Pankaj Mahajan lives in Noida with his dietitian wife Rohini and two teenaged children Rahul and Rashmi. He has the habit of buying household groceries at the beginning of every month. Along with his two children and wife, he would visit the nearby Reliance Mart and Big Bazaar stores. Besides, the regular detergents and soaps, his purchase basket would include staples, pulses, cooking oil and spices.
He and his two children would also buy ready to eat snacks such as biscuits, wafers, and extruded snacks for late night snacking. He would also buy dairy products such as ice-cream, cheese, butter and packs of milk shakes and lassi. Wife, who is interested in making desserts, would buy cake mixes and her regular Maggi and Chings noodles along with hakka noodle packs and their seasonings.
He and his son do not have any culinary skills and so would buy some of the new generation products such as ready to cook spice mixes, ready to cook breakfasts and meal products. These packaged food products came in handy whenever he or any family member wanted to try their hand at cooking, especially when the cook was away on leave during the month.
Just before lockdown started on April 25, 2020, he and his family carried out their last-minute purchases to stock all their monthly food stocks and favorite ready-to-eat and cook products. This stock would last them over the duration of the lockdown, so that they did not have to go out buy any grocery and would have to only buy their regular vegetables from Safal.
During this pandemic lockdown, his son’s birthday was well celebrated with his daughter making a chocolate cake for the birthday and he is preparing Hyderabadi Dum Chicken Biryani from the ready to cook spice mix he had bought earlier. His wife who considers herself as a good cook had never accepted these ready to cook spice mixes but during the birthday celebrations, she appreciated the Hyderabadi Dum Chicken Biryani made by her husband.
During this extended pandemic lockdown, the family has relied more on the new generation of packaged foods as there was no domestic help and all household chores were being done by the house lady. So, it was inevitable that Pankaj and his son have had to lend their hand in cooking and cleaning. The family has now become an ardent user of all the new generation food products and they look forward to using more of such products even after the lockdown is lifted and the fears of the virus subside.
With the lockdown in place, when all are to stay at home, one of the major essentials is the Daily Food, which has to be made with no domestic help or cooks coming regularly. At the same time, prepared food cannot be ordered from the nearby hotels/ restaurants and eateries as most of them are closed. As a result, families and bachelors have to cook for themselves and the load on the house-lady gets more with attending to the children and doing all the routine household chores without the assistance of the domestic help.
Amidst the ongoing lockdown, it’s become more difficult for bachelors and less culinary skilled persons (more dependent on getting food from outside home) to prepare food at home and hence they have to rely more on the ready to cook food products, snacks, instant mixes and many processed foods including breakfast cereals and the next generation of packaged food products, which require less culinary skills. Usually, these products are purchased to meet for exigency demands made by children or due to the unexpected visit of guests coming home.
But if one visits the stores today, the shelves of snacks, ready to cook products such as instant noodles, instant breakfasts, instant meals and heat and eat meals, frozen RTE foods have all disappeared from retail shelves. Even UHT milk in tetra packs, which was rarely touched, have vanished as the consumer now want to use the long life UHT milk.
In short, this is proving to be the best period for the new age ready to cook products as more numbers of consumers are now trying and experiencing these products. At the same time, due to the special circumstances at our homes during the lockdown, consumers are forming a positive opinion about these products, which is sure to fuel a transformation in the way we engage with these products in the future.
Many households who buy such food products only for emergencies / exigencies are now having to live on these RTE products during the lockdown. Their use and demand is at an all-time high even among non-vegetarian households and that too at a time when thanks to the fears of the virus, the demand for poultry meat has dropped to dismal levels. As a result, the wholesale rates of poultry meat have touched as low as Rs 40 per kg when the production cost of one kg of poultry meat is above Rs 77 per kg. All poultry integrators, poultry processors and farmers have been losing money heavily because poultry meat is not a product that can be stored, especially during the hot summer weather.
The poultry industry finds itself in a sorry state in the current circumstances because it has failed to walk the last mile. It has left the development of the industry halfway and has made itself dependent on the live bird wholesalers who ensure that the poultry majors do not get good prices for the live birds, which are sold as a commodity. Poultry Industry should have walked the last leg in setting up poultry processing facilities and engaging in reaching processed poultry to the consumers instead of being overly dependent on the market for live birds.
Even the Fisheries industry has not been able to develop the last leg of its supply chain. The National Fisheries Development Board (NFDB) has not ensured that there’s enough capacity for the processing of fisheries. In this context, the efforts of National Dairy Development Board (NDDB) has to be lauded, which has not only worked on the increasing the supply of milk production but has also simultaneously developed the processing facilities and the cold chain for dairy products.
In the context of the current shutdown, organizations whose product supply chain is affected due to the pandemic should look at alternate supply chains to reach the consumers. Organizations that have already developed an e-commerce and a distribution and supply app for retailers and consumers would be able to reap the benefits during the lockdown period. Organizations that produce essential products such as milk, meat and other daily food products and organized grocery retailers need to justify their presence in the community by going out of their way to serve the community. This way, these brands will be able to build loyalty even in post pandemic normal times.
Even during the lockdown period, packaged food manufacturers have an opportunity to convert consumers and make them regular buyers and users of their products by ensuring the following:
– The movement of these products, which are there in their supply chain pipeline to reach the retail outlets in both General Trade and Modern Trade.
– Any stocks lying at their factories and regional warehouses need to be moved to their destinations on priority.
– Production of these products at their factories and ensuring that minimum of the labour are utilized in keeping with the social distancing norms.
– Production of packaged food products can be ensured to move across to reach the distributors and retailers.
– Be prepared for the extension or partial lifting of the lockdown as there will a surge in demand due to the vacant shelves at the retail outlets. Brands that can reach their goods first will ensure their sales happen without much holding.
– There will be a greater surge in demand from the households due to the following: a. Households will want to store such products for the future. Even households that have never stocked such next generation packaged food will store them for any eventuality. b. With the usage of these products and formation of positive opinions, households will like to continue the usage of these packaged food and beverages regularly. c. Products that have been served to children during this period will find a greater demand due to the children’s persistence and pester power.