Eyeing global brand positioning, Kerala Soaps, a FMCG manufacturing unit of the Kerala State Industrial Enterprises (KSIE) under the Kerala Industries Department, has chalked ambitious plans in branding and marketing their products.
The Kerala Soaps and Oils Ltd, established in 1914, was locked down for years owing to several reasons such as labour unrest, anti-investment climate prevailing in Kerala, etc. Realising the potential of the products in the global market, KSIE with the support of the Government of Kerala took a bold step to revive the company in 2010, following which, the company, under a pragmatic management, has risen like the phoenix. It has increased its production capacity, volume of sales, and marked a retail presence in global markets in the last three years. Riding on its goodwill and marketing strength, the company achieved a turnover of Rs 3 crore in 2011-2012 and Rs 4 crore in 2012-13, and crossed Rs 10 crore with net profit in the last fiscal as exports and sales of new products doubled.
Rise from ashes
Commenting on the success of Kerala Soaps, M C Mayin Haji, Chairman, KSIE, terms it as the success of proper planning and team effort. “The profitability of the company is constantly enhanced. The workers are regularly trained for improving their adaptive capabilities, and the factory operations have now ushered in environmental protection,” he underlines.
Meanwhile, Febi Varghese, Managing Director, KSIE, says that it was a prideful moment for the parent company. “We are delighted as our efforts have paid off finally. We have risen from the ashes and today, Kerala Soaps has become a profit making unit.”
Varghese informs that around Rs 12 crore has been invested in setting up a manufacturing unit. “Brands such as Kerala Sandal, Thrill and Vep have been revived. To achieve good growth, we have expanded our retail network in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, etc. A special stall has been opened for these products at the India International Trade Fair at New Delhi with the aim of reaching out to the northern markets,” he says, and further reveals that the company has also marked its presence in the retail market in West Asia to meet the demand of the large Indian diaspora there.
Naturally, the best
The USP of Kerala Soaps is that the products use natural sandalwood oil manufactured by KFDC (Kerala Forest Development Corporation). “Sandalwood oil is known for its aroma and amazing medicinal properties, and is widely used in fragrances, cosmetics and meditative practices. This prompted us to add sandalwood oil as the main ingredient in our Kerala Sandal soaps,” explains Varghese. “Owing to a cost efficient and guaranteed continuous supply, the company sources raw materials through e-tender. Quality of raw material is tested and ensured before supply,” he adds.
Sandal soap is being positioned as a premium beauty soap, along with Thrill Exotic and Thrill Chempakam. The 75 gm Kerala Sandal, Thrill Exotic and Thrill Chempakam cost Rs 27, Rs 20 and Rs 15, respectively. The company conducts regular field surveys to know the market trend, based on which it introduces innovations in its products, and determines what products should be manufactured and which should not. Other brands marketed by Kerala Soaps are VEP, Kairali, Coaltar, Rhythm and Washwell detergent soap.
The retail network of Kerala Soaps’ products is very strong across Kerala. All products are available in the local markets, grocery markets and in leading supermarkets such as Reliance, Spencer’s, More, Dhanya and Nilgiris. “Our products are available throughout south India, and are present in the NAFED outlets in New Delhi too,” informs Mayin Haji.
Meeting international quality
There is a high degree of mechanisation of the entire production-line, using limited labour. The first quality checking takes place manually. Waste and broken pieces are mechanically sent back to the production line for recycling. The unique aspect of the entire operation is that there is zero wastage of raw materials. The stamped soaps are mechanically wrapped and packaged, and again manually checked by the quality control staff before being manually packed for marketing. The production line undergoes constant restructuring and technological upgrading to produce high quality products as per international standards.
To woo international customers, the management is initiating improved packaging that complies with international standards and quality control norms. The new packaging and labelling will indicate the Kerala flavour, and ethnic and cultural values of the state. Varghese informs that strict quality control measures are being adopted right from procurement of the raw materials to the packaging of the finished product by using hygienic quality materials. “Technically qualified people are supervising the manufacturing process and packaging. We will have specially designed packaging for specific international market destinations. The company is currently exporting to Japan, Canada and the Gulf countries,” he says.
The business deal with Japan began with a major marketing company in Japan, some months ago. P K Kunhalikutty, Kerala Industry Minister informs, “The exports to Japan endorse the overall quality and global acceptance of toiletry products manufactured by Kerala Soaps. It is a testimony to the fact that the public sector can indeed perform very well and notch up impressive results.”
Kerala Soaps is planning a fresh and more aggressive and dynamic strategies to make a mark in the market. Its mission and vision for the future includes production of liquid soaps, new fragrances, washing powders, and small sized soaps to cater to the affordability of consumers in various segments. It has roped in famous film actress Kavya Madhavan as brand ambassador, a move, which, according to Mayin Haji, “has added more value to our brand and played a vital role in popularising the brand.” As a tribute to Lord Wellington who set up Soap Institute (Asia’s biggest and pioneer centre for soap manufacturing and training in Kozhikode), the company is planning to manufacture a brand called Wellington Soap.