India’s consumption landscape: Consumers acquire a taste for premium as mass market lags

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January 26, 2024

Sagar Malviya, Economic Times

Mumbai, 26 January 2024

Hindustan Unilever and United Spirits together present a study in contrasts that seemingly reinforces the current purchasing trends in India’s consumption sector. At the country’s biggest consumer-goods and alco-bev companies, respectively, premium brands are flying off the shelves, but mass-priced products remain relative stragglers.

“At the premium and luxury ends, they (consumers) are continuing to spend, continuing to experiment, continuing to do repertoire drinking, especially experimenting with the white spirits, drinking at home,” Hina Nagarajan, managing director at Diageo-controlled United Spirits, told investors in a post-earnings call. “However, Middle India, or the value-oriented consumer, is actually cutting down on the number of occasions (to spend) to manage their money.”

The maker of Johnnie Walker and Smirnoff posted a 12.4% volume decline in the mass-priced segments, while pricier prestige and above categories saw a 10% growth during the December quarter. The Indian unit of the world’s biggest distiller said it expects this trend in purchasing behaviour to continue over the next couple of quarters.

At Hindustan Unilever, the country’s biggest consumer company by both sales and market value, the story isn’t vastly different. The FMCG bellwether said its premium portfolio expanded more than two-and-a-half times the mass segment over the past few quarters.

This trend was seen even in the rural areas that make up nearly half the annual sales at the maker of Dove soaps and Glow & Lovely skin creams. Pricier products now constitute a third of Hindustan Unilever’s total sales. “In rural areas, there are people who can afford and spend money, and hence, the premium portfolio in has also grown well – like it has grown in urban parts of the business,” Rohit Jawa, managing director, Hindustan Unilever, told investors after the December-quarter earnings. “We have always seen that essential and discretionary are the two realities of (the) rural (market).”

Incomes & Business Cycles

This dichotomy in purchase decisions appears to be a function of income disparity and is market-agnostic, experts believe. For instance, rural India that accounts for nearly 40% of the overall FMCG market saw a noticeable drop in demand for a year due to inflation and erratic monsoons. Cities, meanwhile, appear to be at the vanguard of overall consumption demand across categories as urban incomes, typically linked to organised sectors of the economy, are more resilient to business cycles and promise better protection against broader inflationary pressures. “Even if the consuming class, mainly upper and middle class, saw an impact on their incomes, it is still not significant to affect their discretionary spends,” said Devangshu Dutta, founder of Third Eyesight, a strategy consulting firm. “There is a buffer available for higher income growth and it will hit them later in any economic downturn. At present, it is felt in the lower-income segment.”

Over the past decade and a half, consumer companies expanded sales by pushing both pricier and affordable products. Companies still have budget-friendly options in their portfolio, but lower incomes, especially in rural areas, appear to have dented purchasing power at the budget end of the market. “The real pressure on the wallet is on the lower side, where we do see upgrades are not happening from country liquor to either the popular category or the lower end of prestige,” said Nagarajan at United Spirits.

(Published in Economic Times)

Brands rewrite their wedding story for the 2023 season

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December 12, 2023

Akshit Pushkarna, Afaqs

12 December 2023

The season for Indian weddings, usually spanning October to December, experienced an unusual twist due to Hindu calendar nuances this year, resulting in a shorter duration. The unexpected shift has upended the conventional decrease in marriage ceremonies, resulting in a condensed surge of weddings. 

A report by the Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT) anticipates Rs 4.74 lakh crore in business earnings from the 38 lakh marriages expected this wedding season, marking a historic high. In comparison, the corresponding period last year witnessed around 32 lakh weddings with total expenses amounting to Rs 3.75 lakh crore.

This presents brands involved in the wedding business with an ample opportunity to capitalise and drive forth their business revenues for the year to come. Three key brands associated with wedding business are steering their strategies to align with the evolving preferences of Indian consumers in the lucrative wedding market.

A more region-specific focus for Shaadi.com’s marketing communication

In a conversation with afaqs!, Adhish Zaveri, VP-marketing, Shaadi.com, a prominent online matrimonial and matchmaking service, speaks about how digital media is more relevant for brand building for wedding-oriented businesses now, eclipsing the relevance of traditional TV and out-of-home advertising. He sees mass media serving only reminders to prompt registrations, while the primary focus shifts towards digital platforms.

This change involves a robust regional focus within our marketing playbook, recognising the dynamic shifts in matrimonial behavior across diverse geographies

Adhish Zaveri, VP-marketing, Shaadi.com

“This season, we have incorporated a paradigm shift in our marketing strategy, driven not only by the upswing in weddings but also by observing how Indians approach finding life partners, with nuances varying across regions. This change involves a robust regional focus within our marketing playbook, recognising the dynamic shifts in matrimonial behaviour across diverse geographies,” he says.

The campaign is driven by the company’s commitment to assure individuals of finding a match within a specified timeframe. The pledge to successfully matchmake within 30 days, with a refund guarantee, serves as the crux of their messaging this season. “Tailoring our approach to each market, we’ve executed this promise uniquely.”

This approach sees the company partner with people of influence across markets to drive better visibility. For the Hindi market, they’ve forged a strategic partnership with Jasleen Royal, the acclaimed singer behind popular wedding songs like Din Shagna Da and Hiriye. Leveraging her association, Zaveri says they have orchestrated a robust social media engagement strategy.

“In the Tamil market, we’ve employed celebrities who recently tied the knot as our ‘matchmakers.’ Adapting a viral reel from this region, featuring the celebrity couple, became a cornerstone of our campaign. While regional focus has always been part of our strategy, this time we’ve approached it through a celebrity lens, creating bespoke strategies for each South Indian market. Although distinct, each strategy is unified by a celebrity-centric approach. From featuring Supriya and Sachin Pilgaonkar for Marathi audiences to enlisting Jasleen Royal for the North, and partnering with Ashok Selvan and Keerthi Pandian for the South – we’ve delved deeper into regional dynamics,” he adds.

Zaveri believes the success of the approach is evident, particularly in the South, where the company’s market presence has increased dramatically post-campaign, providing them an opportunity to further invest in the region. 

A focus on the Wedding planning business for Vikaas Gutgutia’s Ferns N Petals

In the backdrop of a season that signals prosperity, Vikaas Gutgutia, founder and managing director, Ferns N Petals (FnP),  reflects on the trajectory of its business, navigating through the challenges of a pandemic-induced wedding lull.

He says FnP strategically sustained its business in 2022, aligning with the resumption of the wedding business. With the focus shifting to a year poised for business takeoff, the company plans on exploring the wedding planning business with their new business line Shaadi Central. 

“With a legacy in the wedding industry, FnP has historically undertaken various wedding-related tasks, albeit not comprehensively under one roof or in an organised manner. This year marks a strategic shift as the company introduced ‘Shaadi Central,’ a luxury wedding company offering a one-stop solution for all wedding needs.”

“This holistic approach aims to streamline and elevate the wedding planning experience, allowing partners and their families to focus on the approaching wedding date with ease. The innovation and consolidation under ‘Shaadi Central’ have sparked notable interest and engagement in the new business venture. Having weathered a less-than-ideal summer season and traditionally subdued winter numbers, we anticipate a robust revenue surge, making the current season particularly promising,” he asserts.”

The business setup was sparked by Gutgutia’s assertion that, with the evolving landscape of wedding planning, which has made destination weddings and grandeur now necessary for some, the role of wedding planners has become significantly prominent. The launch’s alignment with the business boom anticipated with the wedding season of 2023, Gutgutia underscores the importance of timing in business.

The innovation and consolidation under ‘Shaadi Central’ have sparked notable interest and engagement in the new business venture.

Vikaas Gutgutia, founder and managing director, Ferns N Petals (FnP)

Delving into the marketing approach for this new business vertical, he explains, “The momentum generated by word of mouth for the growth of its wedding planning vertical. Each wedding becomes a nexus of potential customers, and social media plays a pivotal role in amplifying references. With clear and specific messaging in the realm of social media, we have successfully driven business, recognising the platform as the primary point of reference in shaping preferences.”

Looking ahead, FnP anticipates a substantial increase in business revenue across all its verticals. The wedding services vertical, in particular, is expected to bring in significant growth in revenue for the company. The belief stems from the observation that the wedding planning sector remains largely unorganised, and he believes that FnP stands out as a formidable player in terms of size and brand image. As the business charts its course forward, the wedding services vertical emerges as a key focus, poised for substantial expansion.

Senco Gold & Diamonds leveraging virtual try-ons for delivering business growth

Joita Sen, director- marketing and design, Senco Gold & Diamonds, says that the company, with a legacy of 80 years, is uniquely equipped to understand the evolving landscape of bridal desires.

Sen elaborates that the company started the year fresh after initiating their Rajwada Collection, a campaign with which the brand aims to weave together traditional designs infused with modern touches and patterns in their offerings. These offerings, thus, can resonate with the essence of the contemporary woman.

The move also sees the brand shifting its focus towards diverse designs, moving away from region-specific choices. Herein lies a unique selling proposition (USP) for the brand—fulfilling a diverse range of needs while ensuring accessibility across various price points. From high-end designs to more budget-friendly options, the brand aims to leave every customer content upon leaving the store.

“The evolution of groom preferences and competitive pricing have further shaped our approach. A significant aspect of our marketing strategy here revolves around social media, leveraging its targeted reach compared to traditional approaches like billboards and footfall. 50 percent of the marketing budget is allocated to digital channels, where advancements have allowed for more precise consumer outreach.”

50 percent of the marketing budget is allocated to digital channels, where advancements have allowed for more precise consumer outreach.

Joita Sen, director- marketing and design, Senco Gold & Diamonds

However, the digital realm poses a challenge in providing a comprehensive array of options compared to the immersive experience offered in showrooms. To address this, Sen acknowledges the importance of virtual try-ons.

“While currently available for select products,  we are actively working on expanding our offerings in virtual try-ons. This approach proves instrumental in effectively communicating the design, look, and feel of the jewellery to consumers, bridging the gap between the digital and physical shopping experiences.

Importance of strategic visibility and multi-modal presence for short-term success

According to Devangshu Dutta, CEO, Third Eyesight, the ongoing mega-season of weddings presents a favourable outlook for formalwear and traditional wear brands across various categories. This surge in weddings is not limited to the upper-income segment but extends across the income spectrum, reaching the middle class and towns of all sizes.

Thus, to effectively capitalise on the wedding season, brands must establish a strong position in customers’ minds well in advance, he believes.

“Products and brands associated with brides, grooms, and close family members, as well as those intended for gifting to the extended family, are inherently perceived as “premium” within their respective consumer segments. This holds true regardless of the targeted population segment. Success as a “wedding brand” requires a long-term perspective, with continuous investments in product development, service enhancement, and marketing expenditure to ensure that the brand stands out prominently amid competition,” he says.

”In the current market landscape, achieving visibility demands a multi-modal approach, encompassing both offline and traditional channels, along with tactical online advertising.”

Devangshu Dutta, CEO, Third Eyesight

In the short term, however, he opines that the visibility and availability of products just before the wedding season play a crucial role in influencing specific performance during that period.

”In the current market landscape, achieving visibility demands a multi-modal approach, encompassing both offline and traditional channels, along with tactical online advertising.”

(Published in Afaqs)

Aditya Birla partners Christian Louboutin

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December 7, 2023

Christina Moniz, Financial Express

December 7, 2023

Aditya Birla Fashion and Retail (ABFRL) on Wednesday announced a partnership with Christian Louboutin, a designer brand known for its signature extremely high red-soled heels.

As per the terms of the deal, the current Indian business of the luxury shoemaker will be transferred into a newly-incorporated arm of ABFRL where the partners will hold equal stakes. Ashish Dikshit, MD, ABFRL, said in a statement, “This partnership… exemplifies our ambition to develop and shape the future of the luxury market in India.”

Christian Louboutin made its entry into the Indian market with its first store in Delhi in 2012 and later launched its second store in Mumbai. Announcing the JV, Alexis Mourot, Christian Louboutin Group CEO, said, “India is an extremely important market for us.”

The fact that luxury markets in Europe and even in China are seeing sluggish growth has made India a strong emerging opportunity for brands such as Christian Louboutin, note experts.

The brand, which was founded in Paris in 1991, has since diversified into categories such as handbags, accessories and beauty and is present in over 30 countries.

With this JV, ABFRL will be taking on Reliance Brands, which has partnered with global luxury brands such as Burberry, Ferragamo, Hugo Boss and Versace in India.

Devangshu Dutta, CEO of Third Eyesight, said, “For ABFRL, the ambition is to create a diverse portfolio of brands catering to a range of consumer segments.”

Having been in India for a while now, the Louboutin brand is well aware of the potential for growth in the market. One of the key factors driving growth for luxury is the rise of high net worth individuals (HNIs), which is the fastest growing anywhere in the world, say observers.

The number of ultra-high net worth individuals (UHNWIs) in India is expected to rise 58.4% in the next five years from 12,069 in 2022 to 19,119 in 2027, a report by Knight Frank said in May.

In recent years, India has also seen new luxury shopping destinations coming up in cities like Mumbai, Delhi and Chennai, but experts believe that the total addressable market and the number of luxury shopping centres are still small.

Though there is “potential”, notes Santosh Sreedhar, partner at Avalon Consulting, this segment will take a few years to really take off. “Luxury is a long-term game in India, which is why brands need to have Indian partners like Reliance and Aditya Birla with deep pockets and vision to stay committed for the long haul.” E-tailers like Tata Cliq are also enabling omnichannel growth, says Sreedhar.

With a revenue of Rs 12,418 crore, ABFRL has a strong network of 3,977 brand stores across the country. It is present across 33,535 multi-brand outlets and 6,723 points of sales in department stores across India as on March 31, 2023.

It has a repertoire of brands such as Louis Philippe, Van Heusen, Allen Solly and Peter England, besides long-term exclusive tie-ups with global brands like Ralph Lauren, Hackett London, Ted Baker and Galeries Lafayette. Among Indian designers, ABFRL has strategic partnerships with Shantnu & Nikhil, Tarun Tahiliani, Sabyasachi and House of Masaba.

(Published in Financial Express)

HUL Sets Sights On Customer Of Tomorrow, Beauty-Personal Care Split

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December 4, 2023

Sharleen Dsouza, Mumbai

3 December 2023

Hindustan Unilever (HUL)’s decision to split its beauty and personal care division and place a renewed focus on digital has been driven by its aim to serve the consumer of tomorrow, say analysts and brand experts.

HUL Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer Rohit Jawa is looking to make the company ‘future ready’, and while these bets are not for the short-term, they will eventually pay off as the Indian consumer is young and digital friendly, they add.

“Rohit Jawa comes with digital experience and he is preparing to steer HUL into serving the future consumer who is more digital friendly,” said Sachin Bobade, vice president at brokerage firm Dolat Capital.

On Friday, the consumer major also announced that it had named Arun Neelakantan its chief digital officer effective January 1. Neelakantan, who the company said was brought in to unlock growth opportunities by leveraging India’s digital ecosystem, will also join the company’s management
committee. Neelakantan is the first chief digital officer of the company who will be part of the company’s management committee.

Brand expert Devangshu Dutta, founder of business management consultant Third Eyesight, said that HUL was a traditional company but had never shied away from experimenting with different models of customer engagement.

“The profile of the younger Indian consumer is more digital friendly. This move won’t fundamentally shift the company’s business in the short term, but it is creating a connect with the younger consumer group which will be the mainstay for the future,” said Dutta.

On Friday, Jawa had said: “As we embark on our next phase of growth and transformation, we will combine our scale and discipline with innovation and agility to serve our consumers even better, and build a future-fit business,” adding that beauty and personal care continued to be a source of value creation for the company.

(Published in Business Standard)

A new flight plan

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November 20, 2023

Christina Moniz, Financial Express

November 20, 2023

he country’s largest airline IndiGo just announced the launch of a premium luggage range in collaboration with actor Deepika Padukone-backed lifestyle brand Mokobara. The new luggage collection, Moko 6E, offers a check-in bag and a cabin bag in the signature IndiGo blue.

IndiGo has sweetened the deal for its passengers, offering customers an extra 2 kilos of baggage allowance for one year after purchase at no additional cost. With a starting price of Rs 9,999 and a six-year warranty, IndiGo says it is looking to reach more discerning consumers who travel for business or leisure.

The airline already enjoys a substantial share of over 60% in India’s domestic civil aviation sector as per DGCA data. So why is it making its way into the Rs 50,000-crore luggage market in the country? According to an IndiGo spokesperson, the aim is to leverage the carrier’s strong brand presence to target modern Indian jet setters and create a seamless travel experience.

Vejay Anand, CEO, Ironhill India, points out that balancing creating a new identity for the luggage line while leveraging the well-established airline image without diluting its core values will be a delicate task. “This venture was more than a market expansion; it was about intertwining their brand heritage with travellers’ lives, ensuring passengers carry the airline’s reliability beyond flights,” he remarks.

Navigating the market

Although the luggage market is huge in the country, industry reports estimate that the organised and branded segment is around 40% with players like VIP Industries and Samsonite taking up the lion’s share. Devangshu Dutta, CEO of Third Eyesight notes that rather than the potential quantum of business, it is more relevant to see a brand collaboration such as this as helping both companies create a buzz in the market. He observes that there is some degree of resonance in the design philosophies of both brands, pitched largely to millennial consumers.

Ambika Sharma, founder & MD of creative digital agency Pulp Strategy, observes that the carrier’s decision to enter the luggage segment could offer several advantages for IndiGo the brand. “Expanding into luggage provides IndiGo an opportunity to showcase its brand beyond the airline industry, strengthening its overall brand image and positioning it as a lifestyle brand. Offering a branded luggage line can enhance customer loyalty and engagement by providing travellers with a convenient and consistent travel experience,” says Sharma.

She however adds that making a mark in a competitive market with established players will be a challenge for the company. She cautions, “Consumers may not immediately associate IndiGo as a luggage brand, requiring significant marketing efforts to establish brand recognition. Creating a unique selling proposition that distinguishes the Moko 6E luggage from competitors is crucial. Effectively managing logistics and supply chains is critical to ensure timely product delivery and customer satisfaction.”

That said, India is a predominantly price-sensitive market where prominent brands sell luggage for as low as Rs 1,999, the brand may eventually have to revisit its pricing strategy if it has to compete with established players. “By offering a range of pricing options, IndiGo could cater to a wider set of consumers, potentially appealing to different market segments. This would ensure a more comprehensive market penetration while retaining its premium positioning,” states brand expert Anand.

With this association, the collaborator brand, three-year-old Mokobora, a premium travel and lifestyle brand established as recently as 2020, could also get a leg-up in terms of both visibility and accessibility. Anand notes that the lifestyle brand will, through this collaboration, be able to reach out to an audience of about 3 lakh or more air travellers in the country every day.

As of October this year, IndiGo has over 2,000 scheduled daily flights which include cargo operations, as well as CAPF and Army charters, allowing Moko 6E to reach a significant number of travellers daily.

(Published in Financial Express)