Think ‘instant’ and, in the Indian context, the immediate imagery that comes to mind is a moving picture of noodles, burgers, fried chicken, pizza delivery—and, away from food, an adhesive that holds the promise of sticking things in the snap of a finger.
It may have all started with coffee, though, with the quest for an instant, or soluble, variety. The British apparently granted the first patent to a ‘coffee compound’ in the 1770s and the Americans resorted to instant coffee ‘cakes’ during the Civil War. But it was a Japanese chemist in Chicago, Illinois, who is credited with developing stable soluble coffee powder, to which one just had to add water. That was in 1901 and, by the end of the decade, mass production had begun.
Over the century that followed, a lot more took the instant route—not just bun, patty and fries but, with it, gratification, consumerism and, as John Lennon reminded us, karma. Meanwhile, the instant F&B trolley rolled on, with everything from baby food, powdered eggs (fully dehydrated), soups and gravy to milk tea and juices
Circa 2020, and instant grocery is par for the course. The bar has since been raised to quicken the pace of delivering it at your doorstep. Home delivery got a boost during the pandemic-induced lockdowns, as online grocery firms focussed on bringing home the weekly or monthly essentials—vegetables, meats, pulses, cereals, cooking oils, ketchup and the like. If you ordered by morning, and got your stuff by end of day, both online grocer and consumer were happy.
Perhaps the latter isn’t meant to be happy for too long. Or perhaps it’s the hyper-competition in this field that is compelling delivery players to keep raising the bar. So then came along one-hour delivery, then 30 minutes. And now the promise of 10 minutes—at least for daily essentials and impulse purchases like biscuits, cigarettes, juices, condoms and chips. Say hello to quick commerce.
The Forbes India cover story this fortnight is on an online delivery major that’s chosen the inorganic route to venture into the instant space. Started up in 2008 and IPOed in 2021, founder Deepinder Goyal points out that Zomato has figured the food delivery game and is making money from it. Now, with Blinkit (formerly Grofers) in its armoury, he’s confident of doing the same in quick commerce, the relatively small order sizes notwithstanding. As Goyal tells Rajiv Singh, who penned ‘Blink & Deliver’, quick commerce is not too different from food delivery. “Most of the mechanics are the same.” And, yes, for Goyal, “30 (minutes) is not quick, 10 is.” For more on all the action in the rapidly evolving hyperlocal commerce space.
The first month of a new year is inevitably one of expectations from the months that lie ahead. One event that business and markets eagerly await is the Union Budget. In the Forbes India annual pre-Budget package, Salil Panchal dives into what will it take to close FY23 with 8 percent growth or thereabouts even as the pandemic rages on, and what the finance minister (FM) can do to boost exports, government expenditure and private consumption.
Other stories in the package analyse what the FM needs to do to generate employment, both rural and urban, and why the government’s social sector schemes will need beefed-up allocations at a time when the vulnerable are still reeling from disrupted incomes. That may well hinge on whether Nirmala Sitharaman is able to broadly meet the FY22 fiscal deficit target of 6.8 percent. Will she hit bullseye? For answers, turn to ‘Mind The (Fiscal) Gap’.
(This story appears in the 28 January, 2022 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)