In a conversation with TheSMEIndia.com, leading manufacturer in the oral healthcare segment, ICPA’s Director, Abha Damani talks about the opportunities in the market, policy aspects, impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the industry and business and future roadmap. Edited Excerpts:
Q. How’s the shift been in the oral healthcare space from a business perspective? Considering a lot of FMCGs have also been active in this space?
In terms of the change, we saw a huge increase in the demand for mouth washes, especially our therapeutic range of mouthwash. During the pandemic situation the spread, was more due to throat-related problems, so controlling the viral load in the mouth was a major concern, and lot of studies have showed mouthwash helps in controlling the transfer of virus for a few hours because of which we saw a significant change and increase in demand for mouthwashes leading to a shift to organic diagnostics.
Since our products are prescription-driven, we did not see any threat or challenge from FMCG products. We have a lot of repeat customers, our products are borderline FMCG, our existing customers are aware of the product, so we did not see any shift as a result of FMCGs being active in this space.
Q. How did the transition occur and how did you manage stocks & logistics?
The transition did not occur immediately. Initially, there was a problem with distribution, transportation, and logistics. However, during the lockdown period the government took the lead in arranging for products to be transported by goods train in the absence of road or air transport. The government made certain that all necessary goods were delivered to all parts of the country. This was extremely well-organized. We transported our goods via railways. Our distributors would notify us of the most convenient pick-up spot, and we would ensure that our goods were shipped across the country by using railways.
We did not run out of stock; most of the product are fast moving, the dealer has a month’s worth of supplies on hand.
However, newer product was not available for some time and there was a small delay. Also, there was a huge demand for the usage of sanitisers, though we used to manufacture 100 ml. sanitisers, but later as the usage increased different packaging began to emerge. and now we have a smaller pack of 50 ml and a bigger pack of 500 ml for institutional networks for the public that can be used to refill. The caveat is now after a year, people are not particular about using sanitisers and are using it less frequently resulting in decline in demand.
Q. On the backdrop of Covid-19 pandemic, how’s the business been for you?
Business is back to pre-covid levels. We were 100% back during the last quarter, there has been some change in the product mix. Mouthwash range picked up, and so was at-home treatment products to maintain hygiene.
Q. What are some of the challenges or teething issues when it comes at policy level?
Regarding regulation, we do not see any challenges from the government; however, there are a few issues such as how to get product approval, as local authorities are unsure of what category your goods come under, and how to make a filing, despite the fact that the government has tried to simplify. Furthermore, these are not exclusive to any state government; they are higher-level problems, such as unnecessary back-and-forth between the authorities and our plant authorities. They refer to old product guidelines, where molecules must be listed. I agree that they should obey the rules, but it has to be amended at a higher level, which I believe the government is doing by going 100 percent online. What needs to be changed is the reference norm, as well as the bibliography to which they refer.
Q. What are your expansion and growth plans?
Aside from dental, we are looking at a) newer segments, b) newer markets, and c) forming a Semi-OTC division because many of our products are borderline FMCG.
The newer segment will begin this year and will include external segments such as derma, ENT, and pediatrics. Some of these are currently being marketed by physicians, and we are looking to increase production.
In terms of exports, we expect to expand further this year, with an emphasis on Asian and African markets. We have already established ourselves in European markets as well as Australia. (The plant is managed in compliance with European GMP). We have only recently begun exporting to Europe and have registered in a few Asian markets.
The OTC division is a continuing project that will be completed by the end of this year.
Q. Where’s the major demand coming from?
We have a national presence in India. We don’t have a lot of variation; the revenue mix from each of the four zones varies from 24-26 percent. We are reasonably evenly dispersed throughout the country.
Q. How do you leverage technology across your business and how has it helped you?
We have a digital channel through which we meet and engage with individual doctors, small groups of doctors, and dentists. We hold webinars to educate about new product offerings. We have a new topic once a month and discuss it with a small network of doctors. We are attempting to concentrate on a specific consumer segment; our OTC products are available on our social media pages, and we are marketing them to the younger generation. Cosmetics and OTC products are available on all ecommerce websites. We use social media platforms to reach out to younger dentists and customers who follow our ICPA page.