How Mukesh Ambani is aiming to strengthen his businesses for the next decade—from telecom to retail and financial services

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April 24, 2023

Samar Srivastava, Forbes India
April 24, 2023

A board meeting scheduled for May 2 promises to be the start of the value unlocking process for Reliance Industries [Disclaimer: Reliance Industries is the owner of the Network18 group, which publishes Forbes India]. Shareholders of India’s largest company, which has a presence in industries as diverse as petrochemicals, retail and telecom, will each receive shares in its financial services unit—Jio Financial Services.

User data—what consumers search for, their demographic profile as well as their likes as dislikes—are available to India’s largest telecom company with 426 million users. If it can use that data to underwrite credit for consumers, it has a winner. Jio Financial is in a unique position.

Loans to India’s middle class have grown at three percent in the last year. Compare that with credit to industry that has grown at a mere seven percent and it becomes clear why the company is keen to spin this off an independent entity and list it separately on the bourses. A successful listing could result in telecom and retail being eventually listed separately.

An analysis by Jefferies, a brokerage, shows that loans to India’s consuming class present a large market opportunity. Home loans account for about ₹25,00,000 crore, auto loans for ₹471,400 crore, consumer durable loans for ₹37,000 crore, and microfinance for ₹280,000 crore. And there is the rapidly growing personal loan segment at ₹79,000 crore. These all present a large whitespace for the company to tap into. Jeffries also points out that a key advantage of the business would be their access to low-cost capital due to the high credit rating to Reliance Industries.

The step also marks an important milestone in Chairman Mukesh Ambani’s aim to cement his position in the world’s list of billionaires. At $83.4 billion, Ambani is rank 9 on the 2023 Forbes list of world billionaires. Since the pandemic in March 2020, the second-generation entrepreneur has started work on a new energy business, strengthened his retail operations with the acquisition of Metro Cash and Carry, and broadened Jio’s subscriber base with the launch of 5G services.

As he sets out to independently grow his businesses, Ambani finds himself occupying the largest retailer spot by revenue. In the last year, store count is up 52 percent to 17,225 stores while revenues are up 17 percent to ₹67,000 crore and profit up six percent to ₹2,400 crore.

Reliance Retail has adopted a multi-format approach. There is Ajio.com and JioMart that make up its online offering. Digital plus new commerce accounts for 18 percent of sales, according to CLSA, a brokerage. Reliance Trends is its cut price fashion format. There is the soon-to-be-launched Azorte to compete against the likes of Mango and Zara, as well as Reliance Brands that houses global names like Burberry, Armani Exchange, Canali and Jimmy Choo, among others. Add to that its private label business with brands like Campa Cola and Independence and the growth drivers for the next decade are in place.

“Reliance has been clear about dominating the landscape in any sector it has entered in the last 30 years, whether it is petrochemicals, telecom or retail,” says Devangshu Dutta, founder and CEO of Third Eyesight, a retail consultancy. He believes the company is getting into many sectors or formats to capture a larger share of the consumer wallet.

At Jio, its strategy to add subscribers (mainly from Vodafone Idea), increase average revenue per user as well as spread the 5G network has paid off. At 426 million users, it is now the largest telecom operator in the country with an average revenue per user (ARPU) of ₹177. The business has delivered a topline of ₹29,195 crore and profit after tax of ₹4,881 crore. CLSA expects the launch of its portable 5G device, Jio AirFiber, as well as an affordable 5G smartphone to drive growth.

Add to this the synergies that could play out with Jio Financial Services. The business starts with a net worth of ₹1,07,200 crore, giving its balance sheet the strength to leverage and make loans. Even a conservative gearing of five times net worth would make its loan capacity ₹6,00,000 crore—or twice the size of Bajaj Finance—today.

In the new energy business, the company is working on plans to commence production at its new gigafactory in Jamnagar. The company is yet to share updates on progress on this front.

These developments have prompted upgrades by brokerages who believe Reliance Industries offers a favourable risk reward as the downside is capped on account of strong profit growth. In a recent report, CLSA termed Reliance Industries a ‘bargain buy’. In the last 12 months, sales were up 36 percent to ₹2,17,164 crore, while profits were up 16 percent to ₹70,782 crore. Still, the stock price is down eight percent to ₹2,346 per share, and its market capitalisation stands at ₹15,87,500 crore, making it the most valuable company in India.

They point to key monitorables being the rollout of its green energy ventures as well as the execution in its 5G rollout. For now, the company has a comfortable position with regard to leverage. In the quarter ended September 2022, Reliance Industries had reserves of ₹7,83,283 crore and borrowings of ₹3,16,030 crore, leaving it with scope to borrow if new business opportunities come its way. Ambani usually uses the Reliance AGM to announce new plans. Expect the next meeting in a few months to possibly come up with some.

(With inputs from Varsha Meghani)

(Published in Forbes India)

Reliance readies to disrupt the FMCG space. What it means for HUL, ITC, Dabur, et al.

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April 13, 2023

Economic Times / ETRetail

April 13, 2023

There will be blood!

An all-out war has started in India’s FMCG space. At one end are the behemoths – HUL, P&G, Dabur, Marico, Tata Consumer, ITC, and others – and on the other side is the master disruptor, Reliance.

Known to change the market dynamics by venturing into new segments, Mukesh Ambani-owned Reliance Retail Ventures, a part of Reliance Retail, has now set its eyes on India’s over USD500 billion grocery retail market, as estimated by Euromonitor International. And the company is depending on its distribution channel and kirana partners to conquer this feat.

The strategy

In the last couple of years, Reliance Retail has been slowly and steadily developing a distributor ecosystem to take on the FMCG giants. However, its strategy is different from the incumbents.

Helmed by Isha Ambani, Reliance Retail has announced its plans to go big on FMCG with the help of local brands and manufacturers. During its AGM last year, the company mentioned that it intends on launching affordable products.

To carve a niche in the sector, it is using four primary moves:

  1. Getting deeper into distribution: Becoming distributors and selling both Reliance Retail and national brands such as products by HUL, Marico and the likes, thereby establishing the FMCG presence not just from the brand side.
  2. Working with kiranas: The company is using its kirana stores partners as its JioMart delivery centres and encouraging them to become sellers on the JioMart platform as well.
  3. Developing private labels: The JioMart website currently has nearly 70 brands, listed under private label across 10 categories, including groceries, fashion, and beauty amongst others. Most of these brands and products are priced affordably, thereby giving a stiff competition to existing ones. The website allows B2C transactions as well – where the order is fulfilled by Reliance Retail.
  4. Acquiring national and regional brands: This will allow the company to tap into the consumer base that already knows the brand, instead of starting from scratch. Over the last three years, Reliance Retail has acquired brands across categories such as beverages, and packaged foods such as Campa Cola, Sosyo Beverages, Lahori Zeera and the most recent being Sri Lankan biscuit leader Maliban biscuits.

What can we expect from each of these moves taken by Reliance to take over the FMCG market?

Reliance Retail has been a few years behind in entering the retail space. It entered the e-commerce market as well in 2016. But the delayed entry did not stop it from giving a tough competition to its competitors. Reliance is perhaps planning to repeat the success with its delayed foray into FMCG business as well.

Out of the INR50,000 crore grocery retail market of India, more than 75% is still dominated by kirana stores. And Reliance is not just eyeing the 25%, it is working with kiranas, and hence, targeting the whole market and not just the organised sector.

Let’s deep dive.

Reliance’s ‘selling ecosystem’

The grocery retail market of India constitutes nearly 67% of the country’s total retail market, according to Euromonitor International. Within the grocery retail, the channels are further divided by modern and traditional retailers. The former covers hypermarkets, supermarkets, and convenience stores, while the latter consists of kirana stores.

Kirana stores are the lifeline of grocery retail in India — 75% of all grocery sales happen via this channel. A presence across this channel is imperative for any FMCG brand.

The biggest FMCG conglomerates are available pan-India across majority of kirana stores with their cheapest SKUs as well – this could be the smallest SKU, for example sachets for shampoos, or the largest to make it cost efficient and allow consumers to buy in bulk; read products like detergents.

In India, the grocery retailing is always driven by value and availability, and not just cost.

Reliance Retail Ventures started interacting with the kiranas during the pandemic the way no one had done before. The company decided to become distributors. It sold both its own products, and competitive brands.

Conquering distribution

Distributors form the backbone of FMCG sales in India. While manufacturers sell with no credit timeline to distributors, the latter allows discounts to wholesalers, who then extend a 30-day period of credit line to retailers. Retailers then finally sell the product to consumers.

Reliance is now on its way to becoming one of the most aggressive distributors in the country.

Abhijit Kundu, senior vice-president-research, Antique Stock Broking Ltd, says, “Reliance’s focus on the FMCG industry started with the distribution business. They are essentially creating an entire ecosystem of their own. They are now distributors of their own brands, their acquired brands, and competitor brands, all. And here’s the best part, they are providing one of the deepest discounts to wholesalers as well.”

Almost three years ago Reliance started its distribution business. The company is now developing that and calls it the “selling ecosystem” in its annual report.

According to Reliance Retail’s FY22 annual report, “The company has expanded its physical footprint into tier-II and tier-III markets, bringing the benefits of modern trade to consumers in smaller towns.”

“Extending its reach even further to reach India’s 200 million households, the company is building one of the world’s largest distribution platforms under its ‘new commerce’ initiative by leveraging its extensive supply chain and sourcing capabilities, as well as New Age technologies, to support and enable millions of kirana and merchant partners across the country, assisting them to modernise, provide easy access to a diverse product portfolio, become more efficient and generate revenue,” the report states.

The MCA filing of Reliance Retail Venture’s FY21 report says, “In the lockdown period, Reliance Retail established itself as the ‘preferred’ partner to kiranas by ensuring uninterrupted supply of essential items. JioMart kirana service, now active in 33 cities, launched self-onboarding application, aiding rapid merchant additions.”

Speaking of the developing distribution network of its own by Reliance, Devangshu Dutta, founder, Third Eyesight, says, “Disintermediation, that is removal of middlemen, is a natural outcome of consolidation of the market. However, even in the most developed and some of the most consolidated consumer markets, intermediaries continue to exist because they provide value in terms of aggregation of demand from smaller markets or segments, as well as providing some financial buffer for both buyers and sellers.”

Working with kiranas

What is interesting is how Reliance Retail is engaging with the kirana stores and using their strength to its advantage. The company launched JioMart in December 2019, in phases.

“Reliance is working very smartly as a distributor. Instead of giving deep discounts on all brands, across SKUs, the company is providing deep discounts on the fastest-moving SKUs. Imagine you run a kirana store, technically no one has loyalty only to one distributor or wholesaler. Now, if as a kirana store owner you know you need 10 packets of let’s say Surf Excel, 1 Kg SKU, chances are that kirana will order the same from Reliance, as RRL knows that is the fastest-moving SKU, and hence will give the deepest discount on that. The discounts offered by RRL are almost 15%-20% higher than what any other distributor is providing right now,” says Kundu.

“The same kirana store owner will probably order other things from other distributors, depending on discounts again. What Reliance is doing is focusing on the volume game, and on the fastest-moving SKUs and brands, cause as a distributor they know these will move, no matter what,” he adds.

According to a Kotak Securities report in March 2021, the average number of distributors that a retailer works with is 10-15. And foods, which include staples, dairy, packaged foods, beverages and such contribute 75% of average daily sales.

The same report surveyed at the time of freshly launched JioMart selling ecosystem kirana partners in Mumbai, the count of which was 60, and majority of these kirana store retailers surveyed mentioned that JioMart has lower pricing than other distributors and offers better profit margins. Around 37% respondents also mentioned that Reliance pushed its own private labels while having all brands in stock.

Isha Ambani during the 45th Annual General Meeting of Reliance Industries Ltd mentioned that the company now has a merchant partner base of 20 lakh partners and is adding 150,000 partners every month. The company has five-year plans to cover 7,500 towns and 3 lakh villages.

“JioMart, delivering in over 260 towns, was rated India’s No. 1 trusted brand for online grocery. JioMart works on a hyperlocal delivery model and is India’s largest deployment of omni-channel capabilities,” she said.

“The FMCG and grocery business of Reliance, back in 2021-2022, was nearly INR55,000 crore – INR60,000 crore already. And this was even before the company was involved in brand sales of its own. This was primarily driven by its distributor business,” says Kundu of Antique Stock Broking.

Acquisitions and private labels

Dutta of Third Eyesight says, “Regarding the FMCG and food/beverage brand acquisitions by Reliance Retail, while they are relatively small, they feed into a strategy that side-steps the need to create brands from scratch – both, as private labels for its retail formats and other acquisitions for its broader expansion into other retail channels.”

“Creating new brands takes time and success is not guaranteed, no matter who is behind the brand. Riding on the goodwill and awareness of existing brands provides a shortcut, and further growth can be fuelled by additional resources,” adds Dutta.

Clearly, something Reliance Retail seems to believe as well. Or maybe it just wants to shorten the process of establishing its retail brands’ presence amongst consumers.

One of the biggest acquisitions of the company was Metro Cash & Carry, the German B2B wholesale company. Reliance acquired the latter in a 100% stake sale for INR2,850 crore. This would give a huge leg-up to Reliance’s already burgeoning “selling ecosystem” business.

Speaking about this acquisition Isha Ambani said in the press release, “We believe that Metro India’s healthy assets combined with our deep understanding of Indian merchant / kirana ecosystem will help offer a differentiated value proposition to small businesses in India.”

Metro India, which entered in 2003, was operating 31 stores across 21 cities. The company was servicing nearly 3 million customers via its B2B channel, of whom 1 million (customers) were frequent buyers. As of FY22, Metro Cash & Carry generated revenues worth INR7,000 crore and losses of INR49.7 crore, as reported by Tofler.

In 2021, Reliance Retail also acquired online milk and dairy products delivery platform, Milkbasket. As per its FY22 annual report, the company integrated Milkbasket with JioMart, and there were double the number of subscriptions on the Milkbasket platform. The company seems to have dairy leadership plans as well. Reliance Retail has recently got RS Sodhi, ex-managing director of Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation (GCMMF), the parent company of Amul, onboard. Sodhi was associated with GCMMF for 40 years, out of which 12 years he held the position of managing director.

Besides, the company is also targeting the FMCG market with the help of private labels and acquiring brands. Over the last few years, Reliance Retail has spent nearly USD1.1 billion on brand acquisitions – this is across grocery and non-grocery segments.

Reliance Retail acquired Chaudhary brothers’-owned Campa Cola for INR22 crore, and relaunched the brand in March 2023. Moreover, the company has also announced its plans to acquire 50% of the 100-year-old Gujarat-based beverage company, Sosyo Hajoori Beverages.

Prior to that, it acquired 51% stake in Lotus Chocolate Company for INR74 crore and plans to take over an additional 26% of the latter eventually.

In the non-grocery FMCG category, the company has acquired lingerie brand Zivame for INR1,200 crore in 2020, 89% stake in Clovia — another more affordable brand compared to Zivame — for INR950 crore, offline lingerie brand Amante (owned by MAS Holdings) for an undisclosed amount, British toy retailer Hamleys for INR620 crore in an all-cash deal, majority stake in online furniture company Urban Ladder for INR182 crore, majority stake in online pharmacy retailer Nedmed for INR620 crore, and 26% stake of task-runner and quick-commerce app Dunzo for INR1,488 crore.

While not fast moving, but consumer goods nonetheless, Reliance Retail acquired couture fashion brands namely, 52% of Ritu Kumar for an undisclosed amount, 51% of Abu Jani and Sandeep Khosla, 40% of Manish Malhotra’s couture brand, and the company has joint ventures with Anamika Khanna and Rahul Mishra.

In terms of private label, the company recently launched Independence, which will have an array of staples such as edible oil, packaged atta, and packaged pulses, under its umbrella, along with biscuits. Reliance Retail also has private label brands such as Good Life, Snac Tac, Pure It, and Enzo. These brands cut across almost all grocery FMCG categories such as packaged foods inclusive of noodles, home cleaning, beauty and personal care including hand wash brands, dishwash, and floor cleaners.

The company is not limiting itself to only Indian brands – national or regional when it comes to its acquisition strategy. Reliance Retail in February 2023 acquired Sri Lanka-based Maliban biscuits, and plans to bring the brand to India, and clearly will now be targeting the biscuits category as well. Biscuits in India is nearly INR38,000 crore market, with leaders such as Parle Products, Britannia, and ITC.

The bottom line

Reliance Retail is targeting the FMCG market of India from all angles namely retail outlets, national and regional brands, private labels, and distribution.

However, it doesn’t end there. The company is also providing financial services with the help of Jio PoS terminals, which is used by kiranas for both transactions and supply chain management. Jio Financial Services is expected to become the fifth-largest fintech company in the country soon.

The company is not just foraying into the FMCG market, it is on its way to create an entire ecosystem in the FMCG market. While acquiring a consumer is obviously the end goal, it is targeting the spine of the FMCG retail of the country first – the kiranas.

The company has added 2,500 stores in FY22, taking the total count of retail stores to 15,000, covering 42 million square feet. It has also doubled its warehousing fulfilment area to 670 million cubic feet. Warehousing and distribution are at the core of its retail plans, clearly.

“Most retailers in India are small, family-run operations that operate at a subsistence level, and that receive the financial and operational support of the distributors and wholesalers. So, removing intermediaries from the distribution chain in India will take time, unless deep-pocketed players like Reliance decide to explicitly price them out of the market while also providing credit to retailers,” concludes Dutta.

(Published in Economic Times)

JioMart on WhatsApp to give a tough fight to ecommerce giants like Amazon, Flipkart: Report

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September 20, 2022

New Delhi: The launch of online shopping experience by WhatsApp, along with Jio platforms, the holding company for the digital services businesses of Reliance Industries (RIL), will help these companies to take on e-commerce behemoths such as Jeff Bezos-controlled Amazon and Walmart-owned Flipkart.

Experts are of the view that the partnership will give JioMart, the e-commerce platform of RIL, around 48.7 crore WhatsApp users in India. At present, the total annualised active e-commerce users in the country are only 20 crore.

Rohan Agarwal, partner at research firm Redseer, told Business Standard: “WhatsApp is the primary messaging app for most Indians and the partnership shows the level of access JioMart would have to reach out to them.”

He went on add that it would help in expanding the reach of the e-commerce to users who might not be accessing online retail platforms.

To recap, speaking at the 45th AGM of RIL on Monday (August 29), Isha Ambani, director, Reliance Retail Ventures Ltd (RRVL), gave a presentation on placing online grocery orders using Meta-owned WhatsApp and making payments.

In a global first, JioMart on WhatsApp will aid users in India, including first-time online shoppers, to have a new shopping experience in ordering a wide range of groceries on WhatsApp. They will be able to shop via JioMart’s entire grocery catalogue by easily selecting their favourite items. Also, they will be able to add these products to the cart and pay without leaving the WhatsApp chat.

Mark Zuckerberg, founder and chief executive officer (CEO), Meta, said the association with JioMart would enable people to buy groceries from JioMart in a single chat.

Agarwal highlighted that most of the online grocery businesses generate from big cities and this alliance will be an opportunity for small cities and towns.

The financial daily quoted Devangshu Dutta, CEO, Third Eyesight, as saying that the partnership will have a big impact on the entire e-commerce industry.

He told the publication: “Reliance is the largest retailer in the country and with deep pockets. It wants to (tap) not just the big cities but small cities and towns as well. Given the fact that WhatApp is something consumers are comfortable with, and grocery is related to high-frequency purchases, they are firing on all cylinders.”

Dutta added that the crucial thing for both companies to be successful is to create a delivery process that is quick and cost-effective.

Source: timesnownews

Meta partners with Reliance Jiomart to offer grocery shopping on WhatsApp

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August 29, 2022

By Sharleen D’Souza & Sourabh Lele

‘First-ever end-to-end shopping experience’ on messaging platform, says Mark Zuckerberg

Meta Platforms Inc, the parent company of WhatsApp, will partner with Reliance JioMart for a service where WhatsApp users can buy groceries on the messaging platform from the Indian retail firm.

Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive officer (CEO) of Meta Platforms, said in a Facebook post, “[I am] Excited to launch our partnership with JioMart in India. This is our first-ever end-to-end shopping experience on WhatsApp–people can now buy groceries from JioMart right in a chat.”

“Business messaging is an area with real momentum and chat-based experiences like this will be the go-to way people and businesses communicate in the years to come,” he said in an announcement coinciding with the annual general Meeting (AGM) of Reliance Industries the parent company of JioMart.

A Reliance press statement said the service “will enable users in India, including those who have never shopped online before, to seamlessly browse through JioMart’s entire grocery catalog, add items to cart, and make the payment to complete the purchase–all without leaving the WhatsApp chat.”

WhatsApp users can shop on JioMart via by messaging “Hi” to +917977079770.

Mukesh Ambani, chairman and managing director of Reliance Industries, said, “The JioMart on WhatsApp experience furthers our commitment to enabling a simple and convenient way of online shopping.”

“Reliance Retail is looking at touching as many consumers across the country and WhatsApp is a logical platform as India is the largest market for the messaging app in the world,” said Devangshu Dutta, CEO of Third Eyesight, a retail consultancy firm. While WhatsApp is important for growth, Reliance Retail will also need to work on product availability and the cost of delivering to the customer, he said.

Ambani said Reliance’s retail business model has “five imperatives”, or ‘Panch Pran’. These include: enriching customer experience using technology; operationalising and growing multiple channels; integrating with small merchants and providing them a platform to prosper. The fourth imperative is to expand the product portfolio and the fifth one is to strengthen logistics and supply chain.

Isha Ambani, director at Reliance Retail Ventures, said at the AGM that the digital commerce platforms–reliancedigital.in and JioMart–enabled the retail major to deliver 93 per cent of online orders from stores within six hours. “We rolled out our JioMart Digital (JMD) initiative during the year. The platform enables small electronics merchants to sell the entire product portfolio of Reliance Retail on an assisted selling model, helping them deliver superior customer experience and growing their income,” she said.

The company’s new commerce initiative is on course to partner with one crore merchants as it expands to cover the entire country in the next five years, Isha Ambani said.

Last year, Reliance Retail entered pharmacy retail with the acquisition of Netmeds. That year, it launched new operations through Netmeds Wholesale and onboarded merchants in 1,900 towns and cities.

Source: business-standard

What Is Behind Reliance Retail’s Expansion Spree

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July 8, 2022

Akash Podishetty & Krishna Veera Vanamali, Business Standard

New Delhi, 8 July 2022

India’s $900 billion retail market has emerged as one of the most dynamic industries and is expected to reach anywhere between $1.3-$1.5 trillion by 2025. The organized retail is seen gaining 15% market share in the overall retail space, while food & grocery and apparel and lifestyle may account for 80% of India’s retail market by 2025.

Large market offers big opportunities. And it looks like Reliance Retail has seized it, with its massive omni-channel retail play of physical stores, B2B with kiranas and e-commerce.

The company went on an acquisition spree and partnerships in the last three years, adding to its portfolio some of the biggest names, including Hamleys, Dunzo, Zivame etc.

It has also partnered with famous global retail chain 7-Eleven. Catering to India’s affluent consumers, Reliance, meanwhile, houses some of the most iconic brands such as Versace, Armani Exchange, GAP, GAS, Jimmy Choo, Michael Kors among others. The premium segment has become one of the fastest growing categories.

Also firming up its inorganic play, the company is planning to acquire dozens of niche local consumer brands to build a formidable consumer goods business.

Arvind Singhal, Chairman and Managing Director, Technopak Advisors says, there’s focus on physical retail expansion. Reliance is looking to cater to both price conscious and brand conscious customers, while trying to capture as much of the private consumption market as possible, he says.

Reliance Retail’s competitors are nowhere close to even put up a fight. The company has over 15,000 offline stores across categories, compared with DMart’s 294 stores or Aditya Birla Fashion’s 3,468 outlets.

Reliance retail’s revenue has grown five times in the last five years and the core retail revenue of $18 billion is greater than competitors combined, according to a Bernstein report.

Speaking to Business Standard, Devangshu Dutta, CEO, Third Eyesight, says, Reliance wants a decent share of Indian consumers’ wallet. From that perspective, Reliance still has a long way to go, he says. As consumer preferences evolve, Reliance too should adapt.

An undisputed leader in the domestic market, the aim of Reliance, according to Mukesh Ambani, is to become one of the top 10 retailers globally. Part of this bet is based on the premise that incomes and consumption power of Indians will increase across the board in coming years. However, could the uneven recovery that different segments of the population have seen stop the pie from growing larger and prove to be a dampener for Ambani’s ambitions?

(Published in Business Standard)