Emerging Market Trends in the Indian Incense Stick Industry
Article compiled by Trisha Luthria
In India, agarbattis (incense sticks) have often been used for religious rituals. Incense sticks have been used as a sign of divinity for centuries during festivals, pujas, last rites, and in places of worship. As a result, the industry has been concentrating on religious sales in India for decades. The goal was to see if there were any emerging market trends in the twenty first century and decade. To seek new prospects with new customers and markets in 2020-21.
Questionnaires are a great cost-effective way of gathering focused qualitative information while doing market research. Thus, a questionnaire was designed after careful observation of the buying and selling behavior of large retailers, small vendors and direct buyers of incense sticks on site of sale. The survey was administered amongst 7 large retailers ,13 small vendors and 20 direct buyers over a period of 1 month. After studying the survey responses, a formal interaction was conducted with large retailers of incense sticks and large consumers such as last rites executioners.
According to a formal qualitative survey of manufacturers, they believe their sales are guided not only to wholesalers, but also to the modern retail sector, which has shown great promise in recent covid times. Manufacturers have been able to extend their scope to home buyers and end users thanks to online e-commerce platforms like D-mart and Jio Mart.
During a formal interaction with last rites executioners in Mumbai, it was discovered that they consume large quantities of agarbattis, despite the fact that their needs are purpose-driven rather than consumer-centric. As a result, they seek out non-branded goods at a particular price, placing less emphasis on quality. They were open to using new products.
A spiritual company interviewed has narrow demographics between the age group of 30-50 but has loyal, long standing consumers who believe in sustainability.Agarbattis are one of its top selling items. They manufacture quality agarbattis which have less smoke residue and is long-lasting due to its ingredients and manufacturing process. Their audience pays a premium for their products, find it gift-worthy and use it for chanting, mood enhancer, air-freshners in homes. They have an environment conscious customer base who orders online and would be happy to pay for a subscription if it is more economical. They profess that they haven’t found any significant change in sales pre and post covid. Their sales are consistent all year round and do increase during festivals as a lot more gifting is done during that period.
For large retailers primarily including those in the B2B trade and export:
Through the survey it can be seen that 85.8% of survey respondents confirmed that Sales were highest during the Indian festive season each year (June to November). Progressively the responses show large retailers are willing to embrace new modes of shopping, such as online sales, in order to boost sales. Products sold primarily included well established brands. Further, it was found that they are willing to experiment with new packaging, such as pooja hampers for festivals. In the large retailer market, the longevity of a brand and the uniqueness of its fragrance are important factors in increasing product sales. They will not, however, openly market agarbattis to consumers online in order to boost sales. Lastly, profits are measured by the number of units sold, which is not shocking.
For small vendors including ‘Kirana Stores’ and mini supermarkets selling various FMCG products through B2C trade:
Once again, 90% of responders agreed that festivals were the busiest times for sales. We were able to further extrapolate from the responses that vendors were willing to try new goods and scents within a certain price range with high profit margins. However, they were not open to support emerging ways of retail in order to boost revenue, such as online sales and preferred to conduct business in person. Products sold include a mix of well-established brands with low profit margins and varied poor-quality fragrance products with high profit margins. Again, profits are determined by the number of units sold.
For Home Buyers (including indirect buyers) who purchase in-person or via online platform:
As can be seen in the graph above 64% of the survey responders agreed to using agarbattis more often during festivals. Thus, it can be inferred that sales are the highest during the Indian festive season. Being a home buyer, they have a personal connect to the product and thus they prefer to buy brands that are well-established. Quality takes precedence over quantity for them. However, they are willing to explore new eco-friendly natural products and fragrances. They are also able to make transactions through an online platform because they seldom buy in bulk.
Observations and emerging trends:
In India, the top motivators for purchase are still puja and religious traditions. During the pandemic, there was a rise in the use of incense sticks for meditation, singing, tarot card reading, and reiki. Since people have been confined to their homes, it was also commonly used as mosquito repellents and in home fragrance. Further, quality incense sticks, to quote consumers `less smoky’ and chemical-free items are preferred by home buyers. Home buying customers are looking for serenity during these trying times. Due to the pandemic most businesses have shifted to online platforms to become more accessible to the day to day consumer. Thus, for enhanced ease, home buyers prefer to shop online.
In an environment that has changed as a result of the pandemic, it is worthwhile to actively target double income, young home buyers by promoting various uses of incense sticks as fragrance, ambience enhancers that make the atmosphere vibrant, or creating a meditative mood. Due to the pandemic, in-person shopping has been a distant memory. As a result of today’s digital world, developing an online presence is essential for increasing profitability and distribution. Consumers are interested in less smoky and eco-friendly agarbattis in the light of recent climate change awareness around the world, according to survey responses, so Research & Development to curate better quality ingredients for less smoke residue or chemical-free incense sticks should be considered.