F&G Retail: Navigating the changes in consumer taste

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In the last five years, the Indian household has gone through a major shift in terms of its food and grocery consumption. Thanks to the multiple channels bringing in an array of culinary shows and travel shows, which are breaking cultural and geographical barriers every day. No wonder, the traditional Indian thali is now seeing a whole new range of palatable dishes with global overtones.
The shift has also caused a significant change in the food and grocery retail dynamics in India. While the large format retail chains are offering world class, value-centric customer experiences, even the age-old grocery stores have evolved to a great . These modern-minded stores are embracing various new product categories that are becoming increasingly essential for the Indian kitchen.
“Across locations and demographics, the consumer is changing dramatically every day in various ways. Consumers are changing their preferences in terms of what they are eating or what they are buying today. Just a few years ago, we had hardly seen mayonnaise or sausages being sold at the general grocery stores but today you find them at every store. This fact illustrates that food preferences are changing and what we are consuming today as a nation is a way different than before,” says Chief Merchandising Officer – Food and Grocery, Aditya Birla Retail Limited (ABRL), Sumit Chandna. The change in food preference has also resulted in a change in the way of cooking. In fact, today’s food is more assembled than cooked, the reason being modern Indian consumer is exposed to global cuisine and has access to a wide variety of ingredients.
Convenient Food is Driving Growth
The shift is largely driven by India’s socio-economical evolution, which has given rise to a wide base of new age customers with high disposable income and an increased appetite for quality, convenient food. With the emergence of dual income families, the woman in the family is now busy managing a busy professional life and so she is always pressed for time. So her kitchen experience or cooking choices are radically different than it was in the earlier days. “Women are lot more independent today and it is completely her choice whether or not she will cook. A lot of women are entering the kitchen quite late in their life. Hence, they need a lot of inputs as they often cook by reading the instructions or recipes on the packs. This is creating a major opportunity wherein modern food brands can fill in the exact gap and assist them in cooking a good meal without taking the credit,” says Director, Gits Foods, Sahil Gilani.
More Men in the Kitchen Boost the Business
Quite surprisingly, it is not just the women for whom the food retail dynamics is changing in India. Men are also becoming an important segment of customers for modern retailers and food manufacturers. “Today, Indian men are also occupying an equally important place in the kitchen as their counterparts,” says Head Merchandising, Health & Glow, Madhumita Mohanty.
“The modern young men are exposed to global cuisine and love experimenting with food. The trend is here to stay,” elaborates Mohanty. “Men would like to do heroic cooking. I suppose none of them are really interested in cooking up dal chawal. It is a rare opportunity for brands and retailers,” says Founder & CEO, The Magsons Group, Kirit Maganlal.
The Different Tastes of Urban and Emerging Centers
“The traditional Indian habit of having breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacking has changed today. There is an osmosis happening as snacking codes aregradually coming into main meals and main meal are getting merged with snacking. Though in India, snacking is mostly unhealthy eating, there is a small section of people who are conscious about healthy snacking. And this trend is going to be bigger in future,” says COO – Consumer Business, Tata Chemicals, Richa Arora.
In urban markets the trend of healthy snacking is getting bigger by the day. The result is clearly visible as the fruits and vegetables segment has witnessed a major growth in the last couple of years. Fruits, especially, have broken the seasonal barrier to find a place in the daily diet chart throughout the year. “Today fruits and vegetables play an integral part of the daily food consumption. Due to this increased demand, fruits are now being imported all the way from Washington, Australia, or China to cater to the domestic consumption,” says Business Head – Safal, Mother Dairy, Pradipta Kumar Sahoo.
However, the phenomenon is not just restricted to the urban centres or the metro cities only. Even smaller towns have now evolved to a great extent in terms of modern retail infrastructure. But there are some major differences in the consumption pattern and product preference in the urban centres and Tier II and III markets. The changed buying pattern has made some drastic shift in the modern retail landscape in smaller towns.
“As retailers we see the change even in the towns like Mangalore or Coimbatore. Today people do not hesitate to come to a hypermarket for their food and grocery shopping. People have accepted and embraced modern retail formats in smaller towns,” says Chief Operating Officer, Max Hypermarket, Ponnu Subramanian.
“Both urban and rural markets have some major differences in terms of consumer behaviour. As retailers it is our ability to react to the different needs of the consumer in terms of layout and merchandising that will define sustainability. Hence there are not just two sets of consumers rather than multiple sets with different choices and behaviour,” says Sumit Chandna of ABRL.
Conflicting Interests Create Discord Between Manufacturer and Modern Food Retailer
There is a general discord between the retailer and manufacturer as their expectations differ on quite a few issues. While manufacturers are keen to offer smaller, affordable packs on the shelf, modern retailers are often pushing the bigger packs to boost sales figure. Again, as retailers strive for profitability amidst volatile pricing and rising real estate and labour costs, manufacturers are demanding a better in-shop experience – from reach to the customer through.
“As a commercial organization we need to look at the bottomline and the shelf is the primary tool for us. Hence we need to utilise the shelf in a way to increase the volume of consumption without sabotaging the customer interest,” explains Subramanian of Max Hypermarket.
Manufacturers are increasingly pressing the retailer for more space to display the products and an opportunity for sampling. To address both the manufacturer’s concerns and the consumer’s interest, large format retail stores are bringing in innovation and better customer experience in the overall retail experience.
“Modern retailers are investing a lot in technology and skilled manpower to give enhanced on-floor assistance and effective display. Then there are gourmet stores where the customer is also being exposed with the knowhow of the product,” adds Madhumita Mohanty of Health & Glow.
Brands and Retailers Need to go Hand in Hand to Decode the Consumer Psyche
Though modern grocery retailing is price driven, brands now insist that the retailer should create a better value proposition.
“Brands and retailers need to partner to create a model which goes beyond the price proposition and offers a better experience and connect with the consumer,” says Managing Dircetor, Dr. Oetker India, Oliver Mirza.
“The modern retail formats are good with the science of selling in terms of planogramming, schemes and end-cap displays. But it lacks in the art of selling, which comes from experience and understanding the consumer. In fact, both manufacturers and retailers need to see how the customer can get excited beyond the price point,” explains Richa Arora of Tata Chemicals.
“In fact, both modern retail formats and brands can come together to exploit the sensorial aspect of food, which will help both parties in getting a healthier bottom line, she adds. It is only through a perfect marriage of the modern science of retailing and the age-old art of selling that can give a better insight into the customer mindset, drawing footfalls and ultimately getting sales.

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