Meet the Indian doctor selling Ayurvedic products worth up to Rs 8 Cr per month

The chief physician at his family’s Ayurveda hospital, S Sajikumar launched Dhathri Ayurveda as a consumer brand in 2003 after its hair oil product generated huge demand. Today, Dhathri Ayurveda is a popular South Indian brand of Ayurvedic products with a GMV of up to Rs 8 crore per month.
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S Sajikumar spent his childhood watching his grandfather create Ayurvedic formulations and medicines at his clinic in Kayamkulam, Kerala. The boy fell in love with Ayurveda at an early age and decided to become an Ayurvedic doctor.

The grandfather, Parameshwara Vaidyar, was a well-reputed medical practitioner who founded ‘Dhathri’, a tradition of Ayurvedic medicine. His setup and medical practice, passed down through generations, was eventually handed over to Sajikumar.

“After getting a medical degree from the Trivandrum Ayurveda College, I took over the Dhathri Ayurveda Hospital and Panchakarma centre in Kayamkulam and became the chief physician,” says Sajikumar in an interview with SMBStory.

In 2003, the doctor turned into an entrepreneur. He launched Dhathri Ayurveda as a consumer brand for Ayurvedic products after realising the true potential of Dhathri’s formulations. Today, Dhathri Ayurveda is a popular brand of herbal and natural products in South India, and has over 100 products in the personal care and beauty segment.

Sajikumar doesn’t disclose the brand’s annual sales figures, but says his business is clocking a monthly GMV of up to Rs 8 crore. Despite the slowdown caused by COVID-19, Dhathri has grown 40 percent in a year and is looking to cross Rs 200 crore turnover in two years, according to him.

From a hospital to a consumer brand

Save for one Dhathri product’s immense popularity, Sajikumar may have never started a consumer brand. The doctor noticed the hospital’s hair oil, made in its backyard, was becoming popular. It was originally meant to treat patients with hair and scalp issues, but the patients wanted to continue using the hair oil even after the treatment period was over.

“Word started to spread about our hair oil and demand grew rapidly. Everyone wanted to use Dhathri Ayurveda Hospital’s hair oil. I felt the efficacy of such Ayurvedic products should not be restricted to our backyard and to a few people. So I saw an opportunity to launch this hair oil product in the market and started the Dhathri Ayurveda brand,” says the 53-year-old.

Since then, Dhathri has launched a range of hair care and skincare products. Today, it employs close to 300 people, and has its own team of Ayurveda product researchers and developers.

Dhathri Ayurveda's herbal hair oil

A legacy of Ayurveda

Sajikumar attributes the success of the Dhathri brand to the available existing knowledge of Ayurveda.

“This is a capital intensive category, and initially, access to required funds was a challenge. We started as a bootstrapped company but we already had the biggest resource at hand: the knowledge and legacy of Ayurveda,” he says.

“The success of our initial products, such as hair oil, took us by surprise. The revenue they generated helped us grow. We also received support from the Kerala State Government though KSIDC (Kerala State Industrial Development Corporation), and KINFRA (Kerala Industrial Infrastructure Development). This helped us access a bigger fund pool as well as land that was needed to set up a larger facility at Nellad.”

Manufacturing strategy

Another reason for Dhathri’s success was its easy access to hospital patients. As Sajikumar ran the hospital, he and his team listened to the people’s pain points, analysed them, and translated those needs into Ayurvedic products.

“These insights were the bedrock of all our R&D and business strategy. Based on these insights, we were able to tailor-make products and launch them according to consumer needs and preferences,” he says.

Dhathri’s manufacturing units in Kerala are located at Nellad and Kayamkulam, and it also has facilities in Uttarakhand and Pondicherry.

“The ingredients used in our products are procured directly from an ecosystem of farmers whom we closely work with to ensure that the best quality herbs are grown. These ingredients are collected and then processed in our laboratories to extract the maximum benefit,” he says.

Using ancient Ayurveda texts to ensure authenticity, the ingredients are then formulated and mass-manufactured at the units.

“For instance, our Dhathri Hair Care Plus Herbal Oil, which is our flagship and fastest selling product is prepared through special Ayurvedic processes called Sneha Paka Vidhi and Ksheera Avarthy. It involves mixing the right ingredients, in the right proportion and in the right manner, so that no moisture enters the mixture at any stage during the preparation,” he explains.

“The ingredients are not added in one shot. Instead, they are added over 21 days to ensure quality and maximum benefits. It also does not use any preservatives,” he adds.

Dhathri Ayurveda's herbal shampoo

A hotly contested market

The Dhathri brand, popular in Kerala and Tamil Nadu, is operating in a market that is seeing the comeback of Ayurveda on a national level. As Indian consumers increasingly reject chemical-laden products made from artificial substances, the Ayurveda market in India is expected to grow from Rs 30,000 crore in 2018 to Rs 71,087 crore in 2024, according to Research and Markets data.

Large brands such as Himalaya Herbals, Khadi Natural, Vaadi Herbals, Forest Essentials, and Biotique have made their mark in the space. The newer brands have been quick to notice the trend and are focusing on treating skin problems and health ailments holistically.

Dhathri, a 17-year-old brand with a much longer legacy in Ayurveda, is uniquely positioned in the market, according to Sajikumar.

“We have our own Ayurveda hospital, wellness clinic, strong R&D, and a proactive marketing and sales team. Not many companies can claim to have all these. Our biggest strengths are our people, our legacy, and the ecosystem we work with,” he says.

COVID-19 impact and future plans

“When others may have struggled to survive, we have been able to grow even in the face of adversity because we have stayed focused on solving specific problems of consumers,” says Sajikumar.

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, Dhathri’s supply chains were disrupted, but the brand quickly regrouped and focused its efforts on hand washes and sanitisers.

“This was a blessing in disguise for us as it contributed to our bottom line and helped us register 40 percent growth this year despite a slowdown,” Sajikumar says.

“With the renewed interest in health and immunity post-COVID-19, our business founded on Ayurveda is poised towards a higher growth trajectory in the times to come,” he adds.

Dhathri aims to become a leading player in the personal care and wellness category in India by 2025 in India. To reach this goal, it is looking at significantly investing in the brand, launching new product categories such as nutraceuticals, and increasing its distribution presence in Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Maharashtra, and Gujarat.

Edited by Kanishk Singh