Baba Ramdev and Acharya Balkrishna repackage ancient ayurveda with high-tech processing and marketing savvy to snatch $1 billion of market share
While researching our story about Haridwar for Hinduism Today’s Apr/May/Jun, 2016, issue, our correspondent Rajiv Malik and photographer Devraj Agarwal also toured the state-of-the-art Patanjali Food and Herbal Park 20 miles south of Har Ki Pauri Ghat. This is their report.
By Rajiv Malik, Delhi
Move over, colgate palmolive, an upstart Indian company’s toothpaste brand is gaining national market share at the expense of your 110-year-old, us$16 billion multinational corporation. Domestic brokerage houses estimate Colgate’s overall earnings could drop 10 percent from the competition of Patanjali Ayurved on just this one product. The company, founded in 1997 by sadhu and yoga teacher Baba Ramdev and ayurvedic doctor Acharya Balkrishna, both of Haridwar, has rattled more than just one of India’s biggest corporations.
This spring, we visited Ramdev’s Patanjali Yogapeeth, Ayurvedic college and research hospital in an industrial area of Haridwar near the Ganga river. And we explored, via electric card, the nearby 150-acre Patanjali Food and Herbal Park (www.pfhppl.com).
My family have been using Patanjali products for years, so I was fascinated to see where and how many of them are produced. Yes, we use the tangy toothpaste that is impacting Colgate’s bottom line, along with spices, murraba fruit preserves, papad wafers, rice, wheat flour, candies, chawanprash tonic, health drinks, fruit juices, biscuits, other foodstuffs, medicines and personal-care items such as shampoos, soaps, etc. We have found all to be of high quality.
Moreover, they have an appealing swadeshi aura about them. Swadeshi, literally, “of one’s own country,” was conceived in the 1850s to counter the influx of British goods that was decimating India’s local industries. The “made in India” strategy later became a mainstay of Gandhi’s fight for independence. By focusing on aryuvedic products and traditional Indian foodstuffs, Patanjali has tapped into the swadeshi ideal, while utilizing the most advanced production machines available worldwide.
Baba Ramdev and his long-time friend and colleague Acharya Balkrishna have made good use of the sadhu’s popularity across India, developed through his televised yoga programs. The brand was automatically trusted. Guided by some skilled managers, manufacturing and marketing have grown rapidly. As of March, 2016, annual sales were us$670 million and increasing. The company proudly uses its profits for social service projects, which boosts its swadeshi appeal even more, especially coupled with Ramdev’s long-standing anticorruption campaign.
Traditional Goods, Modern Methods
The Herbal Park focuses on juices, herbal products and personal goods such as toothpaste. Medicines are produced at other locations, and various food products, such as biscuits, are outsourced. The sheer range and scale of Patanjali aryuvedic, herbal and food products is amazing. On their website, www.patanjaliayurved.net, I counted 147 individual medicines for sale and 69 formulations of those medicines for the treatment of specific diseases, including multiple sclerosis, osteoporosis, infertility, hepatitis A, B and C, diabetes, mental disorder and cancer. The site follows Amazon’s pattern of swift delivery to the customer’s home.
Driving the company’s current growth is its move into the “fast-moving consumer goods”
(FMCG) market. These are products sold through an extensive distribution network in high volume at a relatively low profit margin. In general these are items consumers use daily, such as food, toiletries, drinks and common medicines. The website offers over 200 FMCG products—which are also available at 20,000 franchised outlets throughout India, according to a recent report in The New York Times. Hundreds of them can be purchased in North America at Amazon.com.
An instructive comparison in Haridwar itself is with the Gurukul Kangri Pharmacy, a company associated with the Gurukul Kangri Vishwavidyalaya university, where Ramdev himself studied as a young sannyasi. This pharmacy, once famous, fell on hard times due to management issues. On a recent visit we found its production methods a century out of date and unable to compete with Patanjali’s clean, high-speed production lines.
“High tech” only begins to describe the Tetra Pak packaging machines at the Patanjali Food and Herbal Park. The scene could be a backdrop in a futuristic science fiction movie, with its network of stainless steel pipes, computerized processing units and filling lines, all supervised by a skeleton staff in a virtually sterile environment. Some processes are decidedly low-tech, engaging dozens of workers, such as peeling the skin off the tons of aloe vera that had been delivered shortly before our arrival. And while fast-moving machines pack toothpaste into tubes, humans must inspect the tubes, pack them into boxes and manage the huge flow of product on the main floors.
K.K. Mishra, head of the park’s public relations, told us this is one of the largest multi-product herbal facilities in the world. “To give you an idea,” he explained, “25 truckloads of amla fruit are delivered to us daily. From these we can produce 6,000 liters of amla juice an hour with very little waste. The Tetra Pak machines can produce up to 27,000 juice packs, 200ml to one liter, per hour.” He told us 10,000 people work at the park, most on a permanent basis. A 100,000-square-foot warehouse stores 500 high-quality herbal ingredients procured from all over the world, and each finished product is fully tested in a central lab.
Talented engineers designed this state-of-the-art facility to operate with admirable efficiency, thus keeping prices affordable to the ordinary Indian household. Everywhere we saw attention to cleanliness, quality of ingredients and packaging. It is a testament to the dedication and managerial skill of Baba Ramdev and Acharya Balkrishna that they could create an industrial project of this size and scale in less than one decade.
We met with Baba Ramdev’s personal assistant, Siddhartha Bhargava. He told us the food park is more a social project, than a commercial venture. He argued that products offered by multinational companies are out of sync with the Indian lifestyle. It has been Ramdev’s goal to develop products with an Indian soul, and to end the country’s dependency on multinationals. Bhargava explained that the need of the hour is to offer food, herbal and cosmetic products based on ancient ayurvedic traditions and science. The company, he said, takes no subsidy from the government and is competing well in the open market, since there is great demand for its products.
Another Patanjali business basic, K.K. Mishra added, is that farmers be paid a fair price as a means to alleviate rural poverty.
Acharya Balkrishna is the managing director of Patanjali Ayurved, Ltd. During our brief interview with him he shared this message, “The propagation of ayurvedic products is a role God has given us to perform and which we are doing with passion and commitment. The ayurvedic products given to us by our ancient seers have immense power to cure diseases. We have forgotten this, but now are getting back to it.” The problem with health care today, he explained, is that people wait to get sick, then have to take medicine to be cured. The Indian ideal is to save ourselves from disease in the first place by living a life based on ayurveda and yoga. We must learn to find moments of peace in the midst of today’s hectic life, so full of stress and strife.
Balkrishna admitted, “There are vested interests in not letting ayurveda become popular again in India. The medicines are very reasonably priced, so diseases can be fought with a few dollars worth of ayurvedic products, rather than the thousands of dollars which would be spent on hospitals. The benefits of ayurveda and yoga are explained in my book, A Practical Approach to the Science of Ayurveda. We are also working on a World Herbal Encyclopedia.”
“We are happy that God is using us as his tool to perform all this,” Balkrishna concluded. “With the blessings of the Almighty and the hard work of Pujya Swami Ramdev Ji, we have been able to do things not only in India but at the international level, too. I feel this is just the beginning, and we will be able to do a lot more in times to come.”