Seamless Customer Experience in an Omnichannel Retail World

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May 8, 2024

At the recent Phygital Retail Convention in Mumbai, Devangshu Dutta anchored an engaging “Fireside Chat” with Bhavana Jaiswal of IKEA India and Kapil Makhija of Unicommerce , on retailers engaging with their customers across channels and formats, and the opportunities as well as challenges in managing experiences seamlessly across online and offline interfaces.

Watch the video at this link:

Indian spice makers under heat in Asia for alleged contamination

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May 3, 2024

SAYAN CHAKRABORTY, Nikkei staff writer
Bengaluru, 2 May 2024

India’s packaged spice manufacturers MDH and Everest are under regulatory scrutiny in several countries after their products were allegedly found to contain carcinogenic elements, barely a year after cough syrups made in the South Asian nation were linked to the deaths of over 140 children in Africa.

Countries like Australia, New Zealand and the U.S. are weighing investigations into the packaged spices made by the companies after Hong Kong authorities raised a red flag over their quality. This isn’t the first time that the two — among the largest such companies in India — have faced these kinds of issues, with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration ordering a recall of Everest spice mixes in 2023 and some MDH products in 2019, both due to salmonella contamination.

The Centre for Food Safety (CFS) in Hong Kong said in a statement on April 5 that it found ethylene oxide (ETO), a pesticide that can cause cancer if consumed in large amounts, in three types of packaged spices manufactured by MDH and one made by Everest. The products were taken off the shelves and recalled, the CFS said.

Taking its cue from the Hong Kong authorities, the Singapore Food Agency (SFA) a couple of weeks later recalled the Everest Fish Curry Masala product, saying in a statement that consumers who had purchased it were “advised not to consume it.”

The SFA also said, “As the implicated products [in Hong Kong] were imported into Singapore, the SFA has directed the importer to recall the products.” The agency clarified that “although there is no immediate risk to consumption of food contaminated with low levels of ethylene oxide, long-term exposure may lead to health issues.”

India’s Spice Board, a government agency that oversees spice exports, said that the limit for ETO varies between countries, from 0.02 milligram per kilogram of spices in places like the U.K. and Norway to 7 milligram per kilogram in Canada and the U.S.

Pesticides are widely used in agriculture in India, often leaving traces in food products. According to Indian government estimates, the cultivated area where chemical pesticide is used grew 33.4% from the fiscal year ending March 2019 to fiscal 2023, reaching 108,216 hectares. That was about seven times the area cultivated with biopesticides in 2023.

“We tend to look critically at the end product, but even more rigor is needed at the level of the ingredients,” said Devangshu Dutta, CEO at consultancy firm Third Eyesight, referring to the use of pesticides in cultivation. “Otherwise, we will end up kind of catching the product at the last point of control, which is not enough.”

Hong Kong and Singapore did not disclose the amount of ETO content in the recalled products. MDH and Everest had not responded to requests for comment by the time of publication.

Authorities elsewhere have also taken note of the allegations. “Food Standards Australia New Zealand is working with our international counterparts to understand the issue with federal, state and territory food enforcement agencies to determine if further action is required in Australia, e.g., a food recall,” the agency told Nikkei Asia in an email statement on Wednesday.

The regulatory scrutiny in the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong and Singapore, raises questions over an export market worth about $700 million, research firm Global Trade Research Initiative (GTRI) said in a report on Wednesday.

“Swift investigations and the publication of findings are essential to re-establish global trust in Indian spices,” GTRI said, adding that the “lack of clear communication [from government agencies] is disappointing.”

Indian food has been under scrutiny in Europe as well. The European Commission Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed estimates that since the beginning of 2023, Indian food products were deemed to pose “serious” risks in 166 instances. These included nine cases of ethylene oxide found in food supplements and spices in countries including Sweden, Greece and Italy.

Chinese food imports were found to pose serious risks on 115 occasions and those from the U.S. on 152 occasions.

The recalls come at a time when New Delhi is rolling out incentives to support local manufacturers and exporters in transforming India into a $5 trillion economy. India is the world’s largest exporter of spices with shipments worth $3.9 billion in 2023, followed by Vietnam and Mexico, according to data provider Tendata. Those figures give India a market share of 37.2%, with Vietnam at 28.1% and Mexico at 9.6%.

The issue with food products follows an outcry over the quality of medicines manufactured in India. Since 2022, the World Health Organization has linked the deaths of at least 141 children in Gambia, Uzbekistan and Cameroon to cough syrups made by India’s Maiden Pharmaceuticals, Marion Biotech and Riemann Labs that it alleged contained toxins.

But while the pharma companies are small local players, MDH and Everest made revenues of $260 million and $360 million respectively, in the fiscal year ended March 2023.

Poor food quality in India stems from a general lack of awareness about food safety and insufficient resources to track ingredients, among other reasons, said U.S.-based food and beverage consultancy AIB International in a report in October.

The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India found 16,582 samples unsafe in the fiscal year 2022, the latest such data available. That was a threefold jump from the previous year.

“Most of the food and beverage manufacturers in India are focused on reducing costs to make their product affordable to the public,” the report said. “As a result, many cannot prioritize food safety as a pillar of their business because it could prevent them from meeting their profit margins.”

“Food manufacturing and processing facilities can lack the resources to maintain proper hygiene,” it noted, adding that food-borne illnesses in India is estimated to top 100 million every year.

(Published on Nikkei)

Flipkart wants a bite of India’s Q-commerce growth

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March 18, 2024

Christina Moniz, Financial Express

March 18, 2024

It is not difficult to understand why e-commerce firm Flipkart wants a bite of the Q-commerce pie.

India’s quick commerce market has been growing year-on-year at 77% to reach $2.8 billion in GMV (gross merchandise value) in 2023, according to a Redseer report. In comparison, e-commerce has been growing at 14-15% year-on-year. No one would dispute that with instant deliveries of products and groceries in 10-20 minutes, quick commerce firms like the Zomato-owned Blinkit, Zepto and Swiggy Instamart have changed the face of e-commerce and retail over the past few years.

While quick commerce thrives, none of the players in this ring are profitable yet. According to Devangshu Dutta, CEO at Third Eyesight, most quick commerce firms are in an expensive market acquisition phase and are at least a year away from profitability — perhaps longer. He expects that the unit economics for these companies will improve. “Some of the quick commerce players have created a substantial consumer base, which is growing in the frequency of transactions, moving to higher order values and transacting more products with potentially better margins,” says Dutta.

Both Zepto and Blinkit expect to turn profitable in FY25, as per their public statements.

So what are the primary challenges? “Traditional large e-commerce players face obstacles in facilitating last-mile deliveries, establishing dark stores, managing supply chains effectively, and navigating fierce market competition,” says Anshul Garg, managing partner & head, Publicis Commerce India.

The other key challenge for the late entrants is that customers seldom switch platforms. This is different from the way customers shop for products like electronics on e-commerce, where they compare prices/ deals across multiple e-commerce marketplaces. Brands like Flipkart need to define their playbook by maybe exploring categories other than grocery if they are to make a dent in this market.

As things stand, quick commerce has a mere 7% of the potential market. The total addressable market is estimated at $45 billion, higher than food delivery, as per JM Financial. Blinkit leads the market with a 46% share, followed by Swiggy Instamart at 27%, and Zepto at 21%.

Growing-up pangs

Kushal Bhatnagar, associate partner at Redseer Strategy Consultants, explains that there are broadly three ways that Q-commerce firms are working towards profitability. The first is by pushing higher priced items on their platforms and bumping up higher average order values. They’re also foraying into non-grocery segments such as cosmetics and headphones.

The other lever is ensuring dark store efficiencies. “While dark stores are an added cost, most platforms have a solid understanding of the demand across micro markets and are able to extract better profitability from each dark store. So the trend is positive, even if profitability is still to be achieved,” explains Bhatnagar.

For a dark store to deliver ROI and become profitable, it needs to cross 1,200-1,300 daily orders.

Some players like Zepto are also experimenting with a nominal platform fee of Rs. 2 per order, which they sometimes increase during peak times — by up to Rs. 10 — to gain from a surge in demand. Some are also implementing 12-15% fees for orders under Rs. 500, nudging customers to spend more.

Ad revenue is another important lever driving growth for these platforms, especially as D2C brands hop on board and advertise on them to reach GenZ and millennial consumers in metros and tier-I markets. Advertising revenue is around 3% of a platform’s GMV, and it is expected to keep growing.

FMCG and F&B are the top advertising categories on quick commerce currently but that can change as platforms move into higher value categories. “Quick commerce is also venturing into unconventional categories such as electronics, mobile and large appliances. If all goes according to plan, we can anticipate a significant shift in advertising contribution, given that these categories boast higher average selling prices, prompting advertisers to adopt a slightly more aggressive stance,” says Shashank Rathore, vice-president, e-commerce at Interactive Avenues (IPG Mediabrands India).

(Published in Financial Express)

Realty race in Maximum City as Tata Group, Reliance Industries keep on shopping

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February 23, 2024

Kailash Babar & Sagar Malviya, Economic Times

Mumbai, 23 February 2024

Tata Group and Reliance Industries, two of India’s largest conglomerates, are vying for premium retail real estate in Mumbai as they extend their footprints, creating rivalry in a city starved of marquee properties. From Zara and Starbucks to Westside and Titan, the Tata Group occupies nearly 25 million square feet of retail space in India. That is still no match for Reliance Industries that control three times more at 73 million sq ft for more than 100 local and global brands.

But in Mumbai, they are evenly matched, having nearly 3 million sq ft of retail space each. That is a quarter of what is considered the most prime retail real estate in the country, and both the retail giants are looking for more.

“In a modern retail environment, most visible locations contain more successful or larger brands. It just so happens that many of those brands are owned by either Reliance or the Tatas,” said Devangshu Dutta, founder of Third Eyesight, a strategy consulting firm.

“Tatas have been in retail for longer but also slower to scale up compared to Reliance which had this stated ambition of being the most dominant and put the money behind it,” he said.

In a market where demand is much higher than supply, developers and landlords seek to separate the wheat from the chaff, experts said. Ultimately, success in Mumbai’s retail real estate scene hinges on a delicate equilibrium between accommodating industry leaders and fostering a vibrant, varied shopping environment, they said. “In the competitive landscape of retail real estate in Mumbai, commercial developers and mall owners often face the strategic challenge of accommodating prominent retail brands,” said Abhishek Sharma, director, retail, at commercial real estate consultants Knight Frank India.

“These big brands, with a significant market share of 40-45% in the Indian retail sector, can easily be termed as industry giants and possess the potential to command 45-50% of space in any mall,” he said. According to Sharma, there may be perceptions of preferential treatments, but the dynamics are complex, and developers must balance the demand from these major brands with the need for a diverse tenant mix.

Tata Group entered retail in the late 1980s, initially by opening Titan watch stores and a decade later by launching department store Westside. So far, it has about 4,600 stores, including brands such as Tanishq, Starbucks, Westside, Zudio, Zara and Croma.

While Reliance Retail started in 2006, it overcompensated for its late entry by aggressively opening stores across formats. Reliance has over 18,774 stores across supermarkets, electronics, jewellery, and apparel space. It has also either partnered or acquired over 80 global brands, from Gap and Superdry to Balenciaga and Jimmy Choo. A diverse portfolio of brands across various segments through strategic partnerships and collaborations helps an entity like Reliance to leverage synergies and enhance retail presence, especially in malls, experts said.

“The array of brands with Reliance bouquet allows it to enter early into the project and set the tone and positioning of the mall,” said a retail leasing expert who requested not to be identified.

“This positively helps the mall to set its own positioning and future tenant mix. It also helps Reliance place their brands in most relevant zones within the mall. This will emerge as a clear differentiator in a city like Mumbai where brands are already jostling for space, which is the costliest in the country,” the person added.

(Published in Economic Times)

Package Deal

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February 21, 2024

Sharleen D’Souza, Business Standard

Mumbai, 20 February 2024

Over the past year, Amul has undergone a transformative journey, evolving from a dairy-centric entity to a comprehensive foods company.

Since 2022, PepsiCo India, too, has embarked on extensive launches in the food category.

Not to be left behind, ITC, which has been introducing an average of 100 fastmoving consumer goods (FMCG) products across categories every year, has also launched a number of packaged food items.

The shelves in stores are packed. The options on e-commerce platforms are dizzyingly aplenty. The consumer is spoilt for choice. Which flavour of oats to go for? What packet of chips to pick? Should one reach out for those mouthwatering frozen snacks or think healthy and opt for atta (wheat flour) cookies?

Companies are pulling out all possible goodies in the form of packed food.

It is a strategic shift initiated during the pandemic and which has proven to be a lasting trend. During the pandemic, when other businesses were curtailing expenses, food companies started launching new products as consumers turned to packaged food.

Amul identified a growing preference for purity during the pandemic, and realised that this preference was here to stay. The company aggressively expanded its product range, venturing beyond dairy into items such as organic dal, atta, and basmati rice.

“We noticed that consumers were moving from unbranded to branded products, and were increasingly seeking out those that would boost their immunity,” says Jayen Mehta, managing director, Gujarat
Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation. Even later, as the world moved out of the pandemic, the preference for packaged foods continued.

Convenience foods, which had gained prominence during the pandemic, sustained their popularity. The widespread adoption of modern retail formats, including brick-and-mortar, e-commerce and quick commerce, proved to be further growth enablers for packaged foods. These formats facilitate the display of entire product ranges to a larger consumer base, says brand expert Devangshu Dutta, founder at Third Eyesight, and that helps.

Growing platter

Today, while Amul’s flagship product, packaged milk, is recording double-digit growth, Mehta says the company is also focusing on premiumisation by introducing artisanal cheese and products such as
Amul High Protein Buttermilk, high protein lassi and shakes, and whey protein.

ITC’s diverse launches, meanwhile, include lump-free Aashirvaad Besan, frozen breads, Dark Fantasy centre-fill cookies, and a variety of Master Chef frozen snacks such as paneer pakoda and onion rings, B
Natural fruit juices, Aashirvaad Svasti ghee, and so on.

Last year, as the focus turned to millets, and 2023 was declared International Year of Millets, the Kolkata-headquartered conglomerate saw a healthy business opportunity. It launched ITC Mission Millet with
an array of millet-based products: Sunfeast millet cookies, Aashirvaad millet mixes, YiPPee! millet-based noodles, Candyman Fantastik chocsticks with millets, and more.

“The company will continue with its focus on consumer-centric innovation and product launches across its portfolio,” says Hemant Malik, executive director, ITC. A finger on the consumer’s pulse, product research and development through ITC’s Life Sciences and Technology Centre, and an extensive omnichannel distribution infrastructure are helping the game.

PepsiCo India, too, is in the race to capture a growing share of the packaged food market. How serious the company is about this can be gauged from the fact that since 2022, its launches in the packaged food category have been the highest since it entered the food space in 1995.

It is not even two months into 2024 and PepsiCo has already launched three flavours in oats: masala magic, herby cheese, and mixed berries.

Last year, it had four launches and introduced seven new flavours in Doritos and Kurkure. And in 2022, it launched five new products and eight new flavours in Doritos, Quaker Oats and Lay’s.

In Lay’s, it went premium and launched Lay’s Gourmet.

Sravani Babu, associate director and category lead at Quaker Oats, says while the category is nascent compared to other FMCG segments, it is growing in double digits. So, the three new flavours were a
considered call.

While “basic oats continue to be the leading segment in the category,” she says, with these new flavours, the company is looking at oats as not just something one eats for breakfast. With PepsiCo keen on broadening the oats portfolio, the bowl is expected to see even more variety in the time to come.

Food in a jiffy

Quick commerce, which promises deliveries within 10 minutes, has also accelerated in-home consumption trends, said Saumya Rathor, category lead of potato chips at PepsiCo India, in an interview.

Consumer habits, she said, take decades to evolve, but the pandemic hastened that shift. So, the convenience-driven traction for packaged foods has persisted. E-commerce and quick commerce have only expanded packaged snack penetration across the country.

In response to the growing demand, PepsiCo India has announced its first food manufacturing plant in Nalbari, Assam, with an investment of Rs. 778 crore ($95 million). Scheduled to be operational in 2025,
this expansive facility spans 44.2 acres and underscores the company’s desire to make the most of the rising consumption trends in the foods sector.

Other food companies, including ITC and Amul, have also embraced an assertive stance, launching products strategically.

The trajectory indicates a promising future for India’s packaged food sector. The shelves are set to overflow.

Size of the packaged foods market: In 2022, India’s packaged food market size was $2.7 billion and it is projected to reach $3.4 billion by 2027

(According to Statista)

(Published in Business Standard)