Would you buy a tube of unbranded toothpaste? Or unbranded chocolate? Unbranded shampoo?

In India, we are so intricately used to the concept of unbranded products.

A milkman comes to my apartment and delivers fresh milk, from his aluminum container to a customer’s stainless steel container every day. This was the default way of buying milk every single day during my time growing up in Trichy, Salem, and Coimbatore. In Coimbatore, the friendly milkman used to even pour some milk for my pet cats!

Now, we buy Nandini branded milk packets at home.

Go to any small bakery in Bengaluru and you could buy assorted biscuits in ‘loose’ (to quote the Indian usage). These are unbranded biscuits and simply called ‘bakery biscuits’ and not named after the bakery either.

We have been buying vegetables in ‘loose’, with no brand attached to them long before Big Basket started offering them at home, in branded paper bags.

I’m sure you have your own experience, in the past or in the present, of things that you buy with no brand on it. You trust the source and you buy it.

A Bay Area start-up is trying to brand ‘unbranded’, incidentally. It’s called ‘Brandless‘! Take a look at the range of products they sell.

Two things connect them all – one, they are all unbranded, or brandless. The product packaging does not contain any brand and only has actual product descriptions. Two, they are all sold for a flat $3 per pack (unless they come in multi-packs).

This is quite an interesting gimmick. ‘Brandless’ is also a brand, given how visually coordinated the overall design of all product packaging is. And the fact that they are sold online (only), by one brand, Brandless. The idea is similar to the milkman I mentioned above – be the direct intermediary between the producer (by adding your Brandless design ethos to it) and the end customer. And at that price point, it sounds like a great deal!

To some extent, the in-house brands of some e-commerce companies remind me of Brandless. Flipkart’s Billion, AmazonBasics etc. are essentially quasi-brands – they buy those products from the producers, rebrand them with their in-house labels and sell it. If they did not have any brand, people may trust them far lesser and hence the need for the in-house labels.

Would the Brandless concept work in India? Offline, it may be difficult, because to open a shop, you still need a brand on it. If you try the retail route, that kills the very point of Brandless (direct to consumer). Selling online is a good start, but too small a market.

Yet, since we Indians know and already value the unbranded range of products, if offered at a single slab price like, say Rs.100, I believe this could be a great idea for India too. Imagine a no-brand pack of 500gms mint toothpaste at Rs. 100, compared to a standard Colgate at Rs. 80+ for 200gms.

Would you buy it? After all, a toothpaste is not something you need to flaunt in public, so why wouldn’t you? What would make you buy it is some kind of assurance about quality. If, for example, an Amazon India is behind the overall Brandless store, you may, assuming that THE Amazon may not put sub-standard products in the market (else their reputation be dented). Or, if someone you know/trust says that the product is indeed very good.

The crux is trust, more than just price. In a branded product, we have been somehow conditioned to trust the ‘brand’. When unbranded, we look up to the source selling it, for that trust. Like the bakery I mentioned above – if it has been in existence for a long time, you trust it intuitively.

To some extent, you could say that Big Bazaar or a D-Mart is trying a variation of this offline in India. But then, they have gone on to brand most of their products with in-house brands. A Big Bazaar had to call their range of knock-off FMCG confectionery products Tasty Treats and not just ‘cashew biscuits’ and so on. Taken online, and backed by a trusted ‘brand’ (the irony!), this may be an interesting proposition for India, I feel. What do you think?