Nirma and HLL: A Classic Laundry Detergent Market Share Battle


Hindustan Lever Limited (HLL), one of India’s largest consumer goods companies, established a robust position in the Indian powdered laundry detergent market in the 1950s and 1960s. Its flagship, high-end detergent, Surf, led the market, especially among urban, well-off people. In the 1970s, Karsanbhai Patel, a chemist and entrepreneur, introduced Nirma, a low-cost, low-quality powdered detergent for poor and lower-middle-class customers in the city of Ahmedabad. Over time, Nirma became one of the best-selling detergent powders in India and abroad, easily surpassing sales of Surf. HLL responded belatedly but strategically by introducing a low-cost detergent, Wheel, using a business model similar to Patel’s, and was finally able to counter Nirma.

This competition raises several questions for students. How did Karsanbhai Patel outwit HLL and Surf, a known product of superior quality? Did Nirma succeed by chance or through specific elements of Patel’s entrepreneurial approach? Was HLL’s initial inaction logical or just complacency? Was their strategic response in the right direction and adequate? How did these overall actions change the industry?

This case was prepared for inclusion in SAGE Business Cases primarily as a basis for classroom discussion or self-study, and is not meant to illustrate either effective or ineffective management styles. Nothing herein shall be deemed to be an endorsement of any kind. This case is for scholarly, educational, or personal use only within your university, and cannot be forwarded outside the university or used for other commercial purposes.

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