Before multinational companies (MNCs) were filling up store shelves with renowned detergent and dishwashing products, the locally manufactured Bangla Shaban ruled the market.
However, these local soaps were no match for the highly competitive MNCs and the deep pockets funding their marketing campaigns. Many local companies shut down while those remaining limped on with low demand and poor sales.
After the coronavirus broke out in Bangladesh, the demand for hand sanitiser went up, making way for unscrupulous businessmen to hike prices. The health directorate officials said that local soap could be more effective than hand sanitiser in fighting coronavirus, causing the popularity of this product to rise again.
MV Chemical, a local soap manufacturing company in Chattogram, once used to produce 20,000 bars of soap per month. Gradually, production dropped to half due to competition with MNCs. Two years ago, one of the two units of this company shut down.
"Now we are getting more orders due to the coronavirus, so we have reopened the unit," said Mojibur Rahman, owner of MV Chemical."Our business has increased by 30-40 percent now. We are back to producing 18,000- 20,000 bars of soap per month."
Production has also increased at other local soap companies in the district.
Ananda Soap Factory in Chattogram city's Bakalia area produces around 2,000 bars of local soap per day. Around 30 people work at the factory, which has been in the market since 1990. But it had been seeing a gradual, yet continuous, decline in demand before the pandemic.
Kashem Ali, who has been working at the factory for 20 years, said production has increased in the factory in recent months.
"The authorities have recruited new workers. Earlier, we used to work eight to 10 hours a day. Now we work for 12 to 14 hours. Our wages have increased too," he said.
Owner of the factory Probir Dey said, "Before the pandemic, we used to produce 1,200 to 1,500 bars per day. It has increased to 2,000bars now."
Production has also gone up at local company 1937 Saban, which was founded in 1901. Ahmed Ullah, owner of the company, said local soap started to disappear from the market due to the new products introduced by MNCs.
"Demand for local soap was decreasing day by day. But during this pandemic, production has increased by 50 percent. We are getting more orders now. Many workers are being employed," he added.
Babul Chandranath, director of Bangladesh Small and Cottage Industries Corporation's (BSCIC) regional office in Chattogram, said though factories of other products in the BSCIC areas remained closed during the general holidays, soap factories continued production.
According to the BSCIC regional office in the district, there are more than 50 small and medium local soap manufacturing factories in 24 industrial areas of BSCIC. Besides, in some other areas, there are around 50 such factories in the district.
On an average, these factories produce around5 lakh bars of soap worth Tk2 crore per month.