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What’s Cooking?

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For long, home-made masalas, including curries and pastes, have remained an indispensable item in most Indian kitchens. Though their position has more or less remained unchallenged, they have now begun to get some severe competition from ready-to-cook (RTC) curries, gravies and mixes. And as the time-pressed urban Indian consumer looks for convenience, the RTC segment has tremendous growth potential.

The last decade or so has witnessed remarkable changes in consumer behaviour of India. Today’s consumer seeks convenience, comfort and quality, and does not mind paying more if he gets what he wants. And this change has led to the growing popularity of ready-to-eat and ready-to-cook items.
 
Though the concept of convenience food is new to the Indianmarket when compared to western markets, the convenience offered by ready-to-cook (RTC) curries, gravy pastes and mixes to the time-pressed urban Indian has made this category quite popular in the country.
 
The ready-to-cook gravy pastes and curries not only substantially reduce the cooking time, but also help in saving consumers the hassle of peeling or grinding. Also, these productsare available in convenient packs on the shelves of traditional and modern grocery retail chains across the country. On the market size of the category, K K Chutani, marketing head – foods, India Limited, the leading FMCG company in India, says, “The market size of the ready-to-cook curries, gravy pastes and mixes in India is estimated to be around `150 crore.”
 
Chutani claims that Dabur’s ‘Hommade’ was the first brand to introduce packaged pastes in the Indian market. “The product categories offered by Dabur extend across interesting paste combinations, with variants available in garlic, ginger, ginger-garlic and tamarind, to suit the palate of the Indian consumer,” he adds.
 
On Dabur’s distribution network, Chutani says, “Availability has been established across key markets and towns through our extensive sales and distribution channel spanning across India, with the top six metro cities contributing to the bulk
of the turnover.”
 
Describing Dabur’s future expansion plans, Chutani says, “Going forward, we are looking at expanding the range. We will also enter new formats of packaged food products which are showing good potential.”
 
Ever-rising Competition
 
With the increasing number of working couples, along with the consumer’s shift towards convenience products while not compromising on taste or nutrition, has led to a rapid and steady growth of this category. Today, a number of companies, including Dabur, offer ready-to-eat and ready-to-cook products and new products are being introduced from time to time.
 
Desai Brothers Limited, which diversified into the ethnic foods business in 2001, acquired ‘Mother’s Recipe’ brand in July 2002. Under this brand, the company offers a wide range of ready-to-cook pastes, such as Biryani paste, Madras Curry paste, Tikka paste, Vindaloo Curry paste, Ginger paste, Garlic paste, and Tandoori paste.
 
, a large business conglomerate with interests in FMCG, hotels, agriculture business and IT, entered the branded foods business in 2004 with the launch of ‘Kitchens of India’ brand. Under this brand, the company offers a range of ready-to-cook pastes.
 
Under the company’s ‘’ brand, ITC offers RTC Multi- Purpose cooking pastes, a basic paste used for cooking in most North Indian dishes. The company further extended its product portfolio in 2006 and launched a range of readyto- cook instant mixes such as Rava Idli mix, Rice Dosa mix and Rice Idli Mix.
 
Realising the growth potential of the ready-to-cook packaged food segment, Satnam Overseas Limited, the manufacturer of leading rice and packaged food brand Kohinoor, too, forayed into the segment in 2002.   The company’s primary focus was on premium packaging and pricing of its new products compared to rival brands. Kohinoor’s product portfolio includes a wide range of readyto- cook gravies, which can be used conveniently to prepare exotic dishes at home. The company also offers a range of cooking pastes – Red Chilli paste, Ginger paste, Ginger-Garlic paste and Garlic paste – which add authentic Indian flavour to cooking.
 
Private Limited, one of the leading manufacturer and exporter of convenience foods, was not far behind its rivals in offering ready-to-cook instant mixes to the Indian consumer. The company’s range of mixes includes Dahi Vada mix, Dosa mix, Idli mix, Khaman Dhokla mix, Khatta Dhokla mix, Medu Vadai mix and Pakora mix, among many others.
 
Celebrity Indian chef , who revolutionised cooking shows on Indian TV through Khana Khazana, also felt the need to venture into the processed food business. He, thus, launched ‘’s Khazana’ – which offers a wide range of ready-to-cook gravy pastes and instant mixes. 
 
Similarly, US-based food company Heinz, which established its foothold in India in 1994 by taking over the Family Products division of Glaxo with powerful brands such as Complan, Glucon-D, Nycil and Sampriti, launched ‘Kitchen Klassics’. The brand offers a range of ready-to-cook instant snack mixes such as Coimbatore Dosa and Madurai Idli, among
Others.
 
Earlier this year, Nestlé India, a leading manufacturer of a variety of food products, launched two products in the ready-to-cook spice paste range – Maggi Masala-e-Magic, a ready-to-use masala taste enhancer, and Maggi Bhuna Masala, a readyto- cook masala paste. The RTC Maggi Bhuna Masala is available in two variants – Bhuna Masala for gravy dishes and Bhuna Masala for vegetables and pulses.
 
Parampara Food Products Private Limited, a leading manufacturer of ready-to-cook gravy mixes for the main course and starters in traditional Indian flavour, offers 26 different variants of ready-to-cook curries and gravies – Vegetable Biryani, Vegetable Jalfrezi, Butter Chicken, Chhole Gravy, Chicken Gravy, Egg Gravy, Goan Fish Gravy, Prawn Masala, Paneer Makhanwala, Chicken Moghlai, Kolhapuri and Malabar Chicken, among others.
 
Under its ready-to-cook ‘StarterZ’ range, the company offers Chicken with Capsicum & Onion, Fish Fry-green, Fish Fry-red, Paneer Achari and Paneer with Capsicum & Onion, among others.
 
Leading processed food manufacturer and exporter Private Limited also offers a wide range of ready-to-cook instant mixes such as Bisibele Bhath, Muruku, Rava Idli, Rice Dosa, Vada, Masala Upma, Rava Dosa, Rice Idli and Upma. A few other companies in the ready-to-cook curries, gravy pastes and mixes category include PerennialTrade Link Private Limited, which offers a wide range of RTC gravies under the ‘Zyka’ brand.
 
Similarly, Rasoi Magic Foods India Private Limited, a Pune-based manufacturer of ready-to-cook spice mix pastes, offers RTC spice mix pastes in four different ranges – Vegetable Special, Paneer Special, Regional Special and No Onion No Garlic. The Vegetable Special range includes spice mix paste for Veg Kohalpuri, Chana Masala, Dal Makhani, Dum Alu, Malai Kofta, etc.
 
The Panner Special range includes spice mix paste for a range of paneer dishes such as Paneer Tikka, Mutter Paneer, Palak Paneer and many more. The company also offer spice mix pastes for regional dishes such as Veg Biryani, Pav Bhaji, Missal Rassa, Sambar Mix and Aloo Paratha Mix. Rasoi Magic is the first company in India to launch a very special readyto- cook spice mix paste range – No Onion No Garlic (NONG) – which comes in 16 variants.    
 
Confronting the Challenges
 
Despite its increasing popularity, the category faces a number of challenges, which need to be addressed in order to help it grow to its true Potential.
 
Talking about the major concerns, Chutani notes, “Consumers have always been concerned about the freshness of packaged foods such as culinary pastes.” 
 
He, however, adds, “We have addressed these concerns by procuring best raw ingredients and adopting high standards of processing using state-ofthe- art technology. The Hommade range of culinary pastes comes with world-class packaging and a significantly long shelf
life.”
 
He further says another factor that has been restraining conventional consumers from shifting to packaged culinary pastes is the perception about the use of preservatives, colours and artificial flavours. “We have ensured that no artificial colour or flavour is added to the product, keeping it natural. Also, the Hommade range uses very basic food grade preservation within the permitted norms,” he assures.
 
Calling pricing of such products another major hindrance to the growth of the ready-to-cook curries, gravy pastes and mixes category, Chutani says, “Consumers tend to compare the prices of packaged culinary pastes with prices of raw ingredients available in the open retail market. But considering the fact that prices of ginger, garlic and tomato, among other raw materials, are highly fluctuating and seasonal in nature, at a number of occasions, it is found that opting for a packaged cooking paste such as Hommade is a cheaper option.”
 
With stringent quality measures to manufacture products, Chutani says, Dabur has set very high standards in developing products and processes that meet stringent quality norms. With an aim to spur growth for its range of culinary products, Dabur relaunched its Hommade brand in 2009 in an all new packaging, revamping the entire category and with extended shelf life of the
 
The Way Forward
 
The presence of numerous companies in the segment bears testimony to its yet untapped growth Potential.  
 
Upbeat about the growth prospects of the ready-to-cook curries, gravy pastes and mixes category, Chutani says, “The estimated growth rate of this category is between 15 and 20 percent. But the market size for the ready-to-cook curries, gravy pastes and mixes segment is still at a very nascent stage and we foresee further growth in the category.”  
 
For the segment to really do well in the days to come, it is important to create awareness among consumers and correct their perceptions about the use of artificial preservatives, freshness of readyto- cook items, or the pricing of these products.
 
As Chutani concludes, “higher degree of consumer awareness, combined with increasing experimentation with a variety of cuisines, is expected to lead to better growth prospects of the ready-to-cook curries, gravy pastes and mixes category. Launch of different variants by a larger number of companies has also given a fillip to the growth rate of this category.”