And that really paid off: Manforce now controls nearly 30% of the market, mostly selling flavoured versions of ribbed, ultra-thin, and dotted condoms. The company offers everything from chocolate and green apple to butterscotch and black grape varieties. Chocolate is its largest-selling flavour, and the northern state of Uttar Pradesh its biggest market.

Meanwhile, Skore Condoms, the country’s third-largest condom brand that was launched in 2012 by Chennai-based TTK, now makes over 40% of its sales from pina colada, banana, and other flavoured products.

“Flavours weren’t big, say five-to-six years ago,” Vishal Vyas, the company’s general manager of marketing, explained. “Now, flavoured dominates the segment, so much so that 46-47% of all condoms sold in India are flavoured.”

For Vyas, the trend has a lot to do with India’s changing sexual landscape, and the influence of young shoppers who are seeking out exciting new options. “(India’s youth) are more assertive and they know what they want…it isn’t just about plain or ribbed anymore…now they are asking for flavoured condoms,” he added.

And that might have something to do with the increasing access to pornography in India.

Changing times

According to Rajan Bhonsle, a Mumbai-based sex counsellor and an expert on sexual medicine, the availability of smartphones in the country has increased the exposure to more sexually-explicit content. And the result is that oral sex, for instance, is becoming much more common.

“Instances of oral sex are increasing, especially for those who shy away from intercourse,” Bhonsle explained, attributing the popularity of flavoured condoms to this.

While there is little to data to prove Bhonsle’s claims, users of flavoured condoms Quartz spoke to suggest that chocolate and strawberry flavours are often part of their pleasure routine (read oral sex), at the behest of their male partner.

“I don’t feel much of a difference, except the taste and the smell which go away quickly, but my husband wanted to try it just out of curiosity while having oral sex so we started using it a few years ago,” Kanika, a 30-year-old communications professional, told Quartz, adding that Durex’s green apple variant was their preferred choice.

The brand, sold by Reckitt Benckiser (RB) India, has also noticed the popularity of flavoured condoms and has hinted that it will step up its launches in the category. Currently, even though flavoured condoms don’t account for too much in sales, Durex’s cherry flavoured variant sells the most, followed by the apple flavoured option. RB’s share in the condom market in India, where it sells brands such as Durex and Kohinoor, is around 8%.

Rohit Jindal, Reckitt Benckiser India’s chief marketing officer, hinted that there could be more Indianised flavours in the pipeline. “Consumers like flavours and scents that are local and familiar,” he explained, declining to reveal any further details about the company’s plans.

Manforce is one step ahead. It already has some local flavours in its portfolio, notably a jasmine flavoured condom that is helping the brand build a solid market in the south, where the flower is particularly popular, and known to boost sexual desire. Chatterjee, however, doesn’t believe there’s a correlation between oral sex and the use of flavoured condoms in India; he says it’s more about disguising the smell of latex.

But no matter what, experimental consumers aren’t the whole story. The popularity of flavoured variants also has a lot to do with the difficulty of selling contraceptives to shoppers who are often embarrassed to ask for what they want directly.

The condom economy

Unlike markets in the West where packs of condoms are easily available in grocery stores, such shops in India rarely stock rubbers. As a result, most brands rely heavily on pushing their products through pharmacies and local chemists, where consumers have to directly ask a salesperson for what they want.

“There is a kind of embarrassment, consumers want to minimise their time in transactions and want to get done with it as fast as possible. So the effort which you take to create brand awareness and brand recall is of no use, when the consumer comes to purchase,” Vyas said in an interview with exchange4media, a news portal, last year.

And that could offer another explanation for why flavoured options have become increasingly popular.

“So they prefer using the flavour instead of using the word condom while asking for it,” explains Mankind’s Chatterjee, adding that Indian consumers are more likely to ask for a chocolate flavour.

Either way, flavoured variants are helping the industry develop. But there’s a long way to go before the business becomes bigger in India.

“We still haven’t reached a level of maturity, as a country as well as for the category, where products such as flavoured condoms will actually help bring in the volumes,” ad veteran KV Sridhar said. “These are sheer marketing tactics employed by companies to keep the excitement going…”

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