Folks are dining on ice cream!


February 1, 2012

Priyanka Golikeri , Daily News & Analysis (DNA)

Bangalore, February 1, 2012

Reader guidance: the following story will likely make a mouth-watering read, potentially making you salivate and yearn for a calorie-rich sweet food that some pregnant women allegedly crave in the middle of the night.

Okay, with the disclaimer-cum-warning out of the way, let’s dive, head first, into the changing world of ice cream in India. Walk in to any 21st-centuryish ice cream parlour in Bangalore, and in all likelihood you will see hot golden-brown caramel sauce jostling for space with chilled milky-white whipped cream to drip gradually over a wide glass-bowl of sizzling walnut brownie which is sprinkled with crunchy malted milk-balls, multi-coloured marshmallows and crispy choco-chip cookies. All of them are arranged in perfect tandem with four scoops of melt-in-the-mouth ice cream in vanilla, chocolate, butterscotch and coffee flavours. Completing the picture are a few pieces of wobbly strawberry jelly that decorate a platter of juicy fruits and dry fruits spread over a layer of thick orange jam which conceals dollops of silky soft cheesecake ice cream or a fruity sorbet.

As you can discern by now, the mundane solo- and double-scoop cherry-topped treats in paper cups or wafer cones are passe. Sinful pleasures are now made of parfaits, sundaes and super-sundaes in myriad flavours, all prepared with fruits, dry fruits, malt balls and crushed cookies drenched in sauces, jams and honey.

From a post-meal dessert, ice cream is evolving into a mini-meal that pleases the likes of Deepak Gowda, a Bangalore-based marketing executive. After working non-stop for six hours last Friday, he decided to unwind at an ice cream parlour. Bewitched by the wide array of colours and flavours on display, Gowda selected a new offering containing three scoops of raspberry ice cream sandwiched between layers of strawberry jam, caramel sauce and orange jelly, and topped with thick pieces of bananas, strawberries and apricots. The sheer scale of the “dessert” left no space for a formal lunch, says Gowda.

Ice cream’s evolution has been gradual. The entry of international brands like Haagen Dazs, Movenpick, Swensen’s (and, before them, Baskin Robbins), first led to industry estimates of 12-15% annual growth, so as to touch $900 million by 2014-15. As competition intensified, innovations in the form of novel servings followed.

“With much more on offer, for many consumers, single scoops and the common flavours are no longer enough,” says Devangshu Dutta, chief executive, Third Eyesight, a consulting firm focused on retail and consumer products. Consumers, he says, are encouraged to graduate from having an ice cream as a treat to infrequent indulgences like a hot chocolate fudge or a multi-scoop banana split.

Experts say per capita consumption of ice cream in India is still low at 300 ml per year compared to the world average of 2.3 litres. Mini-meal ice cream, however, is increasingly seen replacing traditional desserts.

It would be incorrect, however, to credit international brands alone for the trend. As far back as the mid-’70s, Mangalore, the south-western Indian city connecting Kerala and Karnataka, launched ‘Gadbad’ (Hindi for amiss), consisting of a scoop of kesar- or saffron-flavoured ice cream submerged under a layer of jelly, dry fruits, fruits, and strawberry and vanilla ice cream.

Today, Gadbad is a generic term in south India for a bowl of 3-7 scoops of ice cream dotted with tutti-frutti, nuts, raisins, fruits and honey. Priced Rs38-65, ice-cold Gadbad bowls sell like hot cakes! Mukund Kamath, proprietor of Ideal Ice Cream which makes Gadbad, says consumers prefer gigantic variants to plain scoops as there is tremendous value addition for moderate pricing.

So much so that Ideal now has six parlours in Mangalore alone with a total capacity of 1,000 seats. Gadbad and the parfait outsell single scoops by a mile, says Kamath. “Compared to Rs30 for a single scoop, Gadbad is available for something like Rs50, which works out to be economical.”

Price is not always the decisive factor though. For instance, parfaits and sundaes of international brands cost upwards of Rs150. Some premium brands retail for Rs600. “It’s often the delight factor and the experience itself which draw consumers to the sundaes,” says Shirish Shah, partner at Richie Rich Ice Cream in Bangalore (where almost 90% sales at its two parlours come from sundaes).

For most players, the objective is to increase the average transaction value. Some might consider it as a method of differentiating themselves to claim a premium positioning, says Dutta.

That the ice cream market is changing stripes is a given. But the evolution, though dramatic, is by no means transformative. The demand for single and multiple scoops is almost equal in some places, says Anurag Trehan, business head at Swensen’s which operates six parlours in India. Agrees Rashmi Upadhya, managing consultant, PwC India. “Single scoop ice creams constitute nearly 40-50% of the overall market and will continue to dominate. At the same time, the sundaes and premium ice creams will grow in popularity amongst the affluent.”