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Published on: Feb. 5, 2024, 3:22 p.m.
Will Eveready regain its past glory?
  • Mohit Burman: planning sustainable growth; Photos: Sajal Bose

By Sajal Bose. Executive Editor, Business India

Following the takeover of Eveready Industries India Limited (EIIL) by the Burman family of Dabur India in 2022, the Eveready brand has demonstrated its inherent potential, benefiting from the fresh impetus and direction provided to the company by the Burmans. "Eveready is a strong brand that has faced uncertainty over various issues in recent years. We are now in the process of rejuvenating the brand with the right approach and investment to scale up the business, with a focus on new growth areas," explains Mohit Burman, chairman of Dabur India Limited and non-executive director of Eveready. He has spearheaded the family's involvement in Eveready.

The former promoter, the Khaitan family, borrowed heavily by pledging their shares in EIIL and their tea company McLeod Russel to rescue the group's ailing engineering company McNally Bharat, engaged in turnkey solutions for infrastructure projects. However, this ultimately proved to be a poor business judgment that dragged down the entire BM Khaitan group. Companies within the Burman group began acquiring Eveready shares from the market, recognising the brand's significant growth potential if managed efficiently, ultimately leading to their acquisition of the company.

Today, the Burman group collectively holds close to 39 per cent of the company's shares. "EIIL has now been given a new lease of life under the new management. Morale within the company is very upbeat," says Pankaj Singhania, founder of Lake Water Advisors, an equity research firm.

A household name in batteries, EIIL is now showing credible performance. Net sales have experienced close to double-digit growth, reaching Rs1,328 crore in FY23 compared to Rs1,211 crore in FY22. "We are on a transformation path with sustainable growth across all our business verticals," says Burman.

The company has also enlisted the expertise of Bain & Company to revamp its business strategy and provide guidance on future roadmaps. With a legacy of over 100 years, EIIL operates in three main business segments: batteries, flashlights, and lighting. The battery business constitutes the lion's share of 65 per cent of the total revenue, followed by lighting at 23 per cent and flashlights at 12 per cent.

As part of its growth strategy, EIIL is planning to establish an alkaline battery manufacturing unit with a capital expenditure of Rs200 crore. "This will be the most modern and the first plant for alkaline batteries in the country when it is ready in the next 12-14 months," Burman reveals. However, he declines to disclose further details, stating that the company is still exploring potential locations for the greenfield project.

In India, alkaline batteries currently constitute only 6-8 per cent of the total dry cell volume, but their demand has been growing at a rate of 25-30 per cent. Alkaline batteries are highly priced products, entirely imported from Vietnam and China, with Duracell being the market leader in this segment. "We aim to produce them in India to achieve better margins, aligning with the Atmanirbhar Bharat mission," Burman explains.

The story of the Burman family began with a small yet visionary endeavour by Dr SK Burman, a physician settled in Bengal. His mission was to provide effective and affordable cures for ordinary people in remote villages. With missionary zeal and fervour, Dr Burman embarked on preparing natural remedies for the prevalent diseases of the time, such as cholera, malaria, and plague. Soon, word spread about his medicines, and he earned the trusted title of 'Daktar’, or Doctor, renowned for his effective cures. Thus, his venture, Dabur, derived its name from the Devanagari rendition of 'Daktar Burman’.

  • Saha: emphasis on premiumisation

Trust and reliability

In 1884, Dr SK Burman founded Dabur India to produce and distribute Ayurvedic medicines, catering to a vast population with limited access to proper treatment. Driven by his unwavering commitment and tireless efforts, the company grew from a modest medicine manufacturer in a small Calcutta residence to a renowned household name synonymous with trust and reliability. 

Today, Dabur has become one of India's largest Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) companies. The Burman family was among the pioneers in India to separate ownership from management within their business endeavours. Presently, family members have diversified investments across various sectors including healthcare, financial services, hospitality, education, sports, media, and now, the battery business with the Eveready brand.

EIIL, as the leader in dry cell batteries encompassing both the zinc-carbon and alkaline segments, commands a dominant market share of over 54 per cent in the Rs3,000 crore battery market in India. The Eveready brand is virtually synonymous with batteries that cater to the diverse portable energy needs of modern India, earning enduring trust from consumers. With a wide range of sizes, from AA to AAA, from D to C size, and 9V, Eveready offers a comprehensive selection to meet every requirement.

Despite maintaining its leadership position, the former promoter of the company failed to solidify its presence in the alkaline battery segment due to ineffective marketing efforts. It is anticipated that alkaline batteries, constituting only 5-6 per cent of the total dry cell battery market, will experience rapid growth due to the proliferation of new electronic devices. Currently, Duracell holds the leading position in the alkaline battery market.

Under the new management, the company is now focusing on investing in promotional and branding activities. It has relaunched its alkaline battery brand, Ultima. The revamped range includes AA/AAA Eveready Ultima batteries, which are claimed to last 400 per cent longer, as well as the AA/AAA/D Eveready Ultima Pro, which last as much as 800 per cent longer than ordinary batteries and are hailed as the most powerful batteries utilising alkaline technology.

These batteries aim at delivering consistent performance across a spectrum of modern devices and high-drain applications (which have become more common in recent years) such as toys, video games, smart remotes, wireless keyboard/mouse setups, trimmers, and medical equipment. “This aligns with our strategy for premiumisation on the high-performance alkaline batteries. We expect this will give a good amount of growth,” explains Suvamoy Saha, managing director. “The alkaline segment is growing faster than the traditional zinc-carbon batteries with the introduction of high-drain usage devices,” he adds.

Only 6 per cent of India’s three-billion battery market is for alkaline batteries compared to 50 per cent in China, and over 75 per cent in the US. The Indian market for alkaline batteries is expanding by 20 per cent, while the total market is growing by 4-5 per cent. "Empowering the present and energising the future, sums up the rejuvenated Ultima battery series by Eveready. Its refined appeal and enduring power exemplify our dedication to meeting evolving consumer demands and driving innovation forward,” Anirban Banerjee, Senior Vice President & SBU Head (Batteries & Flashlights), highlights.

"Advanced gadgets such as battery-operated toys, smart remotes, wireless mice, BP machines, etc, demand higher power." The company has witnessed an overwhelming response to the new Ultima battery, already available in 60,000 outlets. Banerjee foresees this figure escalating to 1.8 lakh outlets by the year end.

  • Banerjee, Sharma, Agarwala: at the forefront of transformation

Brand transformation

“India will be one of the very few last bastions of the zinc carbon battery. So, it makes for a very attractive market for all battery companies to enter and upgrade consumers to alkaline and eventually command the right price,” Banerjee opines.

Eveready also revamped its logo, which marks a strategic brand transformation, forging a future-ready, self-aware brand committed to trust, quality, innovation, collaboration and care. The new logo reflects inspiration from the infinity loop which transforms into a fluid shape symbolising an endless source of power and energy.

EIIL boasts a robust distribution network spanning over 4.1 million touchpoints. To optimally leverage this extensive network, the company has implemented a route-to-market strategy aimed at modernising its distribution approach. Previously, reaching 4.1 million outlets involved working with 5,000 distributors, a number that has now been rationalised to 1,000 distributors. "This initiative is designed to streamline our distribution channels, ensuring clear accountability at every level, cost-efficiency, expedited decision-making, and enhanced communication to facilitate the delivery of our products to consumers," explains Saha.

“As a market leader we have to stay ahead of the curve. There are two important aspects in our business – brand and distribution. If we leverage these two then the sky is the limit,” says Bibek Agarwala, CFO. In order to increase brand visibility, EIIL also increased the media budget to 10 per cent of its revenue from 3 per cent.

EIIL’s manufacturing units are spread across six locations – Matia, Lucknow, Noida, Haridwar, Maddur and Kolkata. All manufacturing facilities are backed by Integrated Management Systems, with the latest ISO:9001, ISO:14001 & ISO:45001 accreditations.

Matia is the flagship plant of the company, nestled in the industrial growth centre of Assam. "We supply 60 per cent of the company's total battery sales, amounting to 1.2 billion pieces per annum," remarks AVS Shivadas, the general manager (works) of Matia. Spanning 17 acres of land along the state highway, this plant represents the company's youngest and most modern facility.

Equipped with five production lines, it has the capacity to manufacture 800 million pieces of AA and AAA batteries annually. The manufacturing unit is technologically advanced, adhering to the highest global standards. The high-speed rotary production line imported from China can produce an impressive 600 batteries per minute. Stringent quality control measures are rigorously upheld before each battery rolls out of the production line. It also has an assembly unit for flashlights which has a yearly capacity of 9 million pieces. The Matia unit maintains the highest levels of safety, health and environmental standards. This zero-discharge unit conforms to all latest versions of ISO and other accreditations.

Manufacturing a dry cell battery, which serves as a reliable and portable energy source, demands robust Research and Development efforts to ensure standardisation and determine suitability. The company's R&D facility is based in Kolkata and has gained recognition under the Department of Science and Industrial Research (DSIR), Government of India. The company says it tirelessly strives to meet customer needs, explore new developments, implement design and artwork changes, conduct physical and chemical specification checks, and uphold strict quality audits.

  • Eveready is the market leader in dry cell battery

Eveready has long been a pioneer in the realm of portable lighting solutions, with its name nearly synonymous with torches and flashlights for over a century. The company has consistently designed and developed a range of LED flashlights that are practical, stylish, and innovative, catering to the needs of individuals across urban and rural India.

The rechargeable flashlight segment has witnessed significant growth in recent years. Addressing this trend, Saha highlights: "We are gradually transitioning from battery-operated to rechargeable flashlights." Eveready is actively building a portfolio of appealing products, prioritising quality as the hallmark and tailoring features to meet customer requirements at popular price points.

The total flashlights market is estimated to be close to Rs1,400 crore at the retail level, with approximately Rs1,100 crore accounting for the rechargeable segment. Eveready holds a commanding 55 per cent share of the Rs350 crore battery-operated category, although this market is in decline. Saha expects the government to impose the BIS standard to stop cheap import of flashlights into the country and help organised players. Incidentally, 5-6 years ago the government enforced BIS standard for import of zinc batteries, which halted the import of cheap batteries.

Expanding into lighting was a natural progression for the Eveready brand. The company is steadily solidifying its presence in the lighting business, with LED lighting dominating 80 per cent of the Indian market today. EIIL offers an extensive range of SKUs available through general trade, modern trade, and electrical channels. Efforts are underway to enhance capabilities within the electrical channel, with plans to introduce a broader range of products and luminaries, prioritising higher margins.

Eveready operates in both consumer and commercial lighting segments. "We aim to bolster our distribution network. Our goal is to increase our presence in at least 1.2 lakh electrical outlets, up from the current 20,000 outlets, within the next 2 years," states Mohit Sharma, Senior Vice President of the Lighting & Accessories Business and SBU Head. The division has achieved revenues of Rs298 crore.

Staying relevant

Chawla Enterprises, a Gurgaon-based dealer for Eveready lighting, commends the company's aggressive marketing efforts in lighting and the expansion of its product portfolio. Manish Chawla, the owner of the dealership, notes: "Eveready maintains quality standards on par with larger players." However, he suggests that the company should promptly address any issues faced by its dealerships.

"As consumer preferences continually evolve, innovation is crucial to remain relevant in this segment," Sharma emphasises. “We closely monitor market trends and new technologies to develop products that align with consumer aspirations." One such innovative product is the Insta Charge Emergency LED Bulb, designed to be useful during power outages. The lighting industry's market size stands at Rs20,000 crore, with 40 per cent controlled by unorganised players. Over 100 players are vying for a significant share of this dynamic market, and Philips leads the pack with an 18-20 per cent market share.

  • State-of-the-art plant at Matia in Assam

"Eveready is primarily a strong brand, providing them with a competitive edge in the lighting business," remarks Jay Prakash Mohanty, Vice President and SBU Head-Lighting at Century LED Limited, a competitor under the Century Ply umbrella. "They are now enhancing their visibility, but there is a need for expansion by offering more competitive pricing and ensuring availability to consumers."

Currently, EIIL's lighting division operates on an asset-light model, outsourcing from leading lighting manufacturers. "This market holds immense potential. We will consider establishing our own lighting manufacturing facility once the division achieves revenues of Rs500 crore or more," states Burman.

Eveready achieved annual sales of Rs1,341 crore in the financial year ending March 2023, compared to Rs1,213 crore in the previous year. However, the net profit decreased to Rs20 crore in FY23 from Rs47 crore in FY22. For the six months ending September 2023, the company recorded sales of Rs736 crore with a net profit of Rs50 crore.

The current share price stands at Rs360 with a market capitalisation of Rs2,580 crore. The company's debt has been reduced from Rs373 crore in FY23 to Rs321 crore as of September 2023. "We are enhancing our business through becoming more efficient and placing significant emphasis on meeting customer needs," asserts Agarwala. "Under the new leadership, the focus has returned to the core business, with expansion plans in the lighting and electrical products sectors. This new direction has led to remarkable efforts to strengthen the company's brand and distribution pillars," states Singhania.

With its substantial brand value and established markets, EIIL is likely to maintain its leadership position. As Burman affirms: "We refuse to rest on our past laurels. Our objective is to achieve sustainable growth across all our business verticals."

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