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The impatient consumer, IoT and the food of everything

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There is more to foods than meets the eye. There is technology. There is the consumer who is forever morphing. And there is the future. Let’s peep into it.

Is India the Most Exciting Food Market in the World Really?

Must be. The diversity of food we still eat, and the lack of a clonal habit in food and beverage intake is a hall-mark reality of India. Literally no two families eat the same.

The country is diverse in other ways as well. The country, which hither to was all about a home-kitchen oriented market, is eating out more than ever. Add to it the fact that we eat not only with our mouth but with our eyes and ears as well. With food television becoming a big thing, the food market is an exciting one to be in. A market that will possibly define some of the future trends in food and beverage for the world to watch, use and see.

In this essay, I am going to explore two different aspects that are defining food, beverage, its intake and the trends that will shape India later. One is a technology trend that will re-define it all, and the other is a consumer watch trend that goes with the way the new consumer in India is behaving. Let me lead with technology and move on to the consumer in the latter half.

The Internet of Things

The big technology trend I am excited of at this point in time is the Internet of Things (IoT).

All of us have heard of it by now. The era of the IoT or the Internet of Things is here. Some marketing and technology evangelists have dubbed it an era of the IoE or the Internet of Everything. An era where the Internet as we know it becomes incidental. So incidental that we even forget the way the Internet of today exists and we start co-living with the Internet as if it did not exist at all. An Internet era where everything is literally governed by the Internet and an era where you do not go to the Internet, but the Internet comes to you. And eventually, an era where the Internet is a part of you, and you are a part of the Internet at large. A point of time when you will not know where you end and where the ubiquitous Internet begins even. Ouch! That sounds bizarre. Painful even. Intrusive for sure.

The IoT is a productised evolution of what began as a service. Let me trace it’s history. In the very beginning, we lived in an era where one person spoke to another and made friends physically. If you had friends, you possibly had about ten of them at maximum, and you spent time with them when you could. You had enough time on your hands. So much so that you could meet, talk for long hours over a cup of coffee or an even more exciting beverage, you could go to the movies, play a game of cricket on a Sunday and maybe do lots more.

And then time became a scarce commodity. Time stopped being a commodity even. Time today has become a very important part of the consumer currency. The consumer counts two things that he always like to have more of: money and time. Both are valuable currencies. Time is something that you cannot earn back. Time is something that you can only spend. It is limited and cannot be topped up at your nearest telecom re-charge outlet. Money on the other hand can be spent and earned. While time is God-given and limited without top-up, money is that much more flexible. Consumers then value time more than money. They should.

When you don’t have enough time to spend, what do you do? You look for ways and means to keep up with those friends of yours, with timesaving means and devices. In comes the telephone as an instrument, and wow! You are able to keep the conversations going, even without being out there physically at your favourite ‘Adda’. Yes, it is nicer to be there physically, but when you cannot, a lovely conversation with your friends on the phone will do. As time passed, in came the mobile phone, and you could carry these conversations with you wherever you went. The machine (in this case the mobile phone) intervened and life was made more comfortable. Still good. You were still in touch with your ten friends. You are now in touch with your friends not 1:1 physically, but virtually. Sub-optimal and a compromise, but still good for you. Out here, you were using a machine (the landline or mobile phone) to intervene and continue the contact. You used your mobile handset and dialled your friend and your friend used her mobile phone and picked up the call. This was what I will call human-to-human conversation facilitated by the machine and the connectivity possible between those two machines due to the intervention of the telecom service provider. This is what we do today.

In comes the era of the Internet then. In comes the ability for people to send e-mails to one another at the basic level. These e-mails are sent by you using a machine (your desktop, laptop, tablet or smartphone) and your friend and maybe thousands of them receive it when they open their e-mails using the machines at their disposal. This is less intrusive than the mobile call. In many ways, it is permission oriented communication at its best. If someone wants to open the email you sent them, they can. If they don’t want to, they can press the delete button. And this is surely the era of mass contact possibility. One e-mail could touch thousands for sure.

In came social media then. In came Facebook, Twitter, Tagged, and all the other exciting social contact mediums you use openly and at times using the confidence and trusted space of your bedroom or bathroom alike. Out here, you could continue conversations in an interactive manner. Instead of having just ten friends, you could have a hundred. Geography is history. The new geography of your friendship is the virtual space of the social media you are using. This then is the early emergence of communication between one human being and a hundred others. Again, this is machine facilitated. Again, this is permission-led. The exciting part of this is the fact that people do not have physical friends anymore. The friends are as virtual as the bits and bytes that help you use the computer.

The rise of social media has led to an interseting development. Today, the relevance and importance of data is more than at any time before. An average youngster below the age of 25 in Pune has 321 friends on the social mediums of his choice, all added up. This includes Facebook, and the three other mediums they co-habit and inhabit. In Bengaluru, this number today stands at 316. Ouch! But all of this is still an example of many communications, still facilitated by two machines operated by two human beings talking to one another through the use of data and text. Nice.

More Exciting Things to Come. What is this IoT All About?

The Internet of Things is here then. An evolution of the productised version of what began as a service.

In the beginning there was communication that was 1:1 between friends. And then in came telecom. Two machines at either end facilitated the conversation between two friends sitting in different geographies. In came e-mail and this communication ceased to remain 1:1 even. And now, viola! In comes the IoT.

Out here in the era of the IoT, everything around us is getting more and more intelligent. The era of the tracker is here. Fitbit is a motion tracker. You wear it round your wrist in a silicon bracelet and it tracks the numbers of steps you walk, how you sleep and how you don’t as well. The basic technology of the motion tracker is here. This tracker sticks close to your body in an appendageand tracks your every move. You can track yourself via GPRS if you wish.

Your life is personal no more. If you wish to broadcast the news of your body, the news of your activity, the news of your sleep-pattern to the world at large, you can as well. There are community sites where people post how they sleep. And guess what, people compete with one another in the virtual world to sleep better than the next guy around. People compete on steps as well. Did I walk more than you did today?

The Internet of Things, in some ways, begins at the lowest common denominator level of the motion tracker for a start. Imagine 10,000 people in Delhi competing with one another on the steps they take every day. Imagine a million people doing the same with one another all over India. Imagine a point of time when your doctor’s desktop or for that matter his mobile phone receives news of how sedentary you were today. Imagine your virtual trainer in cyber-space sending you a shove or a poke on your mobile phone, insulting your sedentary day. Imagine, imagine, imagine.

The power of the motion tracker alone is a very big power. The tracker tells you what you did. The tracker compares what you did as opposed to what others did. The tracker communicates to you doctor and virtual trainer as well. Tomorrow, expect your tracker talking to your insurance company on a regular basis. And expect your insurance company offering you a rebate on your health insurance premium just because you took an average of 30,000 steps a day last year, as opposed to a national average of 5,000.

The Internet of Things is just about stirring. It is a revolution that is slated to wake up and shake us all up. It is a device and tracker-led revolution. This is a device and tracker and connectivity and communication-led revolution.

The world today has 10 billion devices. Of these, seven billion are mobile phones. The other three billion are sundry other devices. As of today, the seven billion phones talk to one another when enabled by their human owners at both ends. When you make a call to Mrs. Kapoor, you are enabling the call. Mrs. Kapoor at the other end will decide whether to enable her mobile phone to receive the call or terminate it. To that extent, this connectivity is all about permission-oriented connectivity.

The era of the IoT is however one that is going to be one of intelligent connectivity, enabled just once. Once you have done that, at times by just accepting to have an intelligent chip in your device, communication is going to be a continuous, and at times a two-way process. You will possibly buy a refrigerator tomorrow, which has an intelligent chip in it. The intelligent refrigerator will talk directly to your web-enabled grocer. When the Coke bottles are nearing empty status on your bottle-rack, your doorstep will have a replenishment delivery. You will never run dry of Coke then. Ever.

Take that one step further to the B2B application. Your grocer will have his intelligent-shelf chip talking to the local Coke distributor. The grocer will never ever run dry of stock. Take it further then. The Coke distributor has a chip that talks to the local bottler. And the bottler has a chip that talks to possibly Atlanta direct. The possibilities are therefore endless.

Forget the mundane. Imagine possibilities. Predictive manufacturing is already a reality. The Mercedes Benz you bought yesterday in Hoshiarpur is possibly talking to the manufacturing plant direct. Its brake lining is speaking to Berlin. The moment it is wearing out, it is alerting the plant to produce and make it available in time at the local dealer in Hoshiarpur possibly. Think. Imagine. Fantasise even!

This is not science fiction. This is reality today. The world is getting progressively penetrated by devices. And devices are getting intelligent. Intelligent devices are connected to one another. The prognosis for 2020 is that there will be 46 billion devices. Each intelligent and each talking to one another.

We are at the doorstep of this revolution. Even as it unfolds, there are serious security concerns that are being flagged. The security industry is working overtime to fight that one possible Trojan that might infect and take over. They seem to be winning the fight as of now.

In many ways, nothing is private and personal anymore. Privacy is dying if not dead, and no one seems to be complaining. Have you noticed how the young amidst us love to have their lives public on social media? Have you realised that the young love to flaunt more than the old in our midst do?

Privacy goes to the cleaners. On that note, it’s ok when your washing machine is talking to your grocer. Imagine a time when your washing machine is talking to Mrs. Khanna’s washing machine. The gossip starts then. The problem starts then!

The Consumer Morphs: From Need to Greed

Civilisations and nations move forward all the while. History has shown us this amply. The movement forward has always been punctuated by gaps of course, but these gaps, by and large, are but commas and pit stops. Pauses where civilisations and nations actually take a break, rejuvenate, re-gather and move forward again.

This entire forward motion of nations is all about a latent hunger that leads us just one-way: forward.

Consumer societies across the globe are engulfed today in this forward motion. And this motion is oiled by hunger. And hunger, in my thinking, has two avatars: hunger and greed. While hunger is basic and latent, greed is evolved and sophisticated. Both, within their own perspectives, are good. Hunger is good. And some say, greed is good as well. Let me start this exploration with hunger. And then move on to greed. After all, hunger normally precedes greed.

Hunger is a basic force. Freud told us we are hungry for the basics. In many ways it is for food, clothing (for warmth and not for cosmetic appeal), shelter and sex. Man therefore craves for the basics. These basics make him and her forage for each of these basics. In many ways it is survival of the fittest as well. The driving force in this acquisition-spree is really an animalistic force that looks at survival.

Consumer-society is therefore hungry. It has been hungry in India for decades now. Go back to the era just before and after independence. The hunger was surely for the basics. The hunger was to ensure that one was able to lead a decent life, acquiring the basics. While food, clothing and shelter could be spoken of, the fourth aspect of sex was also ensconced in the institution of marriage that provided it within its sanctity. And therefore was an un-spoken.

As India moved ahead, basic hunger for the bottom-rung items gave way to hunger at the higher end. When it came to food, consumers were now concerned not only with securing the next month’s square meal for the entire family but were concerned about ensuring a few years of food security at least. When it came to clothing, desires led the way and cosmetic appeal came crawling in. You needed to wear clothes, but colour and texture and fashion came in as well. And when it came the turn of shelter, the consumer was not content with a rented house anymore. The craving and quest was to own the house. Thankfully, when it came to sex, marriage remained the institution to operate within.

The hunger for the basics remained. This hunger however, climbed a few notches and evolved. Consumers evolved and started segmenting their hunger across different ladder-rungs that had‘ hunger’ at the lower end and ‘greed’ sitting right at the top.

Simultaneously, society got stratified across economic rungs. The ‘haves’ started climbing the ladder and the ‘have-nots’ kept struggling to fulfill their basic needs at the bottom-rung of the ladder. Indian society therefore had a very stratified feel with economic segments of every kind and affordability segments of every kind, living together in the same village, the same tehsil, the same district and indeed in the same city. Basic need craving therefore literally lived together in the same village, rubbing shoulders with higher-end greed, as it evolved. Everyone lived happily. Or so it seemed.

As hunger kept evolving from the basic to the advanced, the motivation levels in the people at large as well kept evolving. This basic quest to fulfill hunger was a positive drive in a large number of cases, and a negative drive in a small niche. Those who took the positive route took to the education of their children and took care of hunting out good jobs for themselves. These were the types who got a job and worked very hard. So hard that no one else worked as hard. The driving force was the need to earn enough to get all the goodies to make for a good and secure life. And those who took the negative route, took to every negative way of making money. If stealing and cheating was a way to do it, so be it.

The development of India and its consumer society to the aggressive levels of today is a function of this basic hunger. Hunger became the motivation and its fulfillment became a point of satiation and gratification. Consumer society at this level was very concerned about gratification of its needs and possibly wants. It wanted nothing more. Life was good. And large chunks of Indian society worked hard to achieve this.

Well then, that was the story of the past. How are we doing today? Where are these various chunks of consumer society? And how is the hunger-evolution doing?

Look around ourselves and look first at the big cities of the day. Every Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai and Bengaluru has every kind of stratified denizen living within it. Cheek to jowl. Indian consumer society, despite all these years of independence, still shows stratified layers of the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’. The ‘haves’ use the ‘have-nots’ to fulfill their chores. The ‘have-nots’ happily fulfill these chores in their quest to get to the status of the ‘haves’, some day or the other.

And what’s happened to hunger? How has it evolved?

Manifold really. Consumer society has climbed many-many rungs from the bottom rung of ‘hunger’ right to the top rung of ‘greed’ and maybe even beyond. The quest of modern consumer society in India is not only for the ‘want’ and the ‘need’ fulfilling products and services, but is also for the ‘desire’ and ‘aspiration’ fulfilling products and services.

I have climbed. In the beginning I wanted a car. I wanted to upgrade from my humble scooter. My first car was a second-hand Fiat. I moved on in life and earned for myself a brand new Maruti Zen. I got promoted and wanted an Esteem. I got the bite of hunger and a wee bit of greed led me on. I got my first Honda Citi. Greed and a wee bit of what I thought was hunger kept me going and got me my Mercedes Benz. I am stuck there as of now. My next desire is a JLR. I will work hard for it.

How is hunger gearing different parts of society then?

When I look at data, I find consumer society that is sitting high up on the ladder at the rung of greed, less hungry in sheer motivation terms than the ones that are sitting right at the bottom rung of the ladder. The burning desire and fire in the belly is really at the bottom-rung of the ladder of Indian consumer society today. Large chunks of population segments are sitting here. And this is the potential success story of India. This hunger and fire in the belly resides more in the small towns and villages of India today than it does in the big cities.

This is an exciting fact. Those that have already gained their riches and their goodies at the top rung of the ladder are dulled into a certain somnoloscence of having everything.

The fire in the belly is dead at this level. Except for the occasional ulcer that acts up for sure!

The real hunger at the bottom of the ladder of Indian consumer society is one that is going to drive this nation forward in every sphere, be it manufacturing, agriculture or the services sector. This basic drive at the basic end of the demographics of India is going to define the frenetic growth rate of GDP in the country in the years ahead. Cheers to that!

And before you sleep today, ask yourself the question. Are you ‘hungry’ or ‘greedy? Or both for that matter?

The Impatient and Hungry Consumer Marketing folk are famous for inventing labels. We love to invent dog-tags for generations of consumers. Remember the way we labeled Gen X, Gen Y and Gen Z? What next? What’s the Generation we are living through called?

I had to sit under my own Peepul Tree to invent a name for the generation of consumers we are living with and through, as marketers and business folk in the business of buying and selling and hopefully making lives better.

My recent studies in the consumer space indicate that there is a very distinct trend we spot in the new consumer of today. This one trend is Impatience, with a capital ‘I’. The new consumer of today is more impatient than the consumer just one marketing generation before us. And guess what, if one is to read the graffiti on the wall, the Next Gen consumer is going to be even more impatient. Frightfully so.

Have you noticed how everyone is getting impatient amidst us? Our husbands and wives are more impatient than even one generation before us. Our mothers and fathers are more impatient as well. Our children are even more so. No one has the time to listen to the ‘old’ philosophy of patience. Impatience is in the air we live.

I was jolted to reality the other day by this theory of impatience that is sweeping through our lives. Gone are the days when you could preach patience and get away with it. I remember the one word of counseling HR folk had to anyone who went to them complaining about a bad increment or the fact that they did not get promoted. Patience. Be patient, and everything will fall into place. This, sadly, seems to be an old virtue. The new world is an impatient one and does not believe in patience at all. Patience is the bad word, and Impatience the good one. Impatience is a virtue today, it seems.

Take my own case. My 16 year old son went to school one fine morning. He was participating in an election for the post of Sports Secretary. Polling happened in the school democracy, and my son came back home in the evening. Accidentally, he found his dad at home as well. Dad looked at son, saw a depressed face, and I went to him and tried to console him. I said in my mature and well practised older counseling voice. “Son, winning and losing is a part of the game. You must take both with equanimity’.

My son reacted. He said he had not lost. I then asked him why he was looking depressed. He told me that the election had happened in the morning first session, but results had not been announced by the time school closed.

Aha! This was surely impatience at its peak. I therefore sat my son down and gave him a piece of ‘gyan’ on patience for twenty minutes. I spoke to him of the best theorists and practitioners of patience in the world. I went through Indian names such as Mahatma Gandhi and Swami Vivekananda as well. Twenty minutes went by, with me waxing and waning eloquent.
At the end of the twenty minutes, my son looks at me and asks me a simple question. He asks. ”Appa, when you can be Impatient, why be patient?”

I just had no answer to this question. Stumped into stupor by the simplistic question, I tucked my ‘gyan’ giving tail and realised that the generation of the young in our lives is totally attuned to impatience. Patience is difficult for them to understand. Patience, sadly again, is an old virtue. Impatience is the norm today and every marketer and business person needs to attune his business to impatience. Marketers of yesteryears were and are good at ‘Patience Marketing’ whereas the new requirement is ‘Impatience Marketing’. Businesses need to develop the new skill, art, science and philosophy of Impatience. The entire DNA of businesses need to change keeping in mind the new Gen we are living through: The Impatient generation. The I-Gen.!

This generation of consumers is all about speed and quickness. If an election happens in the morning, they expect results by the evening if not by afternoon itself. No one has the time to wait and watch. This is a generation led by time. I call this gen the Bio-clock generation as well. The BC Gen is here. A generation that is very sensitive to the fact that life is short. A generation that believes in the philosophy that shouts out loud, “YOLO”! You only live once!

This generation believes life is all about a lifespan of 80 years multiplied into 364 or 365 days, multiplied into 24 hours. Every moment is precious. Every moment that elapses is a moment that is over. The Bio-clock is ticking away every minute. You need to plan well for every hour for now. You need to be sure that every hour you expend results in a delivery that is quick and comfortable. This generationmore than any other, believes that we are dying every moment, rather than living. And that is the macro-trend in the I-Gen and the Bioclock Gen of today.

I work a fair bit in the IT and ITES industries. Out here, the age-profile of workers is low. The average age of the worker is 24 years. In IT, 33 per cent of the folk are women and in ITES the number goes up to 52 per cent. Both the genders are very frenetic in their life-styles. They have money in their hands when very young, they want to own a car even before their bike is three years oldand want to own a flat even before the ink on their first promotion letter has dried. Everyone wants everything fast and quick.

The young in the BC Generation plans every aspect of their lives to the tee. There is this young girl, all of 24, who is making a trip to Goa with her friends. She is spending three nights and four days in Goa with her friends. She has calculated that it is all of 11 meals she has in Goa. She is a big foodie. She has gone to Zomato and has mapped her every restaurant and every meal in Goa. She says she has little time and wants to maximise every bit. Therefore, she carries a Food Plan with her on her smartphone, customised to her taste. She will follow it to the tee. How boring. But how planned!
Good or bad is not the issue. That’s a value judgment we need to desist from passing.

Spontaneity may be dead, but planning is in. And with planning, in comes the yen to maximise on time. The Impatient Generation of today is all about wanting good service everywhere they go. It is all about speed and delivery. It is all about good quality in offerings. It is all about not tolerating a fault-line in any of this as well.

All this raises a challenge to the marketing and business environment built by older folk in the business, who just don’t understand impatience. These folk are still waxing eloquent on the virtues of patience, just as I attempted to do it with my son.

I think it is time for businesses to sit up and smell the coffee. It’s time to smell the burning desire for impatience among the young. It is time to change and instill in all businesses, retail or otherwise, the ingredient of impatience. All businesses need to instill the ‘new-virtue’ of impatience into their business delivery mechanisms.

If you are food-delivery business, one fault is enough to taint your image forever. Forgiveness is out. It is old fashioned in an era where the options are many and myriad to choose from.
Well, if you don’t agree with this, you can still fight the trend and try to buck it. Time alone will tell who was right and who wrong. But the key point is, can your business risk it? And must you?

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