Starting in rural Kerala, this Padma Shri awardee built a Rs 135 Cr Ayurvedic medicines business

By Palak Agarwal|17th Sep 2020
Pankajakasthuri Herbals’ founder Dr J Hareendran Nair started by making Ayurvedic medicines himself and distributed them by driving his bike for 200-300 kilometres. Today, the brand exports globally and rakes Rs 135 crore annual turnover.
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There’s a famous Malayalam proverb that goes by — “Patikkuka, patippikkuka, pracharippikkuka, athil jeevikkuka,” which means ‘study, teach, propagate, and live on that.’ Following this principle, Dr J Hareendran Nair has spent over three decades as an entrepreneur, starting from a small makeshift Ayurvedic clinic to becoming one of Kerala’s largest herbal drug company.


Accoladed with a Padma Shri award for his contribution and services to the cause of Ayurveda starting in 1984, Hareendran had humble beginnings. Speaking to SMBStory, Hareendran narrates how he went on to building a Rs 135 crore business venture. 

“I hail from a poor family background where my father was a document writer and my mother a housewife. I neither had an entrepreneurial background not did I think of becoming one. I completed my graduation from Government Ayurveda College, Thiruvananthapuram in 1983, after which I was appointed as a Research Fellow in Research Institute at Poojapura in 1986. I was earning sufficiently for my family,” Hareendran tells SMBStory

However, Hareendran always wanted to serve the people. After working for almost two years, he quit his job and set up his own business of manufacturing Ayurvedic medicines. 


However, he didn’t have enough funds. He borrowed Rs 50,000 from friends and family to set up a small manufacturing space in Poovachal, a rural area south of Thiruvananthapuram. 


He started Sree Dhanwantari Ayurvedics in 1988, which he later named it as Pankajakasthuri Herbals India Pvt Ltd. 




Humble beginnings

Between 1983-1986, before joining the government job, Hareendran had set up a small Ayurvedic clinic, but had to close it as running it had become difficult.


At Pankajakasthuri Herbals, Hareendran started off by researching and making medicines himself in a small facility. From procurement to manufacturing to sales and marketing, he single-handedly operated the business during the initial days. He used to load his bike with medicines from Thiruvananthapuram and drove for around 200-300 kilometres to meet doctors, and distribute them across shops in rickshaws. 

“The time was challenging but I cherish those moments a lot. It helped me to stay true to my motive under all circumstances. The doctors didn’t use to sell my medicines through the ethical means, forcing me to sell the products over the counter with the help of the less conventional route of marketing and advertisements— which was unheard of in Kerala for a medicine manufacturer,” says Hareendran. 

Competing with established companies like Dabur, Dr Vaidya, Kerala Ayurveda was difficult for him at that young age while he was struggling to gain a foothold. But he never lost hope. 


“I wanted to help treat the masses from a vast range of medical conditions. I developed Breathe Eazy as one of the first products to treat respiratory ailments — including asthma and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease — by concocting a unique combination of 14 herbs and natural ingredients in specific composition as per international standards,” he adds.


Hareendran received a good response from customers, which encouraged him to develop more specialised products that focus on various medical conditions and also improve the overall immunity of the customers. 


He developed Orthoherb that assists in controlling inflammatory joint pains and gives relief from back and knee pain. He also made Pankajakasthuri cough syrup for dry and persistent cough, Pankajakasthuri antacid, and Pankajakasthuri Mayukhi Herbal Hair Oil to prevent premature greying and hair fall. Pankajakasthuri Ilogen Excel, Hareendran says, rejuvenates damaged pancreatic islet cells and strengthens them to produce insulin, and also helps to eliminate the common symptoms associated with diabetes like numbness in hands etc. 


Pankajakasthuri Herbals has grown month-on-month and in a span of over 32 years, the company now has 350 classic preparations that it sells through Ayurvedic doctors, over the counter pharmacies, exports, and ecommerce. It sells its products through ecommerce portals like Amazon, Flipkart, 1MG.com, Medlife, and Netmeds, and exports the brand’s food supplements to the UK and the Middle East. 


Pankajakasthuri Herbals

Ayurvedic medicines by Pankajakasthuri Herbals



Spreading the knowledge

In his effort to fulfil his long-cherished ambition, Hareendran funded and established one of the first Ayurveda medical colleges in Kerala in 2002. Located at Kattakada, the college imparts Ayurvedic education to almost 250 undergraduate and post-graduate students with 80 faculty members. A 150-bedded hospital is also attached to the medical college that caters to patients from all over the world. 


Hareendran says that Pankajakasthuri helps patients hailing from economically backward families on humanitarian grounds and by providing free medical treatment.

 

The company’s Pankajakasthuri Panchakarama Centre is dedicated to authentic Ayurveda treatment and strictly adheres to Ayurveda’s age-old practices. 


With the global pandemic impacting the lives of millions of people, Hareendran and his team initiated the process of repurposing an existing immunity booster – ZingiVir-H, towards the prevention of COVID-19. The company has been running clinical trials across the country to test the efficacy of the drug, which it recently completed. 


Pankajakasthuri Herbals submitted the first report of ZingiVir-H to Ministry of AYUSH at the end of June 2020, while the interim report of 42 patients examined by a peer review committee was submitted on July 8. The primary endpoint result of 116 patients was submitted on July 24 wherein the company says patients reported negative RT-PCR results in an average of five days after taking the drug. Furthermore, the company is soon planning to announce the results of the ongoing clinical trial of 135 patients.

Challenges and the competition

As per the joint market research of Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), the Indian Ayurveda market is all set to register 16 percent growth (CAGR) by 2025. At present, the size of the domestic market is Rs 30,000 crore and Ayurveda’s market penetration is increasing in both rural and urban areas. 


Hareendran claims that the company is a completely research-oriented Ayurvedic company that has a strong emphasis on R&D allowing to produce safe, efficacious, and consistent remedies using basic principles of Ayurveda. 

“Raw materials are sourced from the best plantations, which are found on the slopes of the Himalayas and various parts of India.  A team of dedicated scientists and technologists ensure that raw materials and finished products undergo comprehensive testing. Though there are challenges like scarcity and endangered species of herbs like Jeevak and Rishabhak,” he explains. 

Hareendran also says that the demand for Ayurvedic products has increased. After a dip in the market between 1995 to 2005, the founder says that people are showing interest in Indian medicine.  While many Ayurvedic brands are herbominerals, Pankajakasthuri Herbals is based on the traditional Kerala Ayurveda methods. 




The way ahead

Pankajakasthuri is looking to ride the digital revolution by pursuing an aggressive ecommerce and digital marketing strategy, not just to tap millennials but also others. It plans to do this through partnerships with large e-retailers and its own portals and providing a vernacular focus to its campaigns to drive strong trends of consumption.


Hareendran is also working to create 120 more classical formations. 


Edited by Kanishk Singh

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