Avni Biyani is the driving force behind Future Retail’s premium lifestyle food superstore Foodhall. Since coming on board as Concept Head of the premium superstore chain, Avni has been successfully breaking new ground in gourmet food retailing in India. Since 2011, when Foodhall opened its first store at Mumbai’s Palladium Mall, she has been at the forefront of bringing the best of international and local ingredients to Indian food connoisseurs.
In a chat with Progressive Grocer, she talks of her chain’s customer proposition and its market positioning and the various initiatives that Foodhall has been taking to make gourmet retailing in India a truly international experience for its customers.
Avni Biyani’s gourmet store chain stocks everything one can expect to find at any international food store. The offerings range from tomatillo (green tomatoes of Mexico) to gluten-free breads such as pizza dough, bagels, to a range of superfood options such as Greek yoghurts, fat-free organic milk, tofu, gourmet chocolates, oils and vinegars, smoked salmon, mock meats, specialty cold cuts, teas, fresh truffles and various food delights, including a variety of Indian foods.
To add to its mojo and burnish the stores’ reputation further as a foodie’s paradise, Avni has led Foodhall blaze a trail of path-breaking innovations in recent years. Under her leadership, Foodhall has also launched a string of its own highly acclaimed brands, which includes the spices brand Arqa, The House of Tea, dry fruit brand Bustaan, a traditional food range under Traditions, personalized chef service Party Chef and gifting brand Blue Ribbon. Recently, Avni also co-founded WhisQ with dessert chef Pooja Dhingra, and launched a nine-piece macaron set under the brand.
Here are the edited excerpts from the interview:-
What is the customer proposition and marketing positioning of your store?
Foodhall is targeted at the urban traveler who has a global taste palate. With an exhaustive range of offerings – from daily essentials to exotic food — Foodhall is a foodie’s paradise. It is a one-stop shop for people looking for ‘exotic, hard-to-find cooking ingredients. You get everything from truffle oil and avocado to the equipment required for specialized cooking. Our aim is that a customer gets to discover something new every time they come to Foodhall. We extensively work to get better and get newer products and ensure that we stay in line with world food trends. This is what helps us retain customers and attract newer ones.
What is the typical customer profile of shoppers in your store?
Our shoppers are mostly food lovers who have travelled a lot or those who are exposed to global cuisine. We also get lots of expat and HNI customers. Our stores are located in neighbourhoods where at least 30 per cent of those walking in are expatriates – in areas such as Saket and Vasant Kunj in Delhi and Whitefield in Bengaluru. But we also get food lovers in our stores buying ingredients and wanting to experience new trends. We also get tourists wanting to take back a flavour of India.
How do you engage with the young generation – the millennial shopper?
At Foodhall, we have tried to engage with all our customers by informing and educating them about newer things. Our visual merchandising team plays a vital role on this front. We go the extra mile by ensuring that the product is displayed beautifully with relevant information guides, recipe cards and how-to manuals placed around it. We have bay breakers with unique bites of information about various products that customers may not be familiar with. We also have ‘experience zones’ where we give information about the product and conduct samplings. By offering the samples, we familiarize the customer with the product by allowing them to touch, smell, feel and taste it, thus making them more comfortable with the product. We also keep changing the theme for the various experience zones on a monthly basis.
Of the gourmet and international product range at your chain, which products are recording maximum growth?
There is a high demand for FnV, cheese, chocolates and cuisine- based products.
In your view, which new food products at your stores will likely gain sales tractions in the coming days?
The superfoods category will see the maximum demand. Also, special dietary requirement foods, which include vegan and gluten-free products, are the next big trend we will get to see.
What is the rate of growth of gourmet and international foods at your store?
The growth rate is quite high and we expect it to remain that way for years to come.
What is the percentage revenue contribution from gourmet and international products?
It is in the range of 60 per cent to 70 per cent.
Which are the new and emerging categories in your store?
We have recently introduced a new baking brand WhisQ, in association with Pooja Dhingra, Founder and Executive Chef of the Mumbai-based French bakery chain Le15 Patisserie. The new baking brand houses all the baking essentials.
What, in your opinion, are the big pull factors for gourmet and international/ imported foods in India?
The growing advent of travel outside the country, proliferation of more food channels, increasing NRI and expat population, growing numbers of food experimenters, rising disposable income, among others, are giving a big push to the gourmet and international foods category.
Could high prices be a major inhibiting factor to the wider acceptance and growth of gourmet and international foods?
We don’t necessarily think so. There is always a market at all levels and customers are ready to pay the prices where there is a requirement of the range. Our efforts, however, are to keep working on the prices with our suppliers with a view to give value to our customers.
Of the total shelf space at your store, what is the percentage share occupied by the gourmet and international product range?
About 60 per cent of the shelf space at our stores is occupied by the gourmet and international range.
Who are your top suppliers for gourmet and international products?
Are there enough good and quality suppliers for gourmet and international foods?
There are some very good and quality suppliers but a few more will definitely expand the overall market.
Any suggestion on what suppliers of gourmet and international foods could do to expand and grow the category further.
We feel that they can get their act together faster and move into more newer categories considering the emerging trends.
What are your future plans for expansion?
Foodhall appeals to a very different set of customers. Hence, we will be cautious about deciding the demographics for new stores. We are looking for suitable places and will not just expand Foodhall rapidly.
How would you assess your progress and achievements so far?
A new feather in our cap has been the launch of a first of its kind specialty store – Little Foodhall. They say good things come in small packages and Little Foodhall brings the most premium offerings of Foodhall, albeit in a snug and elegant space. Our interactive store lets you explore horizons and understand the food culture from across continents. The highlight of Little Foodhall is the quaint cafe that dishes out sumptuous meals to the famished corporate crowd who don’t have time for a proper lunch. Those with a discerning palate will appreciate The House of Tea for its vast collection of finest teas while spice enthusiasts will be bowled over by ARQA’s aromatic range of hand-ground spices, salts and blends. Pick edible gifts for your loved ones from our luxurious Blue Ribbon Gifting section that also has a delectable Middle Eastern sweets collection, which is perfect for gifting or indulging. At Little Foodhall, you can hop aboard a culinary voyage to taste the best of superfoods and nuts, freshly baked breads, world renowned processed food, artisan cheese, refreshing drinks, gourmet chocolates and so much more. When you visit the store, what you witness is a little world full of finest quality products, which will add a mix of beauty and nourishment to your home.
We are always working towards finding newer products and we strongly feel we are market leaders in fi nding the next trend-setting product. Our range and quality of products is enviable. Our own store brands like Arqa in gourmet spices and THT in premium tea have set impeccable benchmarks in their respective areas.