Go Corona, Corona Go… from our fruits and vegetables

These days, under lockdown, I have extra responsibility at home. When the milk packets arrive, I dutifully remove my FitBit first, with the same flair of a cinema hero removing his wristwatch before indulging in a ‘fistfight’ with the villains, and take the packets straight to a sink. Then I wash my hands and the packets with soap thoroughly. I then dry them and then keep them in the fridge.

For the deliveries we receive from e-commerce stores, we leave them inside the home, near the door, on newspaper spreads, for at least 1-2 days!! This is for all products except frozen products (which are washed and kept in the fridge!) including vegetables and all groceries.

I also wash my hands after reading the print newspaper. That could be a dark statement about the state of news media that exists in India today!

So, when Marico announced the foray into the vegetable and fruit hygiene category with the launch of a new product on 30th April, I was all ears. The product is called ‘Veggie Clean’!

The press release goes straight to the point: “With an aim to aid and strengthen the country’s fight against the Covid-19 pandemic, Marico Limited is expanding its play in the health and hygiene segment.”

Kent already has 2 products in this ‘vegetable and fruit hygiene category’ Unlike Marico’s idea, Kent’s idea is to offer hardware! So, a wall-mounted vegetable & fruit disinfectant and a table-top version!

The product works by producing ‘ozone’ (you insert the tube from the device to a bowl of fruits and vegetables soaked in water).

The brand has been advertising almost daily in the newspapers, these days!

Prestige has an ozone-based disinfectant device too, incidentally.

In fact, while researching on the product, I noticed that Presitge had raised the price between afternoon and night, just yesterday 🙂

As if outdoing these attempts, here comes another product – another hardware product at that. The product is called ‘Corona Oven‘! The product’s tagline is ‘Virus 0 | Humanity 1’. It cannot get as specific as that!

The device has an ultraviolet disinfection chamber and can be used to disinfect fruits & vegetables, kitchen utensils, water bottles, keys, toys, clothes, slippers, TV remotes etc.!

While Kent or Prestige’s devices are not new, they have found renewed interest in that category due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But this renewed interest in extra hygiene may be a time-bound, fear-based reaction. So, while we indulge in relatively low-value solutions like hand wash liquid soap and veggie wash liquids, investing in pricier devices seems like a stretch. In a non-pandemic situation, the selling point of these devices may be tougher.

There would, no doubt, be a market for those devices (Kent’s devices are priced at Rs.7,000, Prestige is far cheaper at Rs.2,995, while the Corona Oven sells for Rs.12,995!), their utility value is perhaps limited by the time it’d take for us to get over the fear of the pandemic.

In a value-conscious market like India, that is a lot to ask for, particularly when cheaper, non-hardware alternatives exist or can be conceived.

But, the Corona Oven team has another use-case that could keep them in better stead – institutional sales to hospitals! So, that’s a smart, longer-term use case.

From a marketing standpoint, Marico has pitched its new product within the context of coronavirus only in the press release (and perhaps in the advertising that is yet to come out). Even Kent hasn’t pitched its devices in the context of coronavirus, but using the timing and related words (like bacteria) to make it relevant to us.

A startup like Log9Materials is agile enough to think of and produce a device like Corona Oven, even using the disease’s name almost like a product version of SEO to make it highly topical and relevant to the times we are in. The product has that name up front! It is not being seen as say, air pollution, that has some amount of permanence (and seasonality) to it – most of us believe that the pollution problem is not going anywhere. And hence, investing in costly devices like air purifiers may be seen as a worthwhile idea.

I’d argue that not many people think that this pandemic is permanent, and optimistically presume that we’d put this behind us soon enough. At that time, I’m sure the startup would be again agile enough to rebrand the device and pitch within another kind of relevance.

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