India Dispatch: As the economy flourishes and women's incomes rise, demand for beauty products is also growing. Foreign firms, such as the global giant L'Oréal, and domestic players are vying for a piece of the lucrative market.
A makeover for India's cosmetics industry
You can hear in the voice of Jacques Challes, the India managing director of the French cosmetics giant L'Oréal, that he is excited about his company's latest plans in the South Asian country.
"India is one of our key markets and we decided a year ago that we had [reached] the critical mass to open [an] R&D centre in India," Mr Challes says. L'Oréal plans to invest in a research facility and give its factory a makeover, says Mr Challes, as it looks to boost its India turnover, which was €200 million (Dh971.1m) last year.
For L'Oréal, investing millions in a local research and development facility is definitely "worth it" - to borrow from the company's famous advertising slogan.
But the push into India is not without its challenges, Mr Challes says.
"How can we develop Indian hair care in Paris? People's skin types are different, the weather conditions are different and what works in Europe may not work in India," he says.
Soon it will be lipsticks at dawn, with many other players eyeing the country's lucrative 100 billion rupee (Dh7.05bn) cosmetics market, which is expected to double by 2014, according to the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India.
Powder, eye shadow and foundation are nothing new in the cosmetics world, but the appetite for them is fast increasing among the young urban consumers of India, who have more disposable income than ever before.
That places the youths of India firmly in the driver's seat, unlike youths in many other global markets.
"In the developed world, typically 55-plus women are driver of cosmetic industry. In India, the trend is just reversed. Fifty per cent of India is less than 30 years [old], and for the next decade this proportion will increase towards the young," said Ankur Bisen, the associate director of Technopak Advisors.
Then there are the rising salaries of women. A recent survey by the Indian Market Research Bureau (IMRB)found that the average monthly income of women living and working in urban areas in India had increased from 4,492 rupees in 2001 to 9,457 rupees in 2010.
"This increase in income has led to increase in consumerism among women. If you look at the steady growth in personal grooming products, the trend will be very clear," says Ashish Karnad, the group business director at IMRB.
Behaviour patterns are changing too. Before, Indians were perceived to be greater savers than spenders.
"There has been a change in the mindset and spending pattern of Indians, as more and more Indians are loosening their purse strings and starting to live for today," says Anand Ramanathan, the associate director of KPMG.
"This change in mindset has led to consumers pampering themselves and spending more on beauty and personal-care products."
Global cosmetics brands are up against tough competition in the Indian market, as domestic players have decades of consumer loyalty and knowledge of the market. While L'Oréal may be sharpening its claws for the fight with the likes of the US company Revlon, there are local players willing to put up a good fight.
India's Lakmé is the current market leader, with a 17.7 per cent market share in cosmetics, according to the research agency Nielsen, and Lakmé has a reputation for aggressive expansion.
"[There is] cut-throat competition due to the presence of large number of domestic players," says Mr Ramanathan. "Moreover, there is a surge in the number of established foreign brands who have already entered or are trying to enter Indian market to tap the immense growth potential."
Foreign players such as L'Oréal need to gettheir branding right, experts say.
"Any new foreign brand will have to choose its sweet spot, in the crowded women cosmetics industry," Mr Bisen says.
"Premium space will require brand building, which requires money and time. The target women group for premium products are as discerning as any premium customer world over.
"Mass space will require investments in distribution to ensure reach in the fragmented retail setting. This has to be coupled with brand building and compete with brands both on national and regional landscape.".
Part of that competition involves pricing, which L'Oréal admits it had to rethink.
"Take our shampoo, for instance," says Mr Challes. "It retails half the price in India but it is still a lot more expensive than local mass market brand, putting us into the premium category. We had to, of course, reprice our products for the Indian market."
Cosmetics companies are keen to help to beautify the women in rural areas too, and many are offering specialised products aimed at women living far from urban centres.
"As the urban market is reaching saturation, more and more firms are looking at the buoyant Indian rural market," says Mr Ramanathan. "Hence, effective communication, marketing and advertising campaigns by the companies in the local language to ensure that the brands and the logos are identified by the rural consumers is important."
And it is not just women who want to make themselves look good. One of the fastest-growing segments in the personal-grooming field is products for men.
The trend has not gone unnoticed by L'Oréal, which is about to launch what it calls a ground-breaking, anti-sweat moisturizing cream for the Indian market.
"The segment is at early stage, but it offers massive potential. It is growing at a 50 per cent annual rate right now," says Mr Challes.
Indian men are not afraid to show their softer side when it comes to grooming, and are not averse to pampering themselves.
"Indian men have a very different attitude to using cosmetics than their European counterparts. They are not ashamed of using their sisters' or wives' face cream. Hair colouring is also booming here. Half of the hair colour we sell is for men," says Mr Challes.
With men keen to take care of their looks, companies are wooing customers with the tried-and-tested Bollywood factor.
"Apart from the usual categories of pre-shave and razors, men's skin care, which promised fair and blemish-free skin, is performing well," says Mr Ramanathan. "Every major brand uses movie stars for instant recall and acceptance.