Food dominates our hearts and minds on a daily basis. And with enhanced emotions on festivals and celebrations. Pandemic brought us closer to food by providing us time to engage in elaborate cooking at home. Not to mention that when we stepped out of our homes post lockdown, a lot of new grocery stores had popped up in the neighborhood. For that is all people were spending on.
Global Food Brands From India?
Put on your business hat and let’s look at the food brands from India. I looked at many ‘Top brands in India lists’, both with all brands and with only Indian brands. Amul is the only food brand that features prominently in all the lists. At times accompanied by fellow dairy companies like Mother Dairy and Nandini. Britannia features in some. In beverages, Paperboat has established itself as a niche Indian drink brand and sometimes makes the cut. I expected Haldirams, MTR, and Bikaji in these lists. It seems they have more visibility than business or vice-versa. I remember when Haldirams, a leading ready to eat snack brand, first opened their airport outlet at Delhi airport. Almost everyone at the airport was seen with their hamper. It is a dependable brand to consume and gift.
On Instagram, I discovered a bouquet of niche food brands with inviting images. And generous use of words like organic, natural, sustainable, eco for the products ranging from cheese to honey to cold-pressed oils to coffee and even tonic water. Their market is obviously national and global. Fuelled by the independent logistics companies that make shipping anywhere easy enough. I count them as the emerging broad base of the food industry pyramid. They will remain small and medium enterprises. Catering to their niche customers from their limited local supplies.
We have traditional Mithai brands synonymous with the cities they come from. Be it Agra’s Petha or Pune’s Bakarwadi or Odisha’s Rasagulla or Hyderabad’s Karachi Biscuits. All of them are slowly stepping out beyond their city limits and can be found at airports and at online shops. They remain a favorite with the global diaspora driven by nostalgia.
Strong homegrown food-based consumer brands
The question is, with a billion-plus people, why do we not have strong homegrown food-based consumer brands? Hardly see any new brands that have come up in the last 2-3 decades that can stand next to Amul in terms of brand value? There are two ways to look at it.
First, it clearly points out the gap in branding and on-ground presence of large food-based brands. We see smaller brands emerging fast in segments like yogurt, in a country that has curd and so many curd-based cuisines. But we hardly see any Desi brands innovating in a way that they look ahead while being rooted in the Indian pallet.
Second, it means that the food market is distributed with no big national or international players. This implies that at least when it comes to food, we are consuming local to a large extent. The pandemic has given this another boost in the arm as we see a lot more local packaged food being sold. As long as the quality of the products can be ensured, this is the best thing to happen.
India the Largest Producer
India is the largest producer of milk, mangoes, bananas, guavas, papayas. And the second-largest producer of fruits, vegetables & marine products. We do see large brands in dairy products. The same is clearly missing in all other categories. Look at the juice brands or any other products that are produced using fresh produce. More often than not they are coming from an international brand. There are spice brands, new and old. But most of them are merely packaged products. We have not seen the innovative use of spices in developing new products. Imagine a spice-based ice-cream or summer drinks or Ayurveda based products.
Many years back I had written about simple jaggery based confectionary with different flavors. I was happy to receive a version of it from an entrepreneur in Karnataka. I saw world-class coffee chocolates in Araku. But am yet to see them outside of eastern ghats. Sun-dried bananas found in villages of South India can be a pan-India product under a single brand.
Ministry of food processing industries allows 100% FDI in the food sector with many schemes that promise easy credit availability. Of the 283 food parks planned across the country, some are already operational. There is a potential to add a lot more food processing units to the existing 37,000+ registered ones. Two food technology institutes in Haryana and Tamil Nadu promise a supply of trained professionals and an opportunity for research. ‘Make in India’ website lists ideas and opportunities for entrepreneurs as well as investors that should be a good place for potential start-ups in this space.
With a bit of creativity and innovation from the entrepreneurs and smooth execution of the government scheme, we should churn out world-class food brands from India. Look at Malaysia’s Petronas’ Diwali Ad featuring the crunchy irresistible Muruku. You know that the world is waiting for our food products.
Edited for this online publication.