Evidence suggests that soaps have been around for over 6,000 years, but it was only in the 19th century that soap bars came into being. Since then, the product, which is made of fat or oil mixed with an alkali, has been launched in various shapes, sizes and forms.
Available in two formats – bar and liquid, soaps are broadly categorised as toilet soap, beauty soap, medicated soap and others. Costing as low as Rs 10 and going up to over Rs 200 per piece, soap bars are preferred in the price-sensitive Indian market. They are easily available at most retail and online stores across the country.
Liquid soap, a comparatively newer format, has been around for only about 100 years. Preferred largely by the hospitality sector, liquid soap is now also preferred by the urban class for reasons like the ease of use, the addition of moisturisers to avoid dry hands, helping keep the sink area tidy and its scent. Its high cost (upwards of Rs 85) makes it a lesser preferred option for many, especially in the rural areas.
Other than these, soap sheets, popularly known as paper soaps, are sold widely, mainly to travellers. A pack of 10 paper soap strips is priced as low as Rs 4. This one-time-use (per sheet) soap format is mainly preferred for its pocket-friendliness. One can use it in public washrooms in schools, offices, camps, etc.
A June 2020 Report Linker segments the Rs 20,000 crore Indian soap market based on application (kitchen, laundry, personal, novelty, perfumed, beauty, medicated, others); form (liquid, solid); distribution channel (store-based, non-store based); region and company.
As per the report, at 50%, the beauty soap segment (the likes of Dove, Pears, Lux) holds the largest market share. The medicated soap (Sebamed, Derma Dew, Acnil Pimple Care) segment is also witnessing growth in India, mainly due to the increasing understanding of its benefits for various skin conditions.
With heightened interest around hygiene and sanitisation, especially after the outbreak of the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic, the market, as per forecasts, will cross Rs 32,000 crores by FY26.
Some dominant brands in the segment include: ITC (Vivel, Fiama Di Wills, Superia); Hindustan Unilever (Lux, Lifebuoy, Dove); Godrej Consumer Products (Cinthol, Godrej No.1); Reckitt Benckiser (Dettol); among others.