Even as the ominous clouds of Covid-19 hang over the Indian economy, businesses are finding ways to make money.
From turmeric milk to foot pedal dispensers, several Indian companies have in recent weeks launched new products or rebranded their existing offerings with a focus to lure customers who are worried about their health and are trying to maintain social distancing during the pandemic.
For instance, on June 8, Noida-based milk products maker Mother Dairy launched a new turmeric-flavoured drink, which it said helps boost immunity against the virus. “In the current scenario of coronavirus as ‘immunity boosting’ has gone trending,” the company said in a press release. “Turmeric contains curcumin, a flavonoid which supports a healthy immune response, thereby promoting general well-being.”
Turmeric milk, which became popular in the US a few years ago as “turmeric latte,” is a traditional household beverage in India with roots dating back almost 4,000 years. Mother Dairy’s move is a clever one, as “when a crisis like this happens, we have observed that people move closer to using organic products,” Nidhi Sinha, head of content at market research firm the Mintel Group, said.
In March, the business conglomerate Dalmia Group launched a “coronavirus preventive capsule,” which, it said will help people avoid contracting Covid-19. The company also said the capsule, which comprises a melange of 15 herbs, will boost people’s immunity and reduce inflammation in their lungs.
In addition, several cafes across the country, including Chaayos, Starbucks, and Café Coffee Day, have introduced newer products and rebranded their existing offerings to highlight immunity building benefits. “Marketers are out there with a vengeance to tweak their offerings attuned to a new want, a new desire, and a new craving,” said Harish Bijoor, a branding expert and founder of the eponymous market research firm Harish Bijoor Consults.
The pandemic has also fuelled innovation. A research faculty at Tamil Nadu-based Kalasalingam Academy of Research reportedly developed a foot-operable sanitiser dispenser machine in February that lets users disinfect their hands without touching the bottle. Now, the Indian market is flooded with variations of the dispenser in the price range of Rs 1,300 to Rs 5,000.
The emergence of such items has also left doubts about their efficacy.
Will this really work?
Although businesses are trying to woo their customers by aligning their offerings with the pandemic, consumers are sceptical about such products.
For instance, Ananya Mithal, a graduate psychology student in Pune, said that she would rather prefer making turmeric milk herself than buying it off the shelf just because it has become a trend during the pandemic. “I haven’t spent any money on products that claim to boost immunity. I would rather use natural products,” said Kulvinder Chhabra, a banking professional in New Delhi.
Even doctors say that “boosting” one’s immune system through foods and supplements is an implausible claim. “Even if we could boost our immunity, it would likely be a bad idea since a ‘boosted’ immune system would mean it’s working in overdrive – and that is often synonymous with inflammation and autoimmune disease,” Dr Travis Thomas, an associate professor at the University of Kentucky, wrote in a blog post on April 24.
But Bijoor said marketers are desperate to boost their sales and wouldn’t stop launching such products. “Ethical or not, marketers will fish in muddied waters. As of now, just as long as what is offered is a genuine palliative product, things are fine. The moment someone brings in the bluff-product, the balloon shall burst,” Bijoor said.
This article first appeared on Quartz.