It's a small and inconsequential part of most people’s daily routine - the few minutes they spend brushing their teeth. But in India, the increasingly competitive toothpaste market has taken on huge significance, as what began as a fringe upstart brand is proving a formidable challenger to the world’s oral care giants.

Patanjali, a range of ayurvedic personal care products, food items and cosmetics, was launched by charismatic yogi Baba Ramdev in 2006, and immediately began eating into the market share of long-established global brands.

In the toothpaste sector, that’s meant taking on the likes of Colgate, owned by Colgate Palmolive, and Hindustan Lever’s Pepsodent.

The Economic Times reports on Nielsen data showing that Colgate is still the biggest toothpaste brand in the country by some margin, but Patanjali now has an 8.7% share of the market – and it’s rising fast, up from 8.0% in 2017.

The rise of Patanjali has been intertwined with that of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Ramdev has a huge following among Hindus and, as the New York Times reports, has been compared to the US Baptist preacher Billy Graham for his ability to influence his followers – and national politics.

Ramdev has called Modi a “close friend”, and the prime minister publicly expresses support for the Patanjali range.

This might explain why the global FMCG giants’ attempts to muscle in on the herbal toothpaste market so energized by Ramdev and Patanjali seem to have fallen flat.

The Economic Times reports that Colgate Palmolive’s bet on the ayurvedic oral care segment appears to have backfired.

Its Vedshakti brand, launched more than two years ago, has grown for seven consecutive months, and has attained market share in the modern retail trade of about 4.4%. Yet this growth seems to have come from existing Colgate users of other products, rather than luring over Patanjali users; Colgate’s overall share including all its key brands fell 190 basis points to 49.3% in the December quarter.

HUL’s own natural toothpaste offering, Ayush, was launched two years ago. The Nielsen data shows it has failed to have much of an impact, despite the natural oral care segment growing by 25% in 2017 and a further 15% in 2018. Ayush has just 0.2% market share, the Economic Times reports.

While Patanjali has severely disrupted the markets, analysts told the paper that its multinational competitors – and Colgate in particular – were still well positioned, thanks to such a strong lead in market share, brand recognition, and long-established distribution channels.

Sourced from the Economic Times, New York Times; additional content by WARC staff