Pinch of Sugar

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July 8, 2024

Sharleen D’Souza, Business Standard

Mumbai, 7 July 2024

In 2023, after more than two years of development and testing, Mondelez India launched a version of Bournvita that delivers about half the recommended daily allowance of key micronutrients for children, including iron, iodine, and zinc, as well as vitamins A, C and D. All this while having 15 per cent less added sugar.

“Prior to this and around two years ago we also introduced Bournvita 50 per cent less sugar variant to provide an option for consumers. We have made adaptations to our portfolio products like Bournvita biscuits, which now have 15 per cent less sugar, and our most loved Oreo chocolate variant has also seen a 5 per cent decrease in sugar content,” the company said in an email.

This drive is not confined to Mondelez. Other multinational companies, too, such as Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and Nestle India, have been working on bringing down the sugar, salt, and sodium content. They could be patting themselves on the back for doing this. Not only has the Indian consumer become more health conscious than ever — with all the talk going around that salt and sugar are two of the monsters in your kitchen (the third being maida) — but also the country’s food regulator has swung into action.

On Saturday, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) approved a proposal that information about the sugar, salt and saturated fat content on labels of packaged foods and beverages should be bolder and bigger. “Along with empowering consumers to make healthier choices, the amendment will also contribute towards efforts to combat the rise of noncommunicable diseases and promote public health and wellbeing,” the FSSAI said in a statement.

Earlier, the regulator advised ecommerce platforms to ensure that dairy-, cereal-, and maltbased beverage mixes were not available under the “health drinks” or “energy drinks” categories. The recommended sugar intake is 20 grams a day for adults and 25 grams a day for those below 18. Not more than 5 to 10 per cent of a person’s total energy intake should come from sugar. Children under two are not supposed to consume any added sugar. However, these guidelines are often breached because people tend to consume packaged foods.

Therefore, experts and activists have been calling for a different labelling, which would announce out loud what lies inside.

(Source: Business Standard)

Eating right, drinking right

Some multinationals had already been working on reducing the salt and sugar content. For instance, Coca-Cola removed more than 900,000 tonnes of added sugar globally since 2017, and 19 of its top 20 brands offer reduced-sugar or zero-sugar options. In India, Coca-Cola’s Minute Maid Honey Infused drinks offer added dietary fibre for healthy digestion in three flavours.

“In 2022, approximately 68 per cent of our global beverage portfolio contained less than 100 calories per 12-ounce serving (350 ml), with 246 low- or no-sugar options launched,” Coca-Cola India said in a statement to Business Standard.

The company added that it prioritised transparency by placing calorie information on the front of all its packaging worldwide and did not market its products directly to children under 13.

Nestle India joined the FSSAI’s Eat Right movement and signed the pledge to reduce an average of 6 per cent added sugar, 10 per cent salt, and 2.5 per cent fat in its relevant product categories. “The company has achieved these commitments,” it said.

Varun Beverages, PepsiCo’s India bottler, told its investors on a conference call that its gross margins improved significantly, rising by 385 basis points to 56.3 per cent — and sugar had a role to play in it.

“This increase was largely driven by our focus on reducing sugar content and the light-weighting packaging material, incidentally, also meeting our sustainability initiatives along with the benefits from reduced PET prices which contributed to this improvement,” Raj Pal Gandhi, chief financial officer of Varun Beverages, said on the investor call.

Approximately 46 per cent of the company’s reconsolidated sales volumes, he said, came from low-sugar or no-sugar products. The no- or less-sugar trend is working for the company as it optimises its cost structure and enhances its overall efficiency.

“These efforts have had a tangible impact on our financial performance with EBITDA increasing by 23.9 per cent to the level of Rs. 988.76 crore year-on-year, and the Ebitda margin improving by 240 basis points to the level of 22.9 per cent in quarter one of 2024 (January-March),” Gandhi said. Ebitda, a widely accepted benchmark of profitability, is short for earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortisation.

“So, we are developing more and more — Gatorade, we mentioned a new launch which PepsiCo has given us formulation with zero sugar. So, effort is there, and constant effort is there to reduce the sugar content,” Gandhi said. PepsiCo India said in an earlier statement it had initiated trials of a blend of sunflower oil and palmolein oil in certain parts of its portfolio last year, thus becoming one of the few players in the food industry in India to do so.

Rush of junk

Experts say the standards for food and beverages vary across the world and India should have its own. “There should be thresholds for healthy and unhealthy and, in my view, this should be labelled boldly on the front of the pack,” says Arun Gupta, convener, Nutrition Advocacy for Public Interest (NAPi), a think tank.

A report titled The Junk Rush, jointly brought out by the Breastfeeding Promotion Network of India and NAPi, said: “India faces a severe public health crisis of obesity and diabetes.” In 2022, a group of public health experts, consumers, lawyers, and patient groups had called upon the government of India to check the soaring consumption of junk food among the country’s youth.

“Certain countries are more stringent than others. Even global brands have the same product, but the ingredients differ across countries and continents,” says Devangshu Dutta, founder of Third Eyesight. He explains that India still has some road to travel on food safety, alleging that some ingredients benefit companies more — such as by providing a longer shelf life — than the consumer.

“The Indian regulator is still very new to the game. If you look at processed foods, it is a newer market and the regulator needs to pick-up pace,” Dutta says.

On Saturday, the FSSAI picked up pace.

(Published in Business Standard)

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:

Starbucks Records Slowest Growth Since Pandemic In India Last Fiscal

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May 6, 2024

Sesa Sen, NDTV Profit

6 May 2024

Starbucks Corp., the world’s largest coffee chain, posted its slowest sales growth in India since the pandemic. The coffee giant is struggling to bring in as much business as it has in the past as consumers reduce their visits even as it prepares for ambitious store expansion in a tea-drinking nation.

The India unit formed in partnership with the Tata Group clocked net sales of Rs 1,218 crore, a growth of 12%, during the year ended March 2024, according to Tata Consumer Products Ltd.’s latest investor presentation.

The Seattle-based retailer experienced a compounded annual growth rate of 21.89% between FY17 and FY23 in the world’s most populous nation. The only exception to this trend was in FY21, when sales plunged by 33% as shops were forced to shut down due to the impact of Covid-19.

“Tata Starbucks had a subdued quarter given the overall trends that we’re seeing in the QSR [quick service restaurants] business,” said Sunil D’Souza, managing director and chief executive officer at Tata Consumer Products.

He, however, indicated that March was an improvement over February, and April was even better than March. “So, we see a better trend right now, and we remain focused on the larger India opportunity.”

Tata Starbucks Pvt. Ltd. took 11 years to scale its operations to a revenue of over Rs 1,000 crore. Although the joint venture turned positive at the EBITDA level for the fiscal year 2023, it continues to be loss-making. In the year ending March 2023, Tata Starbucks posted a net loss of Rs 25 crore on a turnover of Rs 1,087 crore, according to filings with the Registrar of Companies. The net profit figures for fiscal 2024 are not available yet.

The coffee chain has seen its popularity take a major hit over the last two quarters, ending in March and December, with a meagre 7% increase in sales during each period. This is a marked shift from its historical track record of double-digit growth, suggesting that consumers are now looking for more budget-friendly cafe experiences.

“Consumers have turned slightly more conservative with their spends, which is affecting both the frequency and of transactions,” according to Devangshu Dutta, head of retail consultancy Third Eyesight.

According to him, new store openings rather than an increase in sales at existing ones could drive growth.

The other reason is that the coffee market is more competitive today, with most local peers selling at price points lower than Starbucks, Dutta said.

Starbucks competes with Bengaluru-based Cafe Coffee Day and foreign entrant Barista, among others, in the country’s $400 million market. It also faces competition from private equity-backed Third Wave and Blue Tokai, which have opened about 200 stores between them in the last three years.

Since opening its first cafe in October 2012, Tata Starbucks’ store count has grown to 421, implying that on average, each outlet generated roughly Rs 3 crore in revenue from coffee, snacks, and merchandise sales in FY24.

The dwindling sales come at a time when the company plans to open 1,000 cafes in India. To meet the target, it seeks to open one new store every three days.

Starbucks added 29 net new stores between January and March, achieving a record of 95 stores opening in a year, according to the presentation.

The coffee chain had earlier said it plans to enter tier-2 and tier-3 cities in the country and increase the number of its drive-through, airport-based and 24-hour cafes. It also aims to double its headcount to 8,600.

To lure consumers back after a rough start to the year, the coffee giant is launching new products like a boba-inspired summer beverage.

“Over the past 11 years, the India market has grown to become one of Starbucks’ fastest-growing markets in the world,” Laxman Narasimhan, chief executive officer, Starbucks, said in a statement during his India visit earlier this year. “With a growing middle class, we are proud to help cultivate the evolving coffee culture while honouring its rich heritage.”

Starbucks faces challenges not only in India but also globally. A disastrous fourth quarter that saw a slowdown in store visits promoted Starbucks Corp. to lower its expectations for its full-year sales and profit. Its revenue for the January–March period dropped 2%, the first since the end of 2020.

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)

Venture Capital in Retail – What Attracts Investors to Retail Business (VIDEO)

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February 15, 2024

An insightful must-watch discussion, moderated by Devangshu Dutta (Founder, Third Eyesight), with venture capital fund managers, investors and entrepreneurs in retail on what factors attract investors to retail businesses.

The panelists included Vikram Gupta (Founder & Managing Partner, IvyCap Ventures), Amar Nagaram, (Co-Founder, Virgio), and Vikram Gawande (Vice President, Growth, Blume Ventures).