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ITC launches special incense gift packs
The Hindu Business Line - 27 Jun 2004

Mohan Padmanabhan
Kolkata

THE strategic tie-up between ITC's agarbatti SBU and Cottage Industries, Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry, which makes the Spriha brand of handmade incense sticks, has been taken one step further.

The agarbatti SBU, which recently launched the Mangal Deep range of agarbattis through 100 per cent outsourcing from the small, medium and cottage sector, has launched an assorted Spriha gift pack product.

The gift packs, designed and developed in-house by ITC and specially created (with handpicked materials) by Cottage Industries, Aurobindo Ashram, will be in two sizes, and will contain items like high quality incense sticks in two fragrances, a perfumed designer candle, a collection of choice "dhoops" and a handy ceramic agarbatti/dhoop holder (all hand-made) in a compact box pack.

Priced at Rs 100 and Rs 150 (two sizes), the gift packs have been launched in Bangalore as part of a test marketing exercise through outlets stocking ITC's Greetings Cards (Expressions).

Planned as a stand-alone gift item, especially for festive occasions, the plan is to utilise the available in-house greeting cards distribution channel to position the product, and gradually scale up visibility at various gift shops through a national roll-out. Cottage Industries, Pondicherry, produces half-a-million packs of handmade Spriha agarbattis per month for ITC under a contractual agreement.

Talking to Business Line here recently, Mr V.M. Rajasekharan, CEO, ITC Agarbatti Business, said the plan was to effect a dynamic portfolio mix through special fragrances made available by two MNC fragrance outfits in India - the New York-based International Flavours & Fragrances and Swiss-based Givadaun Ltd.

The blending of the fragrances, to create the right mix for the agarbattis is being carried out by the centralised R&D centre of ITC at Bangalore. Various fragrances are mapped and subjected to thorough chromatographic tests before a final selection is made.

Says Mr Rajasekharan: "Continuous fragrance checks are carried out by our in-house lab to bring about improvement in quality in our range of incense sticks." On the fragrance mapping exercise, he said while sandalwood was the most preferred throughout the country, jasmine was liked in south India, and rose scored heavily in northern belt and a few other pockets.

ITC agarbattis now come in eight fragrances, and a few more new floral notes are expected soon.

Among the fancy fragrances introduced by ITC in the "fragrance locked" packs are Madhur and Mogra (gundu malli in Tamil). Stating that the Mangal Deep brand has been carefully developed and positioned after extensive consumer research in relevant markets across the country, he said the battis are sold in three price packs of Rs 2 (for 10 sticks); Rs 10 for 20; and Rs 30 for 100. The products will soon witness a national roll-out.

Ananth Agarbatti Co and Sankranti in Bangalore are manufacturing Mangal Deep as per the strict quality parameters evolved by ITC. Mr Rajasekharan said ITC was committed to lend the benefits of its proven competences in brand building, national marketing and distribution to cottage units that manufacture agarbattis.

"We are willing to buy from any cottage unit which shows its willingness to follow our quality parameters, as we are fully committed to enhance the business competitiveness of India's small, medium and cottage enterprises from which we source our FMCG products."

The Rs 1,000-crore agarbatti industry has been growing at 3-4 per cent annually. Some 50 billion sticks per annum are sold in India. ITC is aiming at a 10 per cent market share in the coming 15-month period.