Bayer officially set up its consumer health division in India in May. Prior to this, it has been licensing the sale of its consumer health products such as VMS brand Supradyn and over the counter analgesic brand Saridon to local Indian firm Piramal’s consumer products division.
Other than Supradyn, Bayer Consumer Health Division in India also sells three other types of dietary supplements, including Becozym C Forte, a combination of vitamin B complex and vitamin C, vitamin B6 tablet Benadon, and diet / appetite enhancer Bayer’s Tonic. Other consumer health products that it sells include antifungal cream Canesten and antihistamine OTC drug Alaspan.
The company has been planning to set up a local team partly because licensing agreements have ended and also to bring in best practices from its other offices into India.
Now that it is taking over the commercial and marketing activities for its consumer health brands, the company underlined plans to strengthen its presence.
Of which, the nutrition business will be a focus and it is eyeing to further penetrate into both metro and rural VMS markets with its bestselling brand Supradyn.
A multivitamin and mineral product, the brand alone contributes about 80 per cent of the firm’s oral supplement sales in India.
“The nutrition business is going to be one of our biggest priorities. If you look at India’s OTC market, nutrition is the biggest category, as it is in many other countries across the globe.
“Having said that, nutrition is also one of the OTC categories in India, which is significantly underpenetrated,” Sandeep Verma, country head at Bayer Consumer Health Division India, told NutraIngredients-Asia.
“The penetration levels of all vitamins and mineral supplements put together in India is less than 20 percent and in rural India, it is less than three percent.
“Despite this, India is one of the biggest nutrition markets in the OTC space globally. And so, you can imagine the kind of potential that this country has if we are able to enhance the penetration of nutrition products,” he added.
Verma joined Bayer from Bajaj Consumer Care in 2019 and was the first member of Bayer’s consumer health division in India. He also has over 20 years of FMCG industry experience and worked in organisations such as Unilever for 16 years.
Across the country, OTC oral supplements are generally seen as medicines, which Verma said was the biggest roadblock to overcome.
“Most consumers in India feel that whatever food they eat on a daily basis is good enough to meet all of their micronutrient requirements.
“However, recent studies have shown that even in urban India, the diet of over 60 per cent of the population is micronutrient-inadequate, much worse as compared to most of the world.
“We want to convey the message that, while having a nutritious diet is important, along with that, one will also need to supplement it with a multi-vitamin product, such as Supradyn,” he said.
As such, he said the company would focus on driving home the message that both nutritious diet and VMS would be required.
According to existing studies, micronutrient deficiencies in iron, vitamin A, B, and iodine are prevalent in India.
A study published in 2018 showed that healthy adolescent boys in rural India are more likely to suffer from vitamin B12 deficiency and in turn, a higher risk of obesity.
Food fortification projects have been introduced since 2011, where wheat flour is fortified with iron, folic acid, vitamin B12, edible oils with vitamin A and D, and milk with vitamin A and D.
According to Australian firm Pharmako Biotechnologies, consumer demand for international nutrition brands is on the rise. Other Australian brands such as Swisse and Blackmores have also jumped on the bandwagon.
Verma revealed that a key strategy moving forward, was to reformulate and repackage Supradyn.
For example, the company will be increasing the amount of zinc present in the product. Zinc has been identified as nutrient vital for immune health.
“One of the consumer insights which emerged in early 2020s was that often the consumers after starting on a multivitamin, were being asked to add a zinc supplement to it simply because the zinc levels in their multi-vitamins were too low.
“And the complication of having to take 2 supplements eventually led to many of them dropping out the multivitamin brand after a while.
“To avoid this lapse [in the supplementation of multivitamins] and to offer the consumer one single product good enough to meet all of their requirements, we reformulated the brand with adequate supplementation."
In India, the Recommended Dietary Allowance of zinc is 10mg per day.
The Supradyn supplement, which comes in tablets, contain 11 vitamins including vitamin A, C, D, E, B-complex vitamins, and five minerals, including calcium, magnesium, iron, phosphorus, manganese, and four trace elements, such as copper, zinc, molybdenum, and boron.
Of which, the zinc content is 2.20mg.
“The pandemic has brought a heightened focus on health and nutrition, particularly in line with ensuring adequate immunity and energy levels to tackle the daily health challenges. Consumers are increasingly opting for self-care products so that they can take charge of their own health.
"Moreover, the widespread adoption of digital technology innovations has led to the emergence of a new trend of health awareness, which can be leveraged to easily provide individuals with high-quality information leading to better and proactive self-care.
“What we are trying to do is to leverage this higher health awareness and the greater need to find immunity solutions to provide consumers with the best quality information which can lead to better and more responsible self-care.
“Our challenge now is to ensure that people do not go back to their old [self-care and nutrition] habits as the number of COVID-19 cases start to come down but instead take this opportunity to build newer and more sustainable self-care habits into their daily routine.”
It is also planning to bring in new innovations customised to the needs of the Indian population from next year onwards.
“Our strategy encompasses all the states in India and yet customises our approach according to the dietary patterns of the state and the awareness levels of the consumers towards health and OTC products.”
Verma said one of the biggest strengths in the supplement portfolio was its widespread distribution network in the general trade channel.
In India, general trade channels especially the mum-and-pop stores, contributes 95 per cent of all supplement sales, while the remaining five per cent comes from modern trade such as e-commerce and large chain stores.
For Supradyn, the brand is available in 200,000 mum-and-pop pharmacy stores across India while its paracetamol brand Saridon is available in 800,000 stores.
“Going forward, our focus will be on improving the quality of distribution, which means adding more stores as well as trying to sell more from the same store. We are planning to expand access for Supradyn, from 200,000 stores to 400,000 stores over the next 3 years.
“While the e-commerce and modern trade channels are still very small in contribution terms, but they are growing very fast and we are looking at them from a longer-term perspective. Also, we will be using these channels as a test and learn model for some of our new innovations, in order to bring in greater agility and consumer centricity in our overall innovation plans.”
Unlike large pharmacy chains, mum-and-pop pharmacy stores exist individually, and this is also a reason why many international brands and new Indian brands find it difficult to penetrate quickly into the offline channel in India and prefer to start off with e-commerce.