- The 300-year-old industry is working with the government to introduce BIS certification
- India has over 1000 manufacturers and a Rs 7000-crore worth branded industry
- India exports agarbattis worth about Rs 900 crore a year to nearly 150 countries
The humble and simple agarbattis, which lend a spiritual fragrance to our lives, will now come to our homes and religious congregations with improved quality and health safety. The agarbatti manufacturers are working with the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) to soon introduce quality standards and certification, says office bearers of the All India Agarbathi Manufacturers Association (AIAMA).
"We have been working with the BIS and the government to introduce BIS certification scheme for agarbatti manufacturers to ensure quality of our products. Due to COVID-19 situation, it got a bit delayed," said Arjun Ranga, President, AIAMA. The move was started after Indian agarbattis, a 300-plus year old unique Indian industry and made from natural raw materials, was accused a few years ago with unsubstantiated reports of causing pollution and health issues, they said.
The Indian agarbatti industry has over 1,000 organised branded manufacturers, mostly second or third generation, with a combined turnover of over Rs 7,000 crore a year, growing at 5-7 per cent a year. The unbranded and unorganised market is estimated to be about Rs 4,000 crore. The average revenue of branded manufacturers is about Rs 15 lakh to Rs 2 crore a year. Most of the brands have a strong regional turf and brand equity. They also export agarbattis worth about Rs 900 crore a year to nearly 150 countries, mainly to the US, the South American continent, Middle East and South East Asia having a strong Indian diaspora.
Unlike most other FMGC products, the agarbattis have 11,000-plus exclusive distributors in the country, mostly running the business for generations. Over four lakh people are employed in this cottage industry, mostly women. It is estimated that India lights about 50 crore sticks a day for spiritual blessings, they said.
Due to availability of raw materials, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamilnadu were the main manufacturing centres until a few decades ago. Now the industry has a PAN-India presence, with manufacturing hubs in places like Ahmedabad, Surat, UP, Nagpur, Balasore in Orissa and some pockets in Madhya Pradesh. Semi-mechanisation has improved production, because cheap labour is an issue to maintain the thin margins.
The biggest issue is raw materials - mainly bamboo sticks, Jigat powder made from bark of its tree and charcol. The industry requires about 15,000 tonnes of raw material a month. Jigat is grown in forests and only tribals can harvest as it is classified as a Minor Forest Produce (MFP) item. Now efforts are on to grow bamboo and Jigat in non-forest areas to meet the demand. The fragrance and aroma is a trade secret of the perfumer specialist turned agarbatti manufacturer, who normally inherit the recipe. "Attempts of some large corporates to corner a good share of the market in the past was unsuccessful mainly because of the nature of our industry. Those who still remain in this business outsource from us and only market the products," said Arjun Ranga.
He said agarbattis are used in many Buddhist tradition countries like Vietnam, Thailand and Malaysia, but the nature of ingredients and consumption pattern are different. There was an attempt in the past to dump these incense sticks into the Indian market, but did not succeed. In the west, agarbattis are used as a cheap room freshener than a spiritual product, and aroma industry uses over 500 perfume fragrances for these products.