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Dabur India banks on therapeutic products as COVID fears spread

Consumer goods company offers more items based on traditional Hindu remedies

Dabur's immunity-enhancing products are displayed at a drugstore in New Delhi. (Photo by Moyuru Baba)

NEW DELHI -- Indian consumer goods maker Dabur India has expanded its lineup of ayurvedic products to meet growing demand for food and other items based on traditional Hindu remedies amid the coronavirus outbreak.

Since the spring of 2020, Dabur has released more than 50 ayurvedic items as more people resort to traditional healing methods to prevent and cure the disease.

Founded in 1884, Dabur first sold ayurvedic items at a small drugstore in the eastern India city of Kolkata. Now as a listed company, Dabur offers a wide range of consumer products in the food, beverage and health care sectors. It is also the biggest dispenser of ayurvedic medicines.

In fiscal 2020, Dabur logged 87 billion rupees ($1.17 billion) in operating revenue, or sales from mainstay businesses. The company currently exports to more than 100 countries in Europe and elsewhere.

"Dabur developed over 50 new [antivirus] products within a span of three to four months since the COVID outbreak last year," CEO Mohit Malhotra told Nikkei. "These include a range of ayurvedic immunity-boosters, health juices, health drops and a range of personal and household hygiene products like hand sanitizers and disinfectants."

Earlier this year, the number of COVID-19 infections in India grew at the fastest pace in the world, peaking at more than 400,000 per day in early May. "Health has emerged as a key consumer need in the post-COVID world," Malhotra said. "Ayurveda-based preventive health care has gained prominence in the consumer mind space."

Ayurveda is a traditional healing method that is said to have been practiced in India for over 5,000 years. It is a holistic, self-help approach to keep people healthy, using combinations of about 600 herbs and massage.

As COVID fears spread, Dabur used ayurvedic herbs to develop pharmaceuticals, juice, candy, hand disinfectant and other products.

The limited availability of COVID vaccines in India has also fueled demand for Dabur's products. The Indian Ministry of Ayush, a government body in charge of traditional medical practices, stressed the importance of daily routines to enhance immunity. The ministry lists as immunity enhancers ginger, basil, cinnamon, black pepper, turmeric, cumin, garlic and similar ingredients -- many of which are used in ayurveda treatments.

"The pandemic has also led to a shift in consumer shopping behavior, with the propensity for online shopping increasing," Malhotra said. "Targeting this emerging trend, we have started launching a series of new products exclusively for online markets." Dabur has developed personal care products such as shampoo, soap, cream and baby goods. It also markets ayurvedic mouthwashes and organic honey online.

The number of new infections is currently down to around 40,000 per day in India thanks to strict lockdowns. But as vaccines remain scarce, the popularity of traditional remedies is unlikely to diminish any time soon.

Clinics specializing in the traditional medicine of ayurveda are becoming more popular, including this one in Ahmadabad, Gujarat.   © Reuters

Besides ayurvedic remedies, the government is promoting yoga and other practices in the wellness and health care sector as part of its "Make in India" initiative to support more than 20 domestic industries.

India has a wellness and health care market worth 490 billion rupees, according to the Indian Chamber of Commerce. In its fiscal 2021 budget, the government has set aside 30 billion rupees to promote the sector, up 40% from the previous year. Among traditional health care items, yoga is particularly popular as it is easily practiced at home during lockdowns.

In 2015, the United Nations proclaimed June 21 as the International Day of Yoga based on a proposal by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, an avid yoga practitioner. As many as 175 countries supported the UN resolution to celebrate the day.

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