Dec 21, 2015

The yoga guru turned company boss

Yogita Limaye
BBC News, Mumbai
December 21, 2015

Baba Ramdev is arguably India's most famous yoga guru, well known for his TV exercise shows. But now he's using his brand to sell everything from shampoo to cereal, and detergent to instant noodles.

Patanjali, the company he founded, claims to have had sales of more than $300m (£200m) in the past year, and is one of India's fastest-growing consumer goods firms.

Dressed in saffron robes, long hair tied up in a loose knot, flowing beard, wooden slippers and a cloth bag slung over his shoulder, Baba Ramdev looks every bit like a traditional yoga guru.

For more than a decade he's demonstrated exercises in front of massive crowds, instructing them on how to breathe in and then exhale, impressing them with his knowledge of ancient yogic asanas (poses).But as he shows me around his factory in the northern Indian city of Haridwar, he seems equally familiar with modern business and marketing concepts.

He's surrounded by a large group of armed guards and plain-clothes policemen who make up his security cover. Some workers rush to touch his feet, considered a sign of respect in India.

his name teaching yoga on television

Baba Ramdev and his aide Acharya Balkrishna set up Patanjali about 10 years ago.

"In India, food, cosmetics and medicines are mostly made and sold by foreign multinational companies that take the country's money abroad," Baba Ramdev says.

"They invest less money, but their profits are huge, which they take overseas. We want that India's money should stay here."
Brand building

Made in India - or as the labels on his products read, Made in Bharat, using the Hindi language name for the country - is what Baba Ramdev hopes to be the biggest selling point for his a wide range of products

The products are also made with traditionally Indian ingredients, he claims. And while the best-selling item - ghee or clarified butter, made from cow's milk - is Indian, Patanjali makes a wide range of products, including a foreign dish, muesli.

At one of its shops in Mumbai, customers are happy to talk about why they buy the products.

"I'm buying a hair oil for my husband, because he's losing hair and wants a natural way to stop it," Shikha Jethwani says.

"I, as well as my in-laws and my parents, do really believe these products are genuinely herbal and have no side effects," she adds.

Nazir Ahmed has been using Patanjali's toothpaste for a year now. "Baba Ramdev has such a big name, so I think the products must be pure and not adulterated. I have full trust in them," he says.

"Brand Baba Ramdev has been in the making for a while now," says Dheeraj Sinha, author of India Reloaded, a book that offers insights into the Indian consumer market.

"Through yoga, political platforms and associated movements, it's been carefully crafted over the past 10 years. What he's done, cleverly, is selling consumption on the back of spiritualism."
Pricing advantage

The yoga guru has millions of ardent followers, and many of them might be easily convinced to buy his products.

What may also be a draw, though, is that they are significantly cheaper than the competition. How does that work financially for the company?

"The main reason we can afford that is because our top management doesn't take any salary," says Baba Ramdev.tant noodles launch turned out to be controversial

"I am the main brand ambassador and I don't take a single rupee from the company. Neither does Acharya Balkrishna, who owns 93% of the company."

Mr Ramdev also says advertising budgets are far lower than other consumer goods companies.

But while he's keen to project Patanjali as a service rather than a business, the company has had more than 100 cases registered against it, accusing it of tax evasion and grabbing land, among other allegations.

"Not even one court has given any order against us. Whatever were the cases filed, we have answered the government departments," says Baba Ramdev.

"As far as the question of land is concerned, we have around 1,000 acres in different parts of the country. We have not been able to use this land yet, so why should we forcibly acquire someone else's land?"a techniques to vast crowds

Patanjali's latest product - instant noodles - also landed it in hot water. India's food safety authority said the company did not have the licence to make it. Baba Ramdev says it does have one and has sent a reply to the authority.

Unfazed, his company is already gearing up for the next launches - skin creams, baby care products and a drink mix for children.

"Baba Ramdev has had a fantastic launch platform, but in India, having a good launch doesn't ensure a profitable and long run. I would be wary of quality monitoring and there has to be a plan for how you will differentiate the product," says Mr Sinha.

The sales target next year is $750m. Baba Ramdev, the businessman, is moving at a breathless pace, quite like some of the yoga exercises for which he is so well known.

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