“Comforting, warming, fortifying since 1906,” is written on the promotional mug Horlicks launched in the UK last year. In Britain, the malted milk drink has long been linked to bedtime, a soothing aid to sleep.
The story in India is very different – with a brand line “Taller, stronger, sharper” Horlicks has been positioned as a drink for boys and girls to grow faster and stay energised at all times. It’s a breakfast drink that gives you the strength for the long day ahead.
Yet the drink’s main ingredients are exactly the same: wheat, malted barley and milk.
How is that possible? So is Horlicks a drink revered by generations of Indian’s just a marketing gimmick ? In the world of brand marketing – Perception is Reality and years of marketing propaganda have built the perception that Horlicks is ideal for the growth and development of a smarter, stronger child. But the story doesn’t end here.
The history of Horlicks is even more fascinating. Horlicks was invented by two British-born men, William Horlick (1846-1936) and his brother James (1844-1921) from Gloucestershire, England. James was a chemist, working for a company that made dried baby food. William, the younger brother, had emigrated to America in 1869 and James decided to join him in Chicago in 1873. That same year, they started their own company (J&W Horlicks) to make a malted milk drink. They called their product ‘Diastoid‘ and their advertising slogan read: ‘Horlick’s Infant and Invalids Food‘.
Later it was used as a war drink during WW 1. Horlick’s became important for British soldiers on the front in World War One. Horlick’s was a dried product and, formed into tablets, it could be included easily in a soldier’s pack. Horlick’s was known to have nutritive and calming powers. The “delicious and sustaining” tablets provided important nutrients, making their consumption, “an every-day incident on the front.”
Over the years most of Horlicks sales came from India and SE Asia where it was positioned as a nutritional drink for children. The 140 year old brand saw sales growth dropping to single digit numbers in the recent years.
The brand was finally acquired by HUL in 2018. Unilever Plc, will merge GlaxoSmithkline Consumer Healthcare with itself in an allstock deal that will give the country’s largest pure-play consumer goods company access to Horlicks, Boost and Maltova malted drinks brands as well as distribution rights for a five-year period over over-the-counter and oral care brands such as Sensodyne, Eno and Crocin.
Boost, Viva and Maltova brands will be owned by Hindustan Unilever. However, the Horlicks brand, which is currently owned by GSK Plc, is being acquired by parent Unilever and HUL will pay royalty for its use in India.