Sunday, July 30, 2006


Natural products and the market

If consumers are actively green attitudinally, behaviourally why are they passively green? Or worse, neutral? Is there something about the aura of naturals that their marketing is not touching upon? Why have businessmen or marketers not been able to fully leverage green inclinations? Are consumers indeed ahead of marketers in the naturals arena? It seems so.

Green Is Keen

Naturals are growing in appeal across markets. In flat categories, often the natural segment is the growing (albeit niche) one. There is prolific consumer evidence that people attitudinally prefer naturals. Several advantages of naturals are felt and perceived. From a product use point of view, naturals promise no side effects, holistic impact, non-intrusive action and long-term benefits. This ‘functional’ or product-derived credibility that consumers associate with naturals, across product categories, is well-established. What is more significant is that most young consumers are pro-naturals. This is borne out strongly in recent research.

Green inclined? Hell, yeah!

Young people (15-19-year-olds), who will be the mainstream consumers of tomorrow, show strong ‘green’ leanings. Lifestyle and attitude research based on TGI (target group indexing) with an all India sample size of 17,000 confirms this. In metros, 15–19-year-olds say they are prepared to pay more for environment-friendly products (index 112). Also, given a choice, they would prefer to use a herbal rather than a non-herbal product (index 110).

So, if the appeal of naturals is so evident, and their potential so ripe, why then are naturals businesses not the sweeping success they were meant to be? The aim of this thesis is to bridge the chasm between their business potential and business promise. It brings to life the fundamentally different stance a naturals business must embrace for consumers to embrace it in turn.

The Hypotheses

Study ‘the other 50 per cent’. Marketing theory tells us that beyond functionality, as much as 50 per cent of the overall appeal of a category or brand is driven by its emotional appeal or ‘tug’. So one has to examine if there is a deep and powerful ‘emotionale’, or emotional appeal driving the buzz around naturals. Few business ideas in today’s choice-cluttered world have the credibility, appeal and broad acceptance that natural products enjoy. So, could there be a latent ‘emotionale’ that (dormant) naturals businesses haven’t tapped into?

No more research please. Use category archaeology instead. Being a growing segment, naturals are, perhaps, among the most researched fields— qualitatively, quantitatively and in R&D terms. So, still more research is not going to unpeel this onion. However, starting from a different stand point like category archaeology might. This anthropological tool applies well to business and marketing, and is especially useful while seeking answers to a fundamental question, like ours. It unearths hidden meanings and associations that exist in people’s collective understanding, and is often remarkably revelatory. Given the momentum that naturals have built up over the years, and their overall attitudinal support and acceptance, is there a meaning and association with naturals buried deep in people’s minds, where glossy research reports don’t reach? Can we unearth this and leverage it to free the frozen potential of naturals?

The Duality Of Naturals

With these two hypotheses as the intellectual starting point of enquiry, we started ‘digging’. As we dug into naturals as a category, irrespective of products, we unearthed an interesting fact. Functionally, naturals are very strong and credible, with evident long-term benefits and lack of negative side-effects, regardless of product or service functions. However, beyond functional fitness, naturals, as an overall appeal, have a duality.

On one hand is the dark side of naturals. It is personified and visualised, both literally and metaphorically, as old and dark with associations like old age, grandfather, therapeutic, dull, old film songs, black-and-white, disease, ayurveda, etc. This comes with all the credibility and authority of naturals, but with sensorial, emotional and cultural associations which are off-putting, old-fashioned and distant from today’s consumers (particularly younger consumers, who are more pro-naturals).

On the other hand, the bright side of naturals was also revealed. It is envisioned both literally and metaphorically as bright and young, feminine, passionate, stylish, individualistic, artistic, in yellow and fuschia, liberating, opinionated, philosophical, life changing, substantive, warm, contemporary and ‘with it’. This is a side that is not only associated with all the credibility and authority of natural products but also carries rich sensorial, emotional and cultural associations.

The bright side of naturals is surprisingly stylish and design oriented. Indeed, the foundations of its distinctive style quotient lie in an attitude to life that is at the cutting edge of modernity. It is more and genuinely modern than the ‘stereotyped modern’. It embraces an overarching philosophy of life that is in sync with and inspires its design philosophy. As a result, it embraces choices that are passionate and ‘with it’, such as linen over denim, ceramics over bone china, beach run over the treadmill, juice over cola, environmental activism over biological engineering and happiness over success.

This bright side is a ‘new age’ stance to naturals, which enjoys the same credibility and authority as ‘old’ naturals, but with an incredibly complementary, ‘wind beneath its wings’ kind of cultural and emotional resonance.

In a nutshell, the archaeology reveals that the surface meaning of naturals is unidimensional and ‘dark’, but the deeper meaning of naturals is multidimensional and ‘bright’. The surface meaning of naturals is unidimensional — safe, traditional, knowledgeable products considered ‘very good, but not for me’. However, their deeper meaning is multidimensional. It shows that the world has moved from natural to ‘being’ natural, that is, ‘a new age way of life that inspires me’.

Shaziya Khan


Thursday, July 27, 2006



The mango is known as the 'king of fruit' throughout the world.The name 'mango' is derived from the Tamil word 'mangkay' or 'man-gay'. When the Portuguese traders settled in Western India they adopted the name as 'manga'.

Mangos originated in East India, Burma and the Andaman Islands bordering the Bay of Bengal. Around the 5th century B.C., Buddhist monks are believed to have introduced the mango to Malaysia and eastern Asia - legend has it that Buddha found tranquility and repose in a mango grove.

Persian traders took the mango into the middle east and Africa, from there the Portuguese brought it to Brazil and the West Indies. Mango cultivators arrived in Florida in the 1830's and in California in the 1880's.
Mango tree
The Mango tree plays a sacred role in India; it is a symbol of love and some believe that the Mango tree can grant wishes.In the Hindu culture hanging fresh mango leaves outside the front door during Ponggol (Hindu New Year) and Deepavali is considered a blessing to the house.Mango leaves are used at weddings to ensure the couple bear plenty of children (though it is only the birth of the male child that is celebrated - again by hanging mango leaves outside the house). The Mango tree is also a centerpiece in many Rajput miniature paintings from the region of Himachal Pradesh.

Hindus may also brush their teeth with mango twigs on holy days (be sure to rinse well and spit if you try this at home - toxic).Many Southeast Asian kings and nobles had their own mango groves; with private cultivars being sources of great pride and social standing, hence began the custom of sending gifts of the choicest mangos.The Tahis like to munch mango buds, with Sanskrit poets believing they lend sweetness to the voice.

Burning of mango wood, leaves and debris is not advised - toxic fumes can cause serious irritation to eyes and lungs.Mango leaves are considered toxic and can kill cattle or other grazing livestock.In India, a certain shade of yellow dye was attained by feeding cattle small amounts of mango leaves and harvesting their urine. Of course as stated above, this is a contraindicated practice, since mango leaves are toxic and cattle are sacred. It has since been outlawed.

Mangos are bursting with protective nutrients. The vitamin content depends upon the variety and maturity of the fruit, when the mango is green the amount of vitamin C is higher, as it ripens the amount of beta carotene (vitamin A) increases.There are over 20 million metric tons of mangos grown throughout the tropical and sub-tropical world.

The leading mango producer is India, with very little export as most are consumed within the country. Mexico and China compete for second place, followed by Pakistan and Indonesia. Thailand, Nigeria, Brazil, Philippines and Haiti follow in order.According to the Foreign Agricultural Organization, the top mango exporters reported in 1997 are as follows in order: Mexico, Brazil, South Africa, Haiti, Guatemala, Venezuela, Peru, Nicaragua, Dominican Republic.
mango fruit
The fruit of the mango is called a Drupe - consisting of the mesocarp (edible fleshy part) and endocarp (large woody, flattened pit).The mango is a member of the Anachardiaceae family. Other distant relatives include the cashew, pistachio, Jamaica plum, poison ivy and poison oak.The over 1,000 known mango cultivars are derived from two strains of mango seed - monoembryonic (single embryo) and polyembryonic (multiple embryo).

Monoembryonic hails from the Indian (original) strain of mango,polyembryonic from the Indochinese.Dermatitis can result from contact with the resinous latex sap that drips from the stem end when mangos are harvested. The mango fruit skin is not considered edible.Every part of the mango is beneficial and has been utilized in folk remedies in some form or another. Whether the bark, leaves, skin or pit; all have been concocted into various types of treatments or preventatives down through the centuries.

A partial list of the many medicinal properties and purported uses attributed to the mango tree are as follows: anti-viral, anti-parasitic, anti-septic, anti-tussive (cough), anti-asthmatic, expectorant, cardiotonic, contraceptive, aphrodisiac, hypotensive, laxative, stomachic (beneficial to digestion)....Mangiferin - rich in splenocytes, found in the stem bark of the mango tree has purported potent immunomodulatory characteristics - believed to inhibit tumor growth in early and late stages.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006


Biotech funds

India's first biotech fund initiated by a public-private partnership, APIDC-VCL raised Rs 150 crore, five times more than the Rs 30 crore envisaged from different financial institutions in a span of just a little over a year. Even local venture capitalists have raised Rs 3,000 crore from local financial institutions like insurance companies, commercial banks, mutual funds and government bodies. The allocations from these institutions have increased from Rs 10-20 crore to Rs 50-100 crore this year.

According to the Indian Venture Capital Association (IVCA), domestic and foreign venture capitalists invested $774 million in 2003 in India up from $590 million in 2002. In 2004, till November, VCs and equity funds invested over $820 million in Indian companies. TSJ Media, a Chennai-based firm that tracks VC investments, reported that less than 10 percent of this money has found its way in the start-up companies. The momentum has just started to pick up after 2000-01 and Indian VCs have undergone a fundamental change.

This clearly shows that there are investors who are really looking at investing in upcoming technology companies like nanotechnology and biotechnology. So money is not a constraint as far as investors are concerned. Then what is it that is stopping them from making investments? Is there a disconnect between the industry and the VCs? Both have valid reasons and apprehensions.

The Association of Biotechnology Led Entrepreneurs (ABLE) arranged a meet between investment bankers, research analysts and CEOs of biotech companies on December 5, 2004 on Mumbai. The meet, sponsored by Biocon, deliberated on the key facts and parameters of investing in biotechnology driven enterprises and to exchange views.

The investors point of view was that it is the risk factor, lack of readily available information on biotechnology, strong management, clear exit model, lack of technical skilled people and experts who can guide VCs as some of the factors making them very cautious. However, they are convinced that India will be the next technology center and research hub owing to intellectual capital, skilled manpower and value addition and that it has sustainable comparative advantage over China.

VCs are looking at tie-ups between Indian and Chinese companies where the Indian product design team can have close relationships with manufacturing teams in China. India and China as a combined market opportunity can weigh much more than they do separately. This model will provide an edge for VCs to invest in India and China against US. Such model is already in place in the field of IT, where the VCs marry two sets of people in the US and India to form a team. The US team brings in the product management and customer interfacing skills and the Indian team brings product design and execution skills.

Utkarsh Palnitkar, head, life sciences, Ernst &Young, who is closely tracking the industry, noted that biotechnology would enter profitability by 2008. VCs are looking at biotechnology with caution in spite of several opportunities in biotechnology i.e., biopesticides, biofertilizers and diagnostics. Indian companies have a lot of opportunities, if risks are broken down into smaller parts. Bundle of ideas are lying in cold storage. To make it a reality and take up risks, sharing of risks is very important. Proper blueprints should be developed for implementing ideas into projects that ultimately deliver results.


Tuesday, July 04, 2006


Brazil healthcare

Santa Casa HospitalSanta Casa Hospital, Salvador Bahia, pic courtesy: Brazil Photos

Armando De Negri Filho, General Coordinator of the Latin American Association of Social Medicine, told The Hindu that Brazil's decision, taken way back in 1988, to introduce the right to universal and free health care as part of its Constitution, had stood the test of time. "All you need is an identity card establishing that you're a Brazilian citizen," he said, "and you can access free health care anywhere in the country." Today, 99 per cent of Brazil's population of 178 million people uses the national health care system.

The Constitutional provision was the outcome of pressure from below at a time when the country's health care system was facing a crisis. But since then, despite changes in government, Brazil has gradually built up an enviable health infrastructure.

According to Dr. Filho, today all the 5,800 municipalities in Brazil have specific budgets for primary healthcare. Although local governments receive funds from the Centre on a per capita basis, thereby ensuring that even poor municipalities get enough, they have to allocate 15 per cent of their income for health.

How does a poor country find the money to pay for such a universal health system? "From the general tax system," says Dr. Filho. An amendment to the Constitution in 2000 has laid down that a certain percentage of the budget is earmarked for health care. The national government has to put aside at least 7.9 to 9.4 per cent of the GNP for health, while state governments must give 12 per cent of their income for this purpose. As a result, says Dr. Filho, "The system pays for itself. Even the private sector wants to be part of it."

Also, a system of accountability has been established through health councils at the national, state and local levels. Half of these councils are made up of users who are elected. The rest of the council consists of health workers, government representatives and health providers. The councils vote on the annual health budget. In addition, all the data is now posted on the Internet. Thus, any citizen who wants to see how much has been allocated for health and where it has been sent, can follow its trajectory.

Dr. Filho argues that such a system benefits not just people in terms of providing people health care but is also an avenue for creating additional employment.
For instance, two million people are working in the healthcare system and an additional 3.5 million are in the support services. "The first step is to accept that it is possible to provide national health for everyone."

Monday, July 03, 2006


First generic anti-retroviral drug in capsule form

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services today issued the first generic approval for the capsule dosage form of zidovudine ((zye-DOE-vue-deen) to treat HIV/AIDS to be marketed in the United States. The tablet and oral solution dosage forms of zidovudine were previously approved for sale in the United States when the patent on those dosage forms expired in September 2005. Today’s approval for the capsule formulation of the drug, which is manufactured by Aurobindo Pharma LTD. in Hyderabad, India, follows the expiration of GlaxoSmithKline’s patent on its capsule form of the product marketed under the tradename Retrovir.

“This is a significant generic approval,” said Dr. Andrew C. von Eschenbach, Acting Commissioner of Food and Drugs. “Retrovir, which was initially approved in March, 1987, was the first of a group of breakthrough medications that have transformed what was then a disease with a very dismal prognosis into one with a much more hopeful prognosis. Approval of this additional dosage form of zidovudine should help reduce the cost of this therapy for American patients.”

Zidovudine is in the class of drugs called nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NRTIs), which helps keep the AIDS virus from reproducing. This anti-retroviral drug is intended to be used with other anti-retroviral agents for the treatment of HIV-1 infection.
anti-retroviral drugs
The agency’s approval of zidovudine means that there are no existing patents and/or exclusivity preventing the approval of generic versions of this product. As with all FDA-approved generics, this product must meet all of FDA’s manufacturing quality, and clinical safety and effectiveness standards for U.S. marketing. More information on HIV and AIDS is available online at FDA’s website:

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