NEW DELHI: L'Oréal, the cosmetics giant, has adopted a unique approach in India, reflecting the distinctive requirements of local consumers.

Having entered the country in 1992, the company revolutionised its tactics by rolling out Garnier Color Naturals, a low-cost hair dye developed specifically for the Asian nation, some ten years later.

"When we came to the bigger need gaps, we decided to create products for India," Richa Singh, Garnier's head of marketing, told the Business Standard.

"We knew we were still priced more than the leader but we wanted the consumer to try us first."

The tailoring process applied both to formulation and pack sizes, recognising that customer habits differed substantially from elsewhere.

"Indian women are touch-up specialists because of their long, parted hair," said Dinesh Dayal, chief operating officer, L'Oréal India.

"Grey roots show more often; as a result they need to re-apply colour at the roots while not colouring the entire length of their hair."

Further initiatives have incorporated training 50,000 hairdressers, driving word of mouth about Colour Naturals in an authentic way.

"We wanted consumers not only to eye the low price but also the features of the product," said Singh. "Education, then, was very important for us."

L'Oréal launched Garnier Fructis domestically in 2004, again modifying the ingredients and marketing communications employed.

"Sure it was an international product, but the formulae were all for India," said Singh.

Garnier Fructis Shampoo + Oil, unveiled in 2009, also leveraged the popularity of hair oil products among Indian women.

Skincare has become another key area of activity, and L'Oréal pioneered anti-wrinkle creams when awareness was almost non-existent.

"If we had entered with tradition in mind, we would have looked at only the larger pies," Singh suggested.

"We decided to enter segments which would be differentiated. We would still have basic products but the drivers would be the different ones."

Additional recent introductions are the Garnier Men range and a "no-tear" shampoo for children aged between four and six years old.

A major challenge in India is adapting to the complexities of the retail sector, where organised chains constitute a minority concern and traditional outlets dominate.

"India was very different from servicing a thousand department stores that we do in other countries," Dayal argued. "But we were quick to bring in different strategies, including one for kirana stores as well."

"Shopkeepers saw the same men in business suits who had presented L'Oréal's plans to them working with sales representatives to clean shelves, windows and place the Garnier merchandise."

L'Oréal currently reaches around 450,000 sites in India, considerably below the totals of 2m and 3m registered by Hindustan Unilever and ITC, the FMCG firms.

"We are not even competing with them in distribution," said Singh. "We can only talk to certain kinds of retailers and have to give others a miss because we have only beauty-based products."

She added: "We can't pitch any other category. So urban markets are what we have restricted ourselves to."

Data sourced from Business Standard; additional content by Warc staff