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Baba Ramdev’s new babies: a university, incense sticks, and your infant’s food

Baba Ramdev-Patanjali-Ivy League
EPA/Jagadeesh NV
Next up, protein shakes?
By Manu Balachandran
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Yoga guru Ramdev’s flagship company has already achieved what most entrepreneurs can only dream of—taking on some of the country’s oldest consumer business giants. Now, his Patanjali Ayurved has set its sights on an equally daunting sector: education.

Ramdev’s firm has acquired around 1,500 acres in New Delhi to set up a university that, Ramdev claims, would be “at par with the Ivy Leagues.”

“The standard of education would be such that students of Harvard and Cambridge would be tempted to study here,” Ramdev had said earlier this year.

Every year, around five million Indians graduate from colleges while 300,000 students go abroad to pursue their studies. The country’s education industry was worth Rs6.42 lakh crore ($96 billion) in the last financial year, according to credit rating agency India Ratings and Research.

Earlier, in 2014, Ramdev had announced plans to set up 700 schools patterned on India’s ancient gurukul system—a residential institution where the students live with teachers. He already runs the Acharyakulam in Haridwar where some 425 students are currently enrolled.

The university and schools are part of the yoga guru’s plans to spend a staggering Rs25,000 crore ($3.8 billion) over the next five years on three key areas: health, business, and education.

A “natural” swashbuckler

Ramdev’s move into education comes at a time when Patanjali has been expanding its portfolio.

Set up in 1997 as a small pharmacy, Patanjali has largely focussed on healthcare, packaged food, and beauty and personal care. It now wants a big piece of the $50-billion consumer goods pie, competing with multinationals such as Unilever and Colgate, besides domestic majors like Dabur and Emami.

Last week, it announced plans to launch over a 100 products in the home-worship category, under the brand name Patanjali Astha. For millions of Indians, simple religious rituals are a part of daily routine, be it in neighbourhood temples or at home. This includes, for instance, lighting lamps at dawn and dusk, burning incense sticks, and applying vermillion or ash on foreheads—all involving products mostly bought from the market. This market in India is worth some Rs8,000 crore.

“Research has shown that a lot of established players use chemicals in worship products like incense sticks and hoop which end up harming consumers,” Patanjali’s managing director Acharya Balkrishna said on Aug. 26. “There is a need for natural products in this space.”

“Natural products” is also what Patanjali promises to sell in another segment it plans to expand into: baby care.

A fortnight ago, under the Sishu Care brand, it launched a range of products including hair oil, massage oil, body lotion, and body wash gel. This has put Patanjali in direct competition with consumer goods giant Johnson & Johnson, which controls nearly 75% of the over Rs4,000-crore baby care market. In September, it plans to launch baby foods, taking on market leader Nestle in the country.

Since the launch of Patanjali’s products, Ramdev has maintained that his company uses natural ingredients and “herbs-minerals” to manufacture products. The company claims to grow many endangered herbs on its farmlands.

Earlier this month, it announced the setting up of a huge “food, agro, and herbal park” on a 230-acre plot in MIHAN, a special economic zone in Maharashtra.

By March 2017, Patanjali is eyeing a turnover of Rs10,000 crore. And by 2020, it is expected to hit the Rs20,000-crore mark, a report by financial services firm India Infoline says.

“We aim to bring the best products at the most affordable rates,” Balkrishna said on Aug. 26. “We are aiming to be the number one in each and every segment.”

How’s that for ambition?

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