Sujata Pawar, Avni’s Co-founder, Empowers Women With Safe and Sustainable Menstrual Care
StartupTalky presents Recap’22. This is a series of interviews in which we conduct in-depth discussions with founders & industry leaders to understand their growth in 2022 and their predictions for the future.
The menstrual care industry refers to the production and distribution of products related to menstrual hygiene, such as sanitary pads, tampons, menstrual cups, and panty liners. The industry has grown significantly in recent years with increasing awareness of menstrual health and the need for sustainable and eco-friendly options. Companies are investing in research and development to create products that cater to diverse needs and preferences and address issues such as comfort, absorbency, and environmental impact.
The industry is expected to continue its growth in the coming years, driven by factors such as rising disposable incomes, urbanization, and greater access to menstrual care products through e-commerce platforms. According to market research reports, the global menstrual care industry is expected to have a CAGR of around 5% to 6% between 2021 and 2026.
However, the growth rate may vary in different regions, with developing countries witnessing higher growth due to increasing awareness and better access to menstrual care products.
For this Interview, we invited, Sujata Pawar, Co-founder of Avni, and we talked about the growth, challenges, insights, and future opportunities in the feminine hygiene industry.
StartupTalky: What products does your company sell? What was the motivation/vision with which you started?
Sujata: I (Sujata Pawar) and along with my husband Apurv Agrawal founded Avni in April 2021 to provide toxin-free, functional menstrual care products for women based on their flow, body type, and comfort. My anecdotal experience as a woman is the primary motivation behind setting up this start-up. I’ve had periods and the challenges that stem from them for the past 18 years, and I can confidently state that commercial pads have always caused redness, rashes, discomfort, and various types of skin infections. I began looking for better alternatives 8 years ago and was surprised to discover that none of the existing brands in the market catered to these considerations.
So I set out on a mission to provide well-researched menstrual hygiene products that are not only appropriate for sensitive areas but also eco-friendly and safe for sanitation workers. After doing my research and applying my original ideas, we launched our first product- Avni Anti-microbial reusable cloth pad- Avni Lush & Avni Fluff, India’s first tested cloth pad that not only absorbs period leaks but also protects against infections. Our product line also includes Avni Natural Cotton Sanitary Pads, Avni Period Wear Wash, Avni Menstrual Cup & Wash, Avni Antibacterial Soothing Intimate Care Wipes, and Organic Cotton Pantyliners. In addition to our massive online presence on major e-commerce platforms such as Amazon, Flipkart, OneGreen, Youcare, Smytten, and Woovly, have 26 retail outlets in southern India where our products are well received as a reasonable alternative for plastic-based sanitary products.
StartupTalky: What other products/features have been added in the past year? What is/are the USP/s of your products?
Sujata: Avni means ‘The Earth,’ and as a female hygiene brand, we are guided by Grand Moms and Ayurveda to offer our customers sustainable and safe products. Our products are proudly Made in India, and we believe that relying on locally sourced ingredients and skills leads to true empowerment. We take great care to guarantee that all of our ingredients are organic and non-toxic. Moreover, all of our packaging is 100% recyclable and eco-friendly.
We distinguish ourselves from the competition by focusing on a modern approach to time-tested ancient methods of managing menstrual cycles using high-quality natural ingredients backed by women themselves. As an example. Anti-microbial reusable cloth pads are designed to be effective and low- maintenance, particularly for impoverished rural women. The anti-microbial feature reduces the risk of bacterial infections, and disinfecting the product requires very little water and regular soap, which can be done while other clothes are being washed. We’ve also set up 24-hour helplines to help menstruators with product-related questions.
StartupTalky: How has the feminine hygiene industry changed in recent years, and how has your company adapted to these changes?
Sujata: While the feminine hygiene industry in India is still in its infancy, the recent growth is primarily attributable to widespread public awareness of the significance of intimate hygiene.
A decade ago, the only predicament with menstrual hygiene was the effectiveness of sanitary pads. All of the major brands addressed a few parameters such as pad size, dryness, and wettability. With the entry of new-age start-ups in the menstrual hygiene space, the emphasis has shifted dramatically from effectiveness to comfort, and from plastic-based sanitary products to organic and sustainable sanitary pads. Products such as pantyliners, tampons, menstrual cups, and intimate cleansers, which were previously unavailable, have begun to gain popularity.
In our initiatives, we developed holistic solutions for women of varying ages and demographics, from menarche to menopause. After recognizing the limitations of traditional plastic pads, we took on the herculean task of redefining the traditional way of menstruating by assisting women in making an eco-friendly switch.
StartupTalky: How do you stay up-to-date on the latest trends and developments in your industry?
Sujata: We stay up to date on the latest trends and developments in our sector through innovation, automation, and digitization to deliver our customers with enhanced efficiency through leading material flow offerings. As we have decided to work toward a more sustainable future, our daily operations are guided by our desire to create more resource-efficient sanitary products that are safe for both our manufacturing workers as well as our loyal customers.
StartupTalky: What key metrics do you track to check the company’s growth and performance?
Sujata: Running a successful business necessitates a thorough examination of the work, sales, and financial outcomes. Therefore, at Avni, we prioritize sales revenue as it informs us a lot concerning our company. Month-to-month sales findings suggest whether people are interested in buying our products, whether our advertising endeavors are paying off, and, most importantly, whether we are still in the competition, among other things. There is a plethora of key performance indicators to measure performance, but measuring them all is pointless. We track business metrics that show how our company is doing based on our goals. Tracking irrelevant KPIs only serves to divert attention away from the things that matter.
StartupTalky: What were the most significant challenges your company faced in the past year and how did you overcome them?
Sujata: As a D2C brand, we faced numerous difficulties since our inception. We recognized that transitioning from conventional period products is not easy for every woman. So, for Avni to establish itself as a trustworthy women’s health brand, we worked hard to garner the support of dedicated doctors and medical experts and provide a 24X7 Avni Buddy service helpline. Our customer service representatives strive to identify each customer’s concerns and guide them toward better product application and applicability.
There is also a large hindrance when it comes to serving rural areas, where adoption rates are lower than in urban areas. To address this, we launched the DAAG project, in which we collaborate with NGOs to provide educational and awareness sessions to young girls from rural communities and remote areas. We also donate menstrual health kits to resource-poor menstruators like sex workers, waste pickers, and college dropouts who rely on low-quality sanitary products through this social outreach project.
StartupTalky: Repeat purchase is one of the most important parameters on which most eCommerce brands are betting. How do you keep your customer engaged in stopping churn?
Sujata: At Avni, we truly understand the value of retaining an existing customer, which is far less expensive than acquiring a new one. As each customer is unique, we categorize them using different metrics such as age, gender, job title, location, interests, purchase history, and more. This enables us to target the various segments with customized messaging that speaks directly to them and addresses their specific needs and desires. We even provide an incentive in our re-engagement emails to increase conversions. This could be a discount code, free delivery, a free item, or another incentive to entice the customer to return.
StartupTalky: What are the different strategies you use for marketing? Tell us about any growth hack which you pulled off.
Sujata: When publicizing the most basic product – the sanitary pad – female hygiene brands have encountered several barriers from abashed viewers. Keeping the existing problem in mind, Avni has emerged as a new-age brand catering to a whole new market of intimate hygiene products such as tampons, menstrual cups, and panty liners, we are marketing our products online and offline in such a way that it generates the proper conversation about intimate hygiene, which we have been embarrassed about for many years.
At the same time, we are extremely concentrating on organic and low-cost performance marketing efforts. Social media and personalized email marketing have been a go-to medium for us as it is the fastest growing channel to connect with customers and bolster product sales. Moreover, as most customers prefer to have a comprehensive knowledge of the product before making a purchase, so our real-time conversations with experts to answer their questions are certainly making a big difference for a brand.
StartupTalky: What are the important tools and software you use to run your business smoothly?
Sujata: From the very beginning of our journey, we emphasized taking the help of technology in growing and building the business. We have been using various tools on the website to help us communicate with customers effectively and stay connected once they have visited our website. At the same time, it is important to have tools such as OMS and WMS tools to manage the regular order inflow as well as the warehouse inventory.
StartupTalky: What opportunities do you see for future growth in your industry in India and the world? What kind of difference in market behavior have you seen within states in India?
Sujata: Menstrual hygiene is gradually garnering acceptance in mainstream culture, and the stigma associated with it is beginning to disintegrate in both rural and urban communities.
However, the adoption rate is slower in rural areas than in urban areas where educated women have greater access to resources. Nonetheless, the trend of eco-friendly products in female hygiene will redefine the practice of menstrual hygiene in rural areas in the coming years due to their cost-effectiveness and reusability. Greater awareness about feminine hygiene and the benefits of using organic personal care products will further drive market growth in India.
StartupTalky: What lessons did your team learn in the past year and how will these inform your plans and strategies?
Sujata: One of the biggest learnings for our team has been to stay focused on the basics and make sure we stick to the basics. Be it marketing, sales, product launch, or new product development, the basics never change. Our plan is simple, find the right need gap, develop functional products at an affordable price to customers, and be present on the right distribution channels for customer discovery.
StartupTalky: How do you plan to expand the Customers, SKUS, and team base in the future?
Sujata: At Avni, we believe that female hygiene products are a necessity for all menstruators. Therefore, we intend to target every corner of the country via our online and offline models and do not want to be limited to a particular geography. We simultaneously seek to create a world where menstruation is not considered taboo anymore, where period poverty is non-existent and every menstruator is proud of bleeding.
In rural areas, we are focusing our efforts on increasing menstrual hygiene management awareness while also creating job opportunities. Each cloth pad that a customer purchase is meticulously hand-stitched by our tribe of incredible women spread across rural India. 8% of our profits are dedicated to empowering women and girls through education and high-quality products. So, for every pad purchased, one woman gains economic stability. We hope to reach 10 million women through our products, ambassador network, and micro-entrepreneurship initiatives as part of our ongoing efforts to improve women’s lives. Simultaneously, we are working diligently to broaden our product portfolio and strengthen our team to meet our business objectives.
StartupTalky: With so much hype around d2c brands spending on ads, what will be your growth strategy organic or inorganic? How to plan to work around SEO and content marketing?
Sujata: There has almost certainly never been a better opportunity in India to initiate a D2C feminine hygiene care brand. Owning much to the access of smartphones, the propagation of the internet, and, most importantly, menstrual hygiene understanding, customers are regularly considering a host of new products, which is bolstering the development prospects of feminine health.
Based on previous purchases, preferences, shopping behavior, and demographics, D2C empowers us to recognize each customer’s interest and create specific deals to drive purchasing decisions using a data-driven strategy. The direct-to-consumer subscription service model also provides shoppers with a more convenient, personalized, and cost-effective way to purchase what they require regularly. We have also seen referrals and word of mouth having a tremendous impact on our business. At the same time, direct interaction with clients during every phase of the purchasing process, including after sales, further enables us in driving organic traffic.
Sujata: As the demand for personal hygiene products grows, we anticipate the emergence of more startups and brands in this space. For any D2C brand to stand out among its rivals, they need a business idea worth building a business around. They must also identify existing need disparity and assess their market potential to address the same. Lastly, it is critical to be able to sell products at a price point that makes sense for the customer while still allowing the brand to make a profit on each sale.
We thank Sujata Pawar for spending her valuable time and sharing her learnings with all of us.