Despite strong competition from other detergent brands in India, the HUL crown gem thrived.

Surf Excel, a famous detergent brand from market leader Hindustan Unilever (HUL), has grown to be a $1 billion brand in terms of yearly sales. According to Unilever’s Mumbai-based local subsidiary, the brand recorded Rs 8,200 crore in sales during the calendar year 2022, making it HUL’s first billion-dollar brand.

The perilous trek

While Surf Excel has dominated the local market for years, its path to that position has not been easy. It is the result of decades of playing agile and effectively fending off tremendous adversities.

First launched as Surf by Unilever in the late 1950s, the now-iconic brand was aimed at housewives from middle-income homes in developed areas such as the United States and Europe. Surf was a luxury brand in India from its start, at a period when the majority of housewives were used to cheaper bar soaps. Nevertheless, the greatest threat came from somewhere else, in a different manner. Nirma, a modest small-scale Gujarati brand, shook the boat violently.

Recent developments that have increased its fortunes

Aside from the HUL management’s agility in dealing with new challenges by identifying concerns and developing new solutions, there have been a few of recent elements that have played a critical role in Surf Excel’s increased sales. Premiumization and inflation.

HUL has raised the cost of its Surf Excel goods several times, each time by a double-digit percentage point, since late-2021, increasing its overall revenue. HUL’s ongoing push for premiumisation of its laundry goods, such as Surf Excel detergents, has also aided its bottom line.

HUL’s MD and CEO, Sanjiv Mehta, previously told Business Today that the company’s goal is to consistently premiumize its portfolio, particularly in the fabric wash products sector. “In terms of premiumization, we are now much over-indexed to the market,” Mehta recently stated in a post-earnings teleconference this month.

“Our premium items, whether liquids or premium powders, have grown quite well. And the overall share of our business in the portfolio is now over-indexed to liquids and premium assets against mass assets,” said Ritesh Tiwari, Chief Financial Officer, HUL, during the call. Increasing HUL’s product mix “keeps improving the way we drive market development for pushing premiumisation”.