Plenty of food for thought in the post-lockdown world

Updated: 17 May 2020, 11:40 PM IST Rama Bijapurkar

Plenty of food for thought in the post-lockdown world

For food ordering apps, the lockdown has been a boon. (Photo: HT)

Upper class modern millennials are the 'weaned on Maggi' generation, who grew up to become the Swiggy generation, even ordering in their Maggi

Continuing on the theme of how Indian consumption will change after covid-19 and the lockdown, today's column looks at urban upper class food consumption. I had said in my earlier column that consumer attitudes and behaviour will not change much except for income-driven economizing, though additional new opportunities were presenting themselves if only suppliers were ready to tap into them.

Upper class modern millennials are the "weaned on Maggi" generation, who grew up to become the Swiggy generation, even ordering in their Maggi. Although there usually was a cook with the key who made something basic for sustenance, ordering in from a range of hole-in-the-wall to fancy restaurants was preferred because it was not just easy, but also enabled managing budgets through mix and match. The emerging trend of cloud kitchens added even more variety and affordability. None of this is going away.

Food ordering apps are back in business with growing consumer demand, ready to grab a share of erstwhile dining-out spends and eating outside the home spends, a growing trend which work-from-home has reversed . With restaurants closed, cloud kitchens will proliferate, folding in the individual dabba providers and perhaps creating more specialized and localized food ordering platforms. What about infection fears? Swiggy has shown the way, smartly offering no-contact delivery, which, if you read the fine print, is more ritual than guarantee, but enough reassurance all the same. In India, we correlate rituals with results, otherwise we would have long since dispensed with the perfunctory security checks in our public spaces (airports excluded). So, more rituals of more visibility into cloud kitchens will provide more reassurance.

But there's always change with a twist in Consumer India, presenting new and unexpected opportunities. Self-reliance or finding plan B has become a big theme of these lockdown times (not to mention the new Hindi word we are learning). The Swiggy generation has been forced to cook at home, guided by friendly YouTube videos, not lecturing moms, and has discovered the emotional pay-off of positive labour and are also commenting on eating lighter and healthier. They are ready to add "home-cooked" to their food portfolio if convenient cooking aids and interesting variety of pre-cooked meals are made available. Ready-to-eat core meal dishes, more convenient home-cooked meal replacements never really worked in India, even from big smart companies. The consumer was ready, but the supplier fell short; given the complexity and diversity of Indian cooking, they could not get the price-performance equation right relative to home-made food, and consumer ability to order in cheaply took away their opportunity. Women have been hardest hit by lockdown and WFH, complaining of having had to cook for the entire family at home all the time. They are even more than ready for "ready-to-eat" tiffins and mini meals, and cooking ingredient conveniences. And, if the rest of the family pitching in is here to stay, there's an even better market opportunity. Swiggy advertising had started portraying guilt-free pushback from women to the family expectation that she is the Annapurna (food goddess) and now there is a wonderful tailwind for it!

The opportunity to build mega brands in this space is now palpable and wide open. So far, vibrant food innovation has not come from the big brands but from small local brands, chains or stand-alone food stores. Watch this space!

Rama Bijapurkar is an independent market strategy consultant.