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Winning Brand-Retailer Parternships: HUL and Apollo Pharmacy

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10 outstanding success stories of collaboration exemplifying how brands and retailers can create a winning playbook by leveraging each other’s capabilities and resources

By collaborating, brands and retailers can reach out to new customers and expand their reach in the market. Retailers can help brands distribute their products more effectively by leveraging their existing distribution networks. Brands can benefit from retailers’ expertise and resources, such as data analytics and omnichannel capabilities, to enhance their operations and offerings. Together, they can collaborate on marketing and promotional activities to drive sales and raise brand awareness besides helping each other to tap into new revenue streams, reduce costs, and improve overall profitability.

We bring you 10 outstanding success stories of collaboration between food and FMCG brands and retailers in building new consumption/ product categories or transforming a traditional category with innovation.

HUL and Apollo Pharmacy join hands to widen the diabetes health category with more solutions for diabetics

The collaboration between HUL’s Horlicks Diabetes Plus and Appolo Pharmacy proved very successful for both partners as the sugar tests carried out by the latter became a customer touch point for the diabetics to try out the brand, which pushed sales of Horlicks Diabetes Plus to jump 2.5x in the diabetes health category.

Apollo Pharmacy, the largest pharmacy chain in India with over 4,500 stores, has made its pharmacies a happy place to be in. That may seem somewhat counter-intuitive because people generally go to shopping malls, restaurants and other social hot spots when they are feeling happy. But once they come to be diagnosed with some medical condition, a pharmacy becomes the equivalent of a shopping mall for them where they come to buy and
discover products for taking care of both their health and happiness.

Apollo Pharmacy stores want to keep their customers in good spirits and have been working on this philosophy. Over the years, the chain has grown impressively not only on account of the wide range of medicines and other FMCG products available at its stores at attractive discounts but also for the quality of diagnostic tests performed by its sister concern Apollo Sugar Clinics.

For pharmacy chains, conducting free diagnostic tests are what product sampling is for supermarkets. When people come to learn, through a diagnostic test, about some underlying malady they are suffering from they immediately visit a pharmacy to buy the medicine.

That’s just like how people buy a new product at a supermarket once they have interacted with and tasted the product in question at a store’s sampling event.

For companies like HUL, the pharmacy channel growing at over 12% y-o-y is among the fastest-growing for the FMCG industry. It is estimated that about 8-10% of FMCG sales comes through the pharmacy channel and is most likely to grow even bigger in the days ahead. No surprise that HUL, which manufactures a raft of health and wellness products besides a slew of over-the-counter products sold through the chemist channel, treats the pharmacy channel as an important retail conduit for its products.

Elements of the Collaboration

“At the time HUL (Indian arm of Unilever) was in talks with some of its pharmacy retail partners for the distribution of its Horlicks Diabetes Plus brand, we learnt that medicines for diabetes constitute the biggest chunk of the pharmacies’ business. People come to a pharmacy or a chemist to buy medicines and the ones for diabetes account for the largest
slice of their business says Akash Dasgupta, national account manager and Ops lead, Unilever, delineating the reason for the brand’s collaboration with Apollo Pharmacy.

Today, about 17% of the population in India has already been diagnosed as having diabetes or being pre-diabetic. But the scary part of this statistic is that about 50% of the people suffering from diabetes never get to know or discover that they have this condition. “This startling revelation became the starting point for the collaboration between HUL’s Horlicks
Diabetes Plus brand and Apollo Pharmacy,” points out Akash.

To work out and implement the collaboration, Apollo Pharmacy pulled along another sibling corporate entity — Apollo Sugar Clinics. With the help from Apollo Sugar Clinics, the collaboration got into the game and conducted a free sugar test, which diagnosed some 40,000 people with diabetes. The ones diagnosed with diabetes were also given a coupon that could be redeemed for the Horlicks Diabetes Plus product at any Apollo Pharmacy store, where they could interact with the brand.

“We are very pleased with how the three companies pitched in to successfully stitch up this collaboration and how we built together a smart strategy that produced very effective results. We are all very proud of how the whole thing played out to everyone’s satisfaction and it’s something that we are now looking to carry forward and replicate for some other purposes as well such as bone health, women health, and more” shares Akash.


“This partnership was very fruitful for us because many of the people that we tested
discovered for the first time that they had diabetes. But once they are diagnosed, they are very eager to try out products that can help them manage the disease. That way, this collaboration proved very successful for both of us because the sugar tests became a customer touch point for the diabetics to try out Horlicks Diabetes Plus, which is a diabetic-friendly powder,” says Sohel Khwaja, operations head – GM, Apollo Pharmacy, adding that sales of Horlicks Diabetes Plus during the period of promotion upped 2.5X in the diabetes health category.

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