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Food trends and their impact on consumption


We are a young nation of 1.2 billion consumers. We are more connected to each other and the rest of the world than ever before. We travel within India and outside India more frequently. We are more informed about ourselves, about what we eat, about our environment and also about the impact of our consumption on environment. We see a large number of trends and counter trends that influence us. Some of these are fads that just pass away and some are here to stay. Here are some key trends that will have an impact on the way we consume.

Food trends and their impact on consumption

Food is an experience

Indians have historically valued pure, freshly cooked home-made meals. The trend of eating out, widely prevalent in the West, has slowly emerged in India over the past few years. Eating out is no longer considered as a means of satiating hunger nor is it limited to the rare occasions. Shopping and casual outings, spending free time and experimentation are, not surprisingly, the new reasons for eating out!

As per a recent Nielsen report, on average, Indians spend Rs 6,300 per year on eating out with affluent Indians spending approximately twice as much as their middle class counterparts.

Usage of “Let’s Do…” for food is a true reflection of Food as an Experience. Consumers are frequently experimenting with a variety of cuisines, flavors, and combinations of food that were hitherto either unavailable or unheard of in the Indian market.

Cross-cultural influences abound in dishes. Some examples of the innovative confluence of flavors are peri peri bhel, Schezwan and chocolate dosas and a wide variety of Frankies. Even the quintessential lassi can be found with a multitude of western influences such as chia seed additions and imported fruit flavors. Tikka and tandoori flavored mayonnaise, Indian versions of Chinese dishes, Chettinad sandwiches and paneer tikka pizzas are instances of Indian flavors seeping into western culinary dishes. The same is reflected in some of the food product launches.

Variants range from quinoa rawa upma insta mix, smoky tikka mayonnaise & tamarind date chutney to beverages such as jamun kalakhatta, kokum, gol gappe ka pani, aam panna, and jal jeera made specifically as substitutes to fruit- based juice. These immensely popular products reveal the inclination of the Indian consumer towards mixing flavors.

Health is Imperative

As a nation, India is performing better on all indices of health such as quality and longevity of life. Indians are living better, longer and have healthier life spans. Thanks to mobile apps and wearable devices, it is possible to constantly monitor the heartbeat, quality of sleep, blood pressure and even the number of steps taken during the day. The entire idea of health has transformed from being curative to becoming preventive in nature.

Although consumers are time constrained due to hectic work schedules, especially in urban areas, they are looking for avenues to build and maintain a healthy life style. While physical activity forms a core part of this endeavor, Indians are proactively choosing the right food products to meet their diet and health goals.

Food products in the market range from breakfast cereals such as oats and muesli to vitamin pills. There is a marked rise in the consumption of baked goods, health biscuits, multi-grain flours, green tea and other health drinks. Furthermore, consumers are willingly buying premium products that promise health benefits. Some of the health attributes perceived to be the most important are high protein, high fiber, low cholesterol and low fat.

Oats-based mango flavored, calcium and fibre-rich ready-to-drink breakfast option and power sprouts, honey dates flavored malt-based food drinks are good illustrations of healthy beverages available on the shelves. Snack packs of sweet and savory yoghurt and snack combos such as the Jalapeno Greek yoghurt with barley puffs are healthy replacements for the “in between meals” snacks that Indians are prone to eating. Packed khichdi mix infuses the health quotient of broccoli, carrots and almonds in the consumer’s diet. Another unique example is the gluten-free alternative to spaghetti made by cutting vegetables into thin noodle shapes or curls.

Consumption of dietary supplements, especially in relation to adult nutrition, has also boomed. There is an emergence of “immunity boosting” foods as a major category in the market.

These supplements can induce weight gain or weight loss or nourish the body with vital elements such as calcium, iron, omega 3 and vitamins. Moreover, active adults are consuming copious amounts of whey proteins and energy beverages.

Consumers are as conscious of the wellness of their children as they are of their own. For instance, consumers are willing to experiment with chocolate-flavored nutritional supplements for children in a bid to ensure holistic growth. Busy parents who rely on prepackaged food or ready-to-eat meals are some of the key purchasers of probiotic drinks meant for children.

The wide acceptance of health and wellness foods has created a Rs 10,352 crore market with a growth rate of about 10 percent. The sales contribution is the highest in non-metro but urban cities, at 40 percent. This is closely followed by rural areas at 32 percent and urban areas at 28 percent. The category penetration is highest in the south followed by the east.

Natural & Ayurvedic Way of Life

We see both these trends- Health and Tradition- coming together in Ayurveda and Natural Foods. The growing belief that natural products are uncontaminated and best is getting firmly ingrained in the minds of Indian consumers as the word “processed” implies a negative connotation of unoriginality. Ingredients recommended by our ancestors such as tulsi, turmeric, neem, lemon, mustard oil, ghee, saffron, amla juice, cold pressed oils of nuts and seeds are all finding their way on to the consumer’s plate. Food items made with these ingredients are not only considered as healthy but also as comfort food since consumers perceive that they have made a special effort to look after themselves. The re-emergence of yoga has only served to boost this trend. Consumers will continue to turn to nature to search for viable but healthy food options. This trend also manifests itself in organic foods though they are still a niche and are hampered by a lack of trust and high premiums. We foresee that the natural and ayurvedic trend will be stronger in the years to come and that multiple entrepreneurs will establish profitable ventures in these categories.

Increasing Share of Proteins & Dairy

The biggest trend as a Nation that we see is the shift to Proteins and Fats. For the first time in Indian history, milk has become the biggest agriculture crop at almost INR 5 lakh crore. It’s now bigger than all cereals and pulses put together and is 20% of the agricultural output. This shift towards fats and proteins from the traditional intake of carbohydrates for subsistence is the biggest perceptible proof of prosperity of the people. Though India is 70% non-vegetarian, it apparently has not yet crept into daily dietary preferences. Milk appears to be the most economic and culturally accepted protein source of daily diet in our country. It can also be seen as the reflection of the dietary habits of a younger India. In Modern Trade, we have seen milk and value-added milk products increasing their share and new entrepreneurs and new products coming up. We envision this trend to become stronger in the times to come.

Startups in Food

The emergence of modern trade and e-commerce has made it easy to be a single product company and has fostered innovation and entrepreneurship. Launching a new FMCG product is no longer the domain of multinationals or big players with financial and distribution muscle. Small and medium enterprises that were previously deterred by the huge capital investments required for distribution networks while launching new products can now easily develop and bring their products to the market in a cost effective manner.

This has had a profound effect on the number of launches of innovative products in the market. Quinoa puffs, butter spreads, health and energy bars, pasta kits, packaged ready to cook idli/ dosa batters, raw juices, water based functional beverages, are all excellent examples of new age products built and marketed by small companies being widely accepted by the consumer base.

In conclusion, the purchasing decisions of consumers are affected by trends to a large extent. As enablers in the consumer’s shopping journey, recognizing and translating these trends into viable business opportunities remains a key concern for manufacturers and retailers today.