‘Born to be a grocer’ has a different meaning for me. After the traditional career track of IIT, IIM and Hindustan Unilever, I was going to be a grocer, much to my family’s disbelief. Selling ‘daal-chawal’ as a chosen vocation for the educated son was not their idea of smart choices. I wasn’t alone. I walked down the path with R K Damani of D Mart and Kishore Biyani of Big Bazaar, both avid customer observers and business creators by betting on the Indian consumer. Customer observation and insight hunting is now an instinct with me, after over a decade of consistent aisle running in all parts of the world. To my wife’s delight I love visiting stores, but much to her chagrin, I equally love chasing women customers to see what they are buying! Food, brands and retail, my vocation, catches everyone’s fancy. I’ve stirred up some recent excitement for myself shaping food stores for different ends of the market spectrum including upmarket Foodhall and now Fresh produce led neighbourhood store RelianceFresh, etc. I’m excited by various cuisines, languages and recently, learning to play music. But through all my adventures, one thing has stood by me always, a good cup of masala chai! Meet me @SupermarketWala
At a recent banquet, I was served traditional Konkani sol kadi in shot glasses. The starters included pav bhaji in martini glasses with a slice of crusty flatbread.
These days, I get to enjoy a far wider and more interesting variety of panipuri’s in all weddings, from different parts of the country, than I have ever done in my life. Indian street food has been ‘discovered’ by society all over again, albeit with a more sophisticated twist.
A huge discovery is that traditional Indian food still continues to be the biggest draw at all events. If I was looking for a much bigger phenomenon of sophistication of food, and a real mega food business opportunity in India, I should be taking the ‘but, eat samosa’ hint from Sanjeev Kapoor. Whenever anyone has cracked this magic, a marketing explosion has followed. Nestle’s Maggi was all about making noodles ‘desi’, while Lays’ Kurkure was all about making the Indian bhujia more sophisticated and ‘western’. Small entrepreneurs and shopkeepers are also climbing this bandwagon. Indian manufacturers like Haldiram’s, with their Bisleri water panipuris at their retail outlets and bhelpuri combo packs in modern packaging, have figured which way the wind is blowing.
In simpler, less sophisticated times recipe innovation and transmission happened through the conventional powerful channel of granny to mum and aunts to our kitchens. Today this process is too gradual for the rapidly exploding and impatient expectations of the Internet age consumer. The new recipe and knowledge transmission channels are TV shows, YouTube and Web pages. And the new grannies are celebrity chefs, Google ‘uncle’ and Wiki ‘aunty’. And the consumers are lapping it all up. I love it when I see “Six interesting things to do with leftover rice”, from Sanjeev Kapoor. That’s six grannies together! I clap when I’m offered the choice of branded Bombay Bhel or masala dosa rolls, neatly modified and packaged, on flights. They have to still improve their recipes, but I’m waiting; not settling for a bland lettuce and mayo sandwich!
The fact is, people want to celebrate their evolving purchasing power and tastes through exotic food, while remaining close to what they have grown up liking. To do this, they need to be helped. As in most consumer products, in this also, it needs the expertise of master chefs, food specialists, large brands and their product teams to bring in sophistication and bold experimentation. I believe the next level of magic will happen when Maggi aunty, Knorr chachi and Heinz uncle join in the ‘samosa sophistication’ opportunity. There are some signs. For instance, Pillsbury has just acquired local brand Parampara. It’s a small but emphatic start. A huge branded business opportunity is waiting in the wings. The customer is ready; but I hope the next ‘Masala Maggi’ makers are listening?