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International Food Business: Current scenario and future


The misconception about Gourmet Food in India is amazing. There are many who equate gourmet with imported food, which is far from the reality. To encapsulate what the concept of gourmet is all about, let me say that it is less about the food than about the person who is the subject of the word. The term and its associated connotations are used positively to describe people with a refined taste and passion towards food.

International Food Business: Current scenario and future

Add the word gourmet to any food or drink and, voila, it feels fancier, more upscale and generally more desirable. Gourmet food connotes food and drink that takes extra care to make or acquire. Gourmet food has a certain flair around it as it is usually found or made only in certain locations. The ingredients used are usually exotic, hard to find in regular grocery stores, and they are usually unique in flavor and/ or texture. Gourmet ingredients usually blend herbs and spices in an interesting manner to add flavour to the food. For example, lemon olive oil spray, black truffle balsamic glaze, and white wine vinegar are a unique take on the otherwise simple ingredients.

Being an advocate of international food business for over 20 years now, I have seen the F&B sector in India go through various highs and lows over the years. But the one thing that I can say with absolute certainty is that the gourmet food category in the country has a tremendous scope and potential to grow in multiple areas, many of which still remain a virgin territory for food companies wanting to explore the business of international foods. We have been working diligently to bring new and exciting global gourmet food brands from all around the world to India. We have built our reputation through a commitment to offer unique products at competitive prices and we strive to never compromise on the quality of products or services that we offer. It is a passion for many of us who function in the realm of international food business and we aim to bring diversity to our Indian consumer base.

Two-Way Trade is the Key to Future

We firmly believe in two-way trade and in the current globalized world, it is a grave mistake to keep our consumers deprived of food options and opportunities available elsewhere in the world – from gourmet cheese to epicurean chocolates to the varieties of rice or spices or fresh fruits or exotic vegetables. The list is never ending and we must continue to explore to make it even more expansive. Unfortunately, our trade figures have been none too encouraging on this count. In the calendar year (CY) 2016, India exported consumer foods worth US$ 11 billion and imported consumer foods valued at US$ 4.25 billion. While our exports grew by 0.50 percent over the previous year, imports showed a decline of about five percent.

The low takeoff of international food in India is surprising considering that there are quite a few success narratives around it: Italian pasta, Vietnamese basa, mayonnaise, Californian almonds, Canadian canola oil, Chileans walnuts and Washington apples, to name a few. When we look at Italian pasta, considered to be one of the most gourmet ingredients in Italian cuisine, the product is widely available in the country – from hand made to artisanal to commercially made – and it has penetrated the deepest corners of the Indian market with extensive marketing, transforming the kitchens of the aspirational Indians.

A commodity like Californian almonds, which has about 80 percent of almond market share in India, touched a whopping US$ 693 million sales figure in India for 2016.

For imported foods to expand their consumer base in India, it must be kept in mind that Indian consumers are rational shoppers who want value for money.

Obviously, there is no one-size fits-all concept for a country as big as India but to have a deeper market penetration it is important to learn from the market leaders and try to do things the right way. Many of us confuse India with China, which is just not the case as the Indian market has its own set of business dynamics and consumption patterns here continue to evolve and offer valuable lessons in business.

Teething Issues and Role of Associations like FIFI

While on the one hand, we are facing teething issues like those associated with demonetization or Goods and Service Tax (GST), on the other hand, we also have government agencies like the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India that is willing to think out of the box and listen to the version of the trade side. We, at the Forum of Indian Food Importers (FIFI), have given numerous representations to Government of India and are pleased to note that several of our suggestions have been entertained as we always had a logical and scientific presentation to make. We still have some pending areas of concerns but are pretty confident that the regulator and trade will be able to come together on a common ground in the interest of the greater good of the food industry and consumers. Food safety is of utmost priority for us and, as industry representatives, we want global suppliers to understand the fact that Indian consumers have become very demanding and want only quality products. We are clearly out of the era when international companies looked at India as a not very important market for their food products. For many global food companies, India is now a critical country for doing international trade.

Government’s Initiatives

The Food and Beverage sector is governed by several Government of India agencies like Ministry of Health’s Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), Ministry of Food Processing and Industries (MoFPI), Ministry of Consumer Welfare, Food and Public Distribution, Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Commerce and Industries, and Ministry of Finance.

With Government of India’s “Make in India” campaign, MoFPI aims to boost growth in the food processing sector by leveraging reforms such as 100 per cent foreign direct investment (FDI) in marketing of food products and by offering various incentives at the central and state government level along with a strong focus on supply chain infrastructure.

– Government of India has relaxed foreign direct investment (FDI) norms for the sector, allowing up to 100 percent FDI in food product e-commerce through the automatic route.

– FSSAI plans to invest around Rs 482 crore (US$ 72.3 million) to strengthen the food testing infrastructure in India, by upgrading 59 existing food testing laboratories and setting up 62 new mobile testing labs across the country. Additionally, FSSAI has been aggressively introducing numerous notifications pertaining to imported Food and Beverage category.

– The Indian Council for Fertilizer and Nutrient Research (ICFNR) will adopt international best practices for research in the fertiliser sector, which will enable farmers to get good quality fertilizers at affordable rates and thereby achieve food security for the common man.

International Chains Entering Indian Market

With India opening the doors to numerous international restaurant chains, the youth is able to break the tradition and try several new international cuisines. This exposure is generating employment, changing the F&B scenario in India, bringing in international business practices, world-class technology, standard operating procedures and opening the way for trade. These chains buy imported ingredients or products to get a marketing edge or when such ingredients are not available domestically. They are able to lead the way for upscale manufacturing in the country and create more avenues for employment. It is important for us as an industry to understand that our strategy should be to grow hand-in-hand with these international chains and to open more ways for doing business with all stakeholders. Some of these chains, which already have a sizable market presence in India, are Chilli’s, Barista, Café Coffee Day, Au Bon Pain, McDonald’s, Subway, KFC, Starbucks, Tacobell, among others.

Market Size Growing Despite all Odds:

Despite numerous challenges such as high base tariffs and the fallout from the implementation of new regulations like demonetization and GST, the Indian market for imported and international foods is showing a noticeable growth trend. India is emerging as a favorite market destination for many national and international players in the food business. The Indian foodservice sector is valued at US$ 48 billion and is anticipated to grow to US$ 77 billion at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 10 percent by 2021. The Indian food and grocery market is the world’s sixth largest, with retail contributing 70 percent of the sales. The Indian food processing industry accounts for 32 per cent of the country’s total food market, is one of the largest industries in India and is ranked fifth in terms of production, consumption, export and expected growth. The Indian gourmet food market is currently valued at USD 1.3 billion and is growing at a CAGR of 20 percent. India’s organic food market is expected to increase three times its current size by 2020.

The online food ordering business in India is in a nascent stage but has a huge potential and a promising future. The online food delivery industry grew at 150 percent year-on-year with an estimated Gross Merchandise Value (GMV) of US$ 300 million in 2016.

Emergence of Social Media

We should not underestimate the role of the new generation bloggers and social media enthusiasts who are instrumental in shaping the trends and are helping brands and products to get visibility and gain popularity with the consumers. They are emerging as an alternative to the traditional media and are a less expensive media tool. However, they also act as watchdogs of quality and standards for the foodservice industry. Social media is helping to generate exciting stories around the foodservice industry but at the same time, we need more honest voices that understand the food business and its nuances better.

Traditional Marketing Avenues Still Hold True

While new marketing tools are becoming popular, the traditional methods should not be considered obsolete as they continue to have deeper penetration and visibility. Participation at trade shows and conferences, print and electronic media activities continue to rule the game and offer a range of visibility without comparable alternatives.

Way Forward for the Imported F&B Industry

The Indian consumers represent a community of diverse sentiments. A majority of them favour an experimental palate, which creates a plethora of opportunities for the international F&B sector in country. While maintaining a balance between aspiration and tradition agrees perfectly with the Indian palate, culinary trends originating in the West are promptly picked up by Indian social media and are translated on the ground with an instant recognition. The earlier practice of trends coming to India after three to five years of introduction in the Western world is now a thing of the past. This willingness to accept international trends without any inhibition has played a pivotal role in the marketing of international brands in India and has opened up the entire market for international foods. As a result, recent years have seen the launch of numerous new categories like gluten-free breads, organic chocolates and many others products in country. However, as mentioned earlier, it is important for us to ensure quality delivery to our consumers and adhere to the food safety regulations. We need a more organized voice in trade to echo the this message and to take the India story to many more global markets.