The pundits (pun intended) at the Economic Times have said a lot these past few days about 'vindis and levers of change' culminating in the Saturday editorial "will reorganization do the trick at HLL". I am not sure that is the fundamental question that needs to be debated. The reorganization signals continuity with change, and a renewed vote of majority share holder confidence in the old order (the new management team is the old management team, with some increases and decreases in roles, some departures, no outside additions, and certainly no dramatic experiments with organization structure, as far as one can see).
What needs to be debated, is the more central issue facing the company, and indeed the category. As discussed in the editorial, the central issue seems to be that the once famed value advantage that HLL offered consumers, is eroding ( "value" defined simply as "Sum total of benefit the consumer thinks she receives MINUS Sum total of cost - price, usage cost etc, that she thinks she pays". Value Advantage defined as "Value she thinks she is getting from P brand MINUS value she thinks she is getting from Q brand"). All hues of competition have managed to narrow this consumer perceived value gap, by playing out various permutations and combinations of the V(alue) = B(enefits) minus C(osts) equation, and getting different levels of consumer buy in. Whether these different levels of consumer buy in are cause for concern or not, is a whole different discussion.
Further, as the editorial said, "the edge provided by its distribution network, is now gradually disappearing", as access to it is easy, at a price, for anybody. Ditto for good marketing talent, advertising and research services, media buying muscle, product and packaging development. The playing field for Version 1 of the FMCG game has levelled considerably. It is time to create Version 2, in an environment where consumer relationship with the category is best described as " I would rather have cell phone seduction", and "Oh fo, not more talk about the same old stuff - so what's new, I mean really new?"
Women, and the urban way of living have both evolved. A trip to any of the fancy shopping malls and multiplexes, or beauty parlours makes it clear that the "India shining" segment of India is embracing the better, not awed by it, not steadfastly clinging to a lifestyle of simple, rigorous living and is certainly not saying " a woman's greatest source of fulfillment comes from unending introspection on the nuances of getting clothes or pots clean or hair a tad more healthy". In fact wherever there has been a departure from this old formula, brands have grown - regrettably no much of this has happened in the big categories of home care or clothes care or toilet soap.
For a while now, like many of my urban sisters, I have had recurring maid problems, had to do my own housework and have experienced the FMCG category's (non) magic If you look at the "end to end solutions" that we women deploy in these areas, it is really primitive. And even our household help is complaining. Katka the old way - on your hands and knees, when every ad on TV tells us that "kamar dard" is not to be tolerated. But where are the mops that enable us to do it more smartly? Is any large fmcg company seeing it as its business to do that? Dusting is such a primitive pain, and gadgets are on the increase that we have to dust. A cheap little dusting appliance is what we need. This is fmcg business - can't they join hands with an appliance maker and innovate one that fits exactly with what and how we dust? I am sure there is some consumable that can be added to it. The chicken and egg story of consumers saying they want and manufacturers saying they don't sell, in the area of fabric care has gone on forever. It is time to settle this and move on. Colours run, clothes fade, washing machine and indoor dried clothes are too 'kadak', only imported spray starch is available and machine friendly additives that really work are still not there. The answer from fmcg companies usually is "tried once, did not work". But as long as properly finished garments excite consumers, and as long as colour runs are a nightmare, the quest to find something that works and sells cannot be given up. The whole ironing board (or lack of it), iron, ironing process is painful. Who leads the charge to get to a better solution for it? Let us talk about dish washing. Do not tell women that beautiful hands is their birth right and then not even have a decent pair of gloves that are configured for the dexterity we need, at a right price. How about a glove with a cleaning pad attached? How about even providing decent dispensers for storing that congealing mess of scouring powder that lies on the side of most sinks - come to think about it, does one have to have such a congealed mess in order to wash dishes economically? And whose business is it to get decent wipes for tables, for kitchen surfaces, and even decently absorbing dish cloths to dry dishes? We drain them out not because we like to but because the dish wipe is a smelly mess. Dare I ask for some odour removing dry cleaning home solution so that I don't have to wash a one hour worn clean but sweat smelling garment? No cream depilatories, no wax strips, no one minute face masks (please, we Indian women do not wear face masks and relax in front of our household help or elders in the family - we do it in the quickly dashed off bath in the bathroom). Speaking of which how about a cheap but nice looking liquid soap nice dispenser for the basin where guests go to wash their hands? And why not a proper storage caddy for the things that you now want me to use on my hair and face and skin in a tiny bathroom? Whose business is this end to end solution?
I need price right conveniences - cut vegetables, ready to cook pulses, but most of all, Please God, can I have ready to heat and eat, husband acceptable chapattis? Or even a collaborative effort between a non stick two hot plate sandwich type chapatti maker and a special atta that does not need to be pushed and pummeled and is guaranteed to rise?
The sisterhood of Indian women, urban at least, will dearly reward you if you find more pleasant solutions to what we do, and give voice to our new found aspirations and roles. The world is changing and why shouldn't we be too?