“Ready to eat” Indian foods big potential for growth

Posted by Janice Wong on 18th May 2010

Emerging Opportunities in the Indian Ready-to-Eat Foods Market – a recent consumer insight report published by Datamonitor, predicts that the RTE foods market in India which was mainly driven by the export demand until recently, has matured to a stage where there is a tremendous potential for growth over the next few years.

In 2009, Indian RTE foods market was estimated to be around $33.5m, registering a CAGR of approximately 15% over the last five years. At present, RTE foods with normal shelving, i.e., canned RTE foods that require no refrigeration, alone contribute to approximately 60% of the total market. “For a product, which predominantly depended on the export markets to strike a chord with both the rising popularity of Indian cuisines and the burgeoning Indian diaspora across the globe, the recent rise in demand in the local market is substantial one”, commented Pinaki Mukherjee, Lead Consultant with Datamonitor India’s Consumer Markets team.

The role of women in an urban Indian family has undergone a massive transformation. Women today, have very little time to involve in regular household chores like cooking. This factor is predominantly driving the growth of convenience foods such as RTE in India. “With the increasing involvement of women in India’s labor force, rising number of nuclear families and a desire to maximize “me” time, the Indian RTE foods market size is poised to double by 2014,” said Pinaki.

Lifestyle changes have necessitated modifications in most urban Indians’ diet regime in terms of meal time fragmentation and diet diversification. With these changes, it has increasingly become a challenge for Indians to maintain a diet that is balanced and convenient, yet caters to the Indian taste buds. The desire to eat fresh food among Indians is currently so prominent that it even overshadows the desire for consumers to seek variety and authenticity. This was corroborated by the findings of the recent Datamonitor consumer survey, where consumers across all the age groups said that they value ‘Freshness’ claims more than authenticy and originality. While most RTE manufacturers promote quality claims on packaging, no one has made attempts to break the unhealthy perception of packaged food by highlighting that the retort packaging used in RTE foods can help in retaining the nutritive value and freshness of the product. There is a need for Manufacturers to focus on making assurance of freshness as a key component of their marketing efforts to increase the uptake of RTE foods.

Health concerns on part of the consumers also pose difficulty to the RTE manufacturers. With a larger number of Indians making a conscious attempt to eat healthy, they are on a look out for health claims like low cholesterol and trans-fat free tagged to the product. The Datamonitor consumer survey lent credence to this phenomenon, wherein it was found that ‘low or lowers cholesterol’ and ‘low or reduced fat’ has a high level of influence on 50% of the Indians’ choice of food and beverages. Since most RTE foods in India have a considerably high amount of fat in their formulations, manufacturers have to address this issue by aligning their offerings to appeal not only to the consumers’ palette, but also to their desire to eat healthy.

In the process of tapping the RTE food market, manufacturers need to identify potential opportunities in terms of novel product concepts and packaging formats. Given the diversity of regional cuisines and the increasing nature of Indians to experiment with respect to their dietary choices, Datamonitor foresees a lot of untapped opportunities for the manufacturers to cater to in the future. Combo meal concepts which are microwaveable, for instance, would increase the overall value proposition offered by the RTE foods.

“Overall, the outlook for RTE foods in India looks quite promising, as all the necessary drivers to create a demand in the market for this kind of products is in place. Given manufacturers address the freshness and health-related issues, it could just be a matter of two to three years for this market to attain the critical mass, which would induce mass consumption in urban India”, concluded Pinaki.