Shankar Prasad, CEO and Founder, Plum
Image: Neha Mithbawkar for Forbes India
The concept of vegan beauty and body products is gradually gaining popularity in India. But it was not a well-known concept back in 2013, until Shankar Prasad launched Plum, a 100 percent vegan, cruelty-free and toxin-free beauty brand. After spending 13 years as a professional, Prasad decided to become an entrepreneur and change things for good.
“Yes, we were one of the first, if not the first, to bring vegan products to India. This was inspired by what we saw happening in Europe, where veganism has become very strong as a way of life. And Plum as a brand borrows from a lot of European values,” says Prasad, who has a BTech in chemical engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology-Bombay and an MBA from the Indian School of Business (Hyderabad), along with stints at Hindustan Unilever Ltd (HUL), McKinsey and Everstone Capital.
At Everstone, Prasad got the opportunity to help set up the India operations of Faces, a Canada-based cosmetics company, by raising capital, building a team, setting up distribution, and handling all major operations. The experiences continue to prove useful in his entrepreneurial journey.
Mumbai-based Plum launched in 2014, with around 15 products that were made from sustainable, plant-based, organic ingredients. “It took two days to get the first order,” recalls 48-year-old Prasad. “I felt a great sense of achievement after selling my first product online. Personally, that was a special day. I was ecstatic. And we decided to celebrate that day as Plum’s birthday... every year we announce a big sale on this day.”
Cut to 2022. The direct-to-consumer (D2C) brand
serves over half a million customers a month. Plum has a portfolio of vegan, cruelty-free and toxin-free beauty products across skincare, haircare, personal care
, and makeup. It sells from its own website as well as from marketplaces like Nykaa
, Amazon, Flipkart and Purplle
. Its offline presence is spread across 250 towns and cities in India, through nearly 1,000 assisted outlets such as Shoppers Stop, and over 10,000 unassisted outlets (such as grocery stores). Sixty percent of the sales come from online marketplaces and Plum’s own website, while 40 percent comes from offline points of sale. Over the last two years, Plum has added two more brands: Phy, a men’s grooming brand, and Plum BodyLovin’, a range of bath and body products. The startup has three exclusive outlets in Mumbai and Chennai, and plans to scale it to 12 in the next three months.
Recently, the beauty brand
raised ₹270 crore in fresh capital led by A91 Partners. Existing investors Unilever Ventures and Faering Capital also participated in the round. The funding now values the firm at around ₹1,900 crore. Plum has raised over ₹380 crore in institutional capital so far. “We turned profitable in FY16 and the moment we turned profitable, I knew we were doing something right. Till 2018 we remained bootstrapped. But to scale further, we needed funds and that’s when I decided to reach out to investors,” says Prasad. The company’s net revenue for FY21 stood at ₹91 crore and is estimating a revenue of ₹175 crore in FY22.
Sameer Shroff, co-founder and managing director of Faering Capital, says, “We invested in Plum due to the strength of Shankar and his team’s purpose-driven mission to build India’s best clean-beauty brand
. This has been clearly visible in the company’s portfolio of products and loyal customer following. The company is now well on track as it continues to expand across categories, channels, and regions across India.”
Impact of the Pandemic
The eight-year-old startup took a bad hit during the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic
. Just two days before the national lockdown was announced, Plum had a big sale on its website and ₹1 crore worth of stock got stuck in its warehouse. However, the company managed to recover fast, and Prasad gives all credit to his team members who stuck around despite the pay cuts. “I also give equal credit to the beauty advisors who physically went to sell our products at retail shops. With so much fear around, they still went on-ground for the sales. So kudos to them, as they were also on the frontline. But yes, it was a crazy phase. I feel like I have personally aged five years in the last two years.”
Nowadays, consumers have started looking for clean beauty products made from natural ingredients. The clean beauty market has become a fast-growing category and demand is projected to continue to grow. According to Statista Research, the global clean beauty market is estimated to reach $22 billion by 2024.
In India, the idea of clean beauty products is not spreading as fast as it should, according to digital content creator Pankti Pandey, popularly known as ‘zerowasteadda’ on Instagram, who promotes brands selling sustainable and cruelty-free personal care and beauty products
. “The amount of education from the brands needs to improve. They need to better explain the benefits of using vegan products. The brands sell and promote their products, but they are not doing it the right way. It surely has become a trend to go vegan and use vegan products, but the consumers are still not completely able to connect with the idea. Brands say the products are environment-friendly, but people don’t know ‘why and how’. Consumers need to be told how their consumption is impacting the environment.”
Many new startups are emerging in the clean beauty segment to tap into Indian consumers who are gradually becoming more aware of ingredients used in the products they use daily. “The competition is very high. Entering the business is not as difficult as running it successfully. With so much digitisation, it’s easy to copy ideas, start a new brand, but it’s all about staying relevant and providing quality products. Entering the market is not difficult, scaling up is,” says Prasad, who believes that as a brand, it’s important to be relevant with emerging needs, and offer products for evolving lifestyles. “The brands that have not succeeded are brands that have not evolved fast enough.” Plum’s highest selling products are moisturisers, face washes and sunscreens. They are also expanding into related categories like haircare, makeup and body care.
Prasad is on a mission to make a positive impact around him on ground and he believes in genuinely living the purpose of being good which resonates with the tagline of Plum—‘be good’. “There’s a saying in Tamil which I often share with the young people in my team: ‘Stand on the seashore, grab a fistful of beach sand in your hand. What you know is what’s in your fist, but you don’t know the ocean in front of you’. Similarly, as a brand, we know what we’ve got, we may think it’s enough because it’s filling up my entire hand. But there’s so much more ahead of you. There’s always room for more. That’s the mindset with which I love to operate.”