Understanding Natural Beauty’s Second Homecoming in India

Analysis and words by Ankit Kalkar
Data analysis by Srishti Lal
Visualisation by Haiying Dong

At Synthesis, we love beauty and it’s a big focus for us and our partners. Globally, Natural Cosmetics are predicted to be worth $48 Billion by 2025, with online sales set to rise at a CAGR of 4.5%. While Europe remains the largest market, Asia is expected to drive future demand. We decided to take a closer look at India—often considered one of the biggest untapped markets for natural beauty—to see how this change was playing out in a context where natural rituals and products have long been baked into culture.

Globally, naturals is dominated by premium brands, yet in India brands like Dabur, Himalaya and Patanjali—which made headlines in 2015 by becoming the main challenger to established giant Hindustan—cater to the mainstream. Attracted by Patanjali’s success, new entrants have jumped in, most sold exclusively online via Nykaa or Sephora. Competition is stiff!

We explored this complex market by layering search and e-commerce data. The structure of platforms both reflects and dictates consumer behaviour. Compare global sephora.com, which offers no menu shortcut for natural beauty, with nykaa.com, the leading Indian platform, which makes ‘Natural’ a category of its own.

Scroll down to explore natural beauty in India with Human Centred Data Science.

Over the past decade, search interest in natural beauty has risen steadily the world over. Fear of chemicals, the influence of eco and cruelty free narratives, and advancements by the beauty industry in natural formulations have all been contributing factors.

Yet in India, in the midst of a boom for Patanjali and co, search interest—one of the first signals of consumer curiosity around a topic—has been suspiciously flat.

We analysed 2,000+ natural skincare product listings on Nykaa.com to see if this lack of curiosity was also affecting shifts in consumption, and to unpick the leading brands, winning narratives and ingredients.

We used a quality score, based on review volume and rating to rank winning products, and Nykaa filters to size ingredients listed at different price points.

Products in this space are functional, not magical. Ingredients like Aloe Vera (24%), Neem (13%), Turmeric (10%) are showcased in bright colors on pack and directly linked to benefits, leaving no room for doubt.

Products that cost <500₹ (US $7) dominate the natural skincare scene (56%). Most of these (91%) are local Indian brands. Winning brands include: Nykaa Naturals, McCaffeine, Biotique.

International ingredients like Morrocan Argan Oil and Shea butter from West Africa make an appearance in products priced 500-1,000₹ (US $7-14).

Products in this range use stylised, minimalist representations of hero ingredients and warm earthy tones to cue luxury and benefits. Winning Brands include: MamaEarth, The Body Shop, Aroma Magic.

Forest Essentials and Kama Ayurveda find a sweet spot here. Luxe packaging and quality ingredients satisfy demand for more premium offerings while retaining focus on powerful local ingredients.

Their success has created a premium Ayurvedic category which dominates this price range (1k-2,000₹; US $ 14-28). Winning brands: Forest Essentials, Kama Ayurveda, St. Botanica.

Super-premium products, just 8% of the total naturals listings, are dominated by home grown players.

40% of products priced >2,000₹ (US $28) are international, but search interest in brands like L’Occitane and Kiehl’s is flatlining. Meanwhile, interest in super-premium local brands with local ingredients—Honey, Sandalwood, Coconut, Turmeric—evocative packaging and powerful stories is growing rapidly.

Interest in Indian premium and super-premium naturals products has risen dramatically since 2015, mirroring the era that Pantanjali grew to prominence.

Today, as Patanjali wanes in the face of fading novelty and supply chain problems, newer, more premium brands are exciting consumers with quality traditional inclusions, beautiful packaging and stronger efficacy promises. Given the size of the Indian market and depth of engagement with natural beauty we anticipate there is even more room to grow.

Search and e-commerce data points to an underleveraged naturals opportunity in the Super Premium category: so what next?

Maximising this opportunity means unpicking the explosive growth of Patanjali in 2015-16 as Indian consumers looked for products that help them econnect with their roots and heritage. Today, this is evident in the resurgent interest in premium takes on local Indian ingredients, ayurvedic practices and traditional beauty rituals.

Winning Indian naturals brands have created resonant offerings that bridges the desire for premiumness and tradition—bringing together luxury cues with ingredients one might remember their grandmother’s kitchen. In doing so, these brands have capitalised on ancient Indian wisdom - inspiring not only trust, but also familiarity and pride in consumers.

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HUMAN CENTRED
DATA SCIENCE


2020

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