales from Rs 5,000 crore in FY16 to Rs 10,216 crore in FY17. With a range of products including soaps and toothpaste, atta, hair oils amla juice oil, biscuits and noodles, Patanjali hopes to cross Rs 20,000 crore in sales in FY18.
Baba Ramdev’s rise
Patanjali has reportedly surpassed the revenue of FMCG majors such as Nestle India, Godrej Consumer Products and Dabur, clocking 140 per cent growth rate
Ramdev’s marketing has focused on India’s yen for discovering grandmother’s natural remedies. Patanjali is said to have surpassed the revenue of other FMCG majors such as Nestle India (Rs 9,159 crore), Godrej Consumer Products (Rs 9,134 crore) and Dabur (Rs 7,691 crore). It has clocked a heady 140 per cent growth rate, in a market where competitors struggle to reach double-digit growth.
The new marketers
The latest to join the race for a slice of the Rs 4.2 lakh crore FMCG market is Sri Sri Ravi Shankar of the ‘Art of Living’ fame. He has announced that his wellness brand Sri Sri Tattva will target a turnover of Rs 500 crore by FY20 through three formats of retail stores - Mart, Wellness and Home & Health - offering a range of FMCG products, prescription medicine and Ayurveda items. The company plans to roll out 1,000 franchised stores by March 2020.
Critics say the meteoric growth of spiritual entrepreneurs may not have been possible without government support. A Reuters report estimates that since the Modi government took office in 2014, Baba Ramdev has acquired about 2,000 acres of land at discounts totalling around Rs 300 crore. In Uttar Pradesh, Patanjali has bagged a Rs 700-crore midday meal contract for government schools. There are muted protests among other FMCG giants that that they are not on a level playing field.
Old babas vs new-age gurus
Babas of yesteryear were billionaires many times over, but they were not manufacturers and retailers. Dhirendra Brahmachari and Chandraswami of the Congress era had millions of followers as well as politicians funding them. But, the new era spiritualists are for erecting well-oiled corporate machines selling wellness and spirituality products.
While Ramdev has already given the consumer goods giants a run for their money, competition between the established brands and new entrants is likely to intensify with Ravi Shankar too entering the fray.
On the flip side, there are some like the disgraced Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh ‘Insan’ who have given a bad name for spiritual entrepreneurs.
Ram Rahim had set up not only hospitals and schools, but also retail chain and e-marketing websites commanding a huge market. In January 2016, he had launched a huge marketing blitz, putting on sale 400 products under brand ‘MSG’. These included 14 varieties of pulses, dozens of grocery items, and a whole spectrum of salt, ghee, spices, honey, mineral water, and noodles. Many of these products have disappeared and it is not known whether his marketing machinery exists after his conviction and incarceration.