“Our priority going forward is to support our global customers as they expand into new and emerging markets. An integral facet of our global strategy centres around sustainability. We have an obligation to help our customers save on water and energy, and drive food safety best practice,” said Douglas M. Baker, Jr., Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer of Ecolab, in an exclusive interview with Clean India Journal.
Over the past four to five years, what has been Ecolab’s experience in India in terms of business, customer relations and competition?
A few years back, we entered the Indian market with the typical Ecolab direct sales and service model. I am pleased to say that we have made a lot of progress. We know that India will become an increasingly important market for Ecolab and as such, we have entered the market with the remit to offer the right products and technology and the right people to take care of our business.
We are working hard to serve our customers and are growing quickly, securing new business and building stronger relationships with our global customers. In addition, we have put in place a well-trained local organisation that has adopted Ecolab’s Global best practice standards. Our growth has come from major global and large local chains, all of whom have recognised the value Ecolab can bring to their business.
How can Ecolab leverage the recent merger with Nalco?
The merger will only accelerate our development in India. Nalco is a global leader in water management solutions and provides water management services for a wide range of industrial processes and industries, including oil and gas extraction and processing, pulp & paper processing, aerospace, automotive, chemicals, food and beverage, healthcare, hotels, institutions, manufacturing, metals and mining, pharmaceuticals and utilities.
Nalco has an established local manufacturing facility, distribution network and Research & Development capabilities that will accelerate progression in core segments of Institutional and Food & Beverage.
So, it is about making life easier for our customers and providing a ‘one stop shop’ for all our offerings.
Hotels, for example, can now deal with just one representative from Ecolab for their Food Safety, Laundry, Housekeeping and Water Solutions. We will be structuring the India operations in a similar manner as we do elsewhere around the globe. Having a main point of contact capable of coordinating the activity of all appropriate business verticals from Ecolab and Nalco is easier for our customers. However, there will be different experts supporting the deployment of our various programs. In the case of water, we have technology for cooling systems, boilers, water management and recycling water. The Ecolab expert who supports this business will invariably have a different background and skills than the Ecolab expert who supports the customer’s food safety needs in the kitchen. Over the past few years, we have invested much time and energy in developing a sales and service team that provides real differentiation in the market.
We have CIP (clean-in-place) technologies for the Food and Beverage sector where the cleaning of the food or beverage plant is done without dismantling the equipment after every change or shift. You clean, rinse and sanitize to make sure there is no microbial or bacteria contamination. This is central to Food & Beverage industry and we take pride in the fact that we were the inventers of CIP technology a number of decades ago.
We also provide other competencies such as cleaning solutions for returnable glass bottles, conveyor chain lubricant, external plant cleaning, personnel hygiene products and other services to help ensure a plant is meeting its hygiene requirements. We recently launched a new dry lubricant technology in India that helps conserve water use. This new technology offers financial benefit, sustainability and also a cleaner and safer environment for the plant workers.
You also develop laundry-specific products?
Another area of our focus in India is Institutional laundry. We are the global leader in laundry solutions and we are working to bring that expertise to India. Majority of the top-tier hotels in India have their own laundries with large washer extractor machines designed to handle the hotel bed linen such as towels and bed sheets. Developing the right products for the local conditions is important. For example, in India, given the ingredients used in local cuisine, we know chef’s whites are prone to turmeric and chilli oil stains and so having the right technology to remove these stains and preserve the life span of the linen is important. We have two main laundry laboratories – one in Germany and another in the US – focusing on laundry product technology.
And the requirement for India is different…
The principal requirement of laundry in India is no different to any other country. Our customers expect clean fresh linen, every time. Delivering consistent results is not always straightforward. Water quality in India is a challenge for most laundries, especially those laundries using water from various sources each day. Water quality can vary from season to season and even from morning to afternoon. Hence, the need to understand water quality and have the ability to effectively treat it in order to maintain consistency; this is where the water technology of Nalco plays a vital role.
In keeping with our sustainability commitment, we are also able to assist with the laundry water discharge. The grey water after washing sheets and towels is still useable in other applications after the water goes through a cleaning process. It can, for example, be used for air-conditioning cooling towers or heating systems.
Indian market is also price sensitive; when you want a good quality product you also have to pay for it
It is not what you have to pay upfront, but what you pay in the end that matters; how much water you use, how much energy you consume, how much chemical you need, or what is the cost of the linen replacement. Our products may be slightly more expensive than some of our competitors, but our “use cost” is the most competitive around.
We ensure our products outperform our competition through industry-leading knowledge, technology and testing to ensure we account for all aspects of the cleaning process, including water, energy and labour. This is what we call ‘Total Impact’. It is about minimising cost through superior knowledge and technology. I find that all markets tend to go through a process of learning because you always start with cheaper and less expensive upfront methods and soon realise that these may not be the best methods when you factor in all costs.
Ecolab sets itself apart with its emphasis on ethical practices.
We do business in a very professional and transparent way. When we say we will do something, we work very hard to do it. In March this year, Ecolab was named by the Ethisphere Institute as one of the world’s Most Ethical Companies for the sixth consecutive year.
I would say one of the reasons I was so comfortable doing this merger with Nalco was because Nalco’s culture and our culture are very similar. Since Nalco operates globally with water technology, which can help prevent illness and disease, the commitment to making a positive contribution to society is aligned with Ecolab’s purpose in India and all around the world.
How are you going to expand your manufacturing facility in India?
Ecolab has a contract manufacturing facility in Gujarat. Nalco has its facility in Kolkata for the last 20 years. As both companies grow, there will be, a need for an additional plant in the future. Making sure, we have local manufacturing unit to respond to our customer’s needs in a timely manner is important.
We are studying how best to utilise the existing facilities and laboratories to manufacture products for all our businesses in Institutional, Food & Beverage and Water Services. The synergy of the Ecolab and Nalco merger is not only in terms of products, but also in terms of R&D. We have a great team of professionals running our facilities. We will look at adding more scientists and technical people to accelerate many of our plans.
You may have kept certain targets for India?
We have to respect competition and work hard to have a superior offering. We also know that business requires developing the trust of customers and that does not happen overnight. So when we decided to expand India and merge with Nalco, we had a long-term ambition in mind to be in the market with right technology, organisational service capabilities and a strong customer base.
What is the new offering for Indian customers?
Ecolab partners with food retail customers in many countries to help them meet the challenges of the Quick Service Restaurant (QSR) market. We currently provide QSR services in more than 100 international markets and expanding QSR programme in India can provide tremendous opportunity. In addition to providing customised solutions for our customers in India, we also are working to utilise our effective global programs to serve this market.