EXECUTIVES at firms selling consumer staples like to think of themselves as “marketing gurus”. But how many could actually contort themselves into the lotus position, let alone attempt a headstand? Such feats are nothing for the top brass at Patanjali, an Indian purveyor of toothpaste, cooking oil, herbal concoctions and much else. Fronted by a bona fide guru, the firm’s marketing strategy—play up the benefits of natural products, then paint foreign multinationals as latter-day imperialists—delivers over $1bn in annual sales, up tenfold in four years. Having dismissed the firm as a fad, the likes of Colgate-Palmolive and Unilever are emulating it.

Baba Ramdev (pictured), an ascetic yogi who is the public face of the brand, makes for an unconventional capitalist symbol. But with Acharya Balkrishna, a devotee of his who serves as the firm’s boss and majority-owner, he has built a consumer-goods powerhouse that is vying with the business-school graduates at the multinationals. Starting out two decades ago as an apothecary of traditional Ayurvedic potions, Patanjali has expanded into personal care, home products, packaged food and more. Mr Ramdev’s beard and saffron…Continue reading