The twenty-first century has witnessed the increasing importance of potable water. In India, the need for safe drinking water is exemplified by the success of Tata Swach, the innovative water purifier launched by Tata Chemicals.
An overwhelming demand has ensured a dream run for Tata Swach since its launch in December 2009. Launched in Maharashtra and Karnataka, the purifier has been rolled out across India since then and has found favour with urban and rural households. The company has also found itself handling enquiries from around the globe.
What makes Tata Swach, a joint effort of the Tata Chemicals Innovation Centre and the Tata Research Development and Design Centre, so successful is the combination of unique features that have been built into it. The purifier makes use of rice husk ash and nano-silver particles to render water clean and fit to drink.
Tata Swach requires neither running water nor electricity nor boiling, making it an attractive buy for Indian households that lack these requirements. The affordable price also puts it within the reach of consumers at the bottom of the pyramid. The product is being sold through traditional outlets with Croma, the electronics retail chain of the Tata group, being the only non-traditional stores to sell Swach.
Ashvini Hiran, chief operating officer, Tata Chemicals, attributes the excellent performance of Swach to the efforts of the team. He says, “Their passion towards the social cause of providing safe drinking water to the masses was evident in Swach’s success.”
Says Mr Nandy, “From day one, the product just flew off the shelves. Our plans were to go to a third and a fourth state in that first spurt. But in the capacities that we had put up, we barely serviced Karnataka and Maharashtra. In fact, the team sold to 200,000 households in 200 days in the first four states.”
Making a mark
The unexpected success meant that the team faced a situation where the demand was always greater than the supply. It was only after the first round of capacity expansion that the situation improved slightly.
The next halt on the Swach journey was at Delhi where the team launched the Tata Swach Smart at `749 and the Tata Swach Smart Magic at `499, thus breaching the price barrier again. Thereafter Swach went to Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal and later to Punjab, Haryana, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan. Today the only big pocket absence is Tamil Nadu, a lacuna that will soon be filled. Mr Nandy says, “Our capacities are being raised. Before the next fiscal year, we will be truly national.”
One pleasant finding from the marketing effort was the demand from urban households. Explains Mr Nandy, “We had originally supposed that Swach was meant for rural India. We were really surprised at the way the product took off in urban areas.”
A lot of these households had not used any purification method before. Mr Nandy adds, “The statistics had always told us that there were many such families but here we were actually seeing it.” The team surveyed many consumer households and found the residents satisfied with their purchase.
Getting the vote
The results were a vindication of the product. Clearly buyers, inspired by its looks, the simplicity of usage and the fact that it required very little maintenance, had given a thumbs-up to Swach.
Some consumers had even displayed the product in their living rooms, indicating their pride and confidence in the product. Mr Nandy said, “One customer remarked that he was impressed by the use of glass. To him, the transparency indicated honesty. It was in sync with what customers were expecting from a product like Swach.”
Further affirmation came in the form of a slew of awards, including the prestigious Asian Innovation Award 2010 awarded by the Wall Street Journal; the Sniff award for new product innovation given by LeapVault – Bloomberg; the Design of the Decade Award 2010 – Gold and the Pitch Best Marketing Award – Bottom of Pyramid 2010. Swach also won the ICIS Overall Winner 2010 and Product Innovation Awards and was declared the Gold Winner of AIMA Global Innovation Award for Case Studies 2010. Says Mr Nandy, “These awards are significant because they encourage and motivate the team. They also create awareness about Swach.”
Meanwhile, the rest of the world also began to take notice of Swach. Enquiries began to pour in from Latin America, South East Asia, China, etc. “We had not anticipated international attention. The only continent we had studied was Africa. Today we are genuinely surprised that developing and even developed countries want Swach,” says Mr Nandy.
He adds, “The problems that Swach solves are omnipresent. Problems like brackish water, turbid water and arsenic are limited to certain areas. But problems such as bacterial and viral contamination exist everywhere in India and around the world.”
In an initiative by Tata Consultancy Services, Tata Chemicals distributed 2,000 Swach purifiers to victims of the earthquake in Chile. Subsequent feedback has revealed that the products are doing well.
A deeper commitment
The company is keen to follow up on the international queries it has received. Mr Nandy adds, “International expansion needs to be carefully thought through. We will have to evolve an international model. We need to ramp up production considerably or set up a factory abroad. Issues such as transportation, logistics, etc need to be considered.”
Currently the Swach bulb is manufactured in Haldia while the plastic body is manufactured in seven places where Swach is also assembled. The team is considering setting up another factory soon to meet the overwhelming demand for Swach.
For Tata Chemicals, Swach was never just a business. The team knows that success is not a measure of how many units of Swach are sold. It is more important to create awareness about the importance of clean drinking water. The team has been working with several NGOs, including the Sir Ratan Tata Trust and USAID, to promote awareness about safe drinking water among children in schools. They are also experimenting with some innovative ‘demand fulfilment models’ for rural areas with such agencies.
There are many expectations from Swach. R Mukundan, MD, Tata Chemicals, says, “Swach has reaffirmed the centrality of innovation and has added strength to our ‘Living Essentials’ vertical, whose main product earlier was iodised salt. Now we have to add more features to the product to deal with issues such as fluoride and arsenic. We also have to make the product more affordable to reach out to a wider audience at the bottom of the pyramid. In the future, food, energy and water will be among the top priorities for Tata Chemicals and Swach has a significant role to play in that effort.”
Through Swach, Tata Chemicals has certainly taken a small but extremely significant step towards ensuring clean drinking water for all.