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For several centuries, food preferences have been an integral part of Indian culture with regional tastes and flavours assuming prominence, which has been reflected in the consumption landscape, dietary patterns and nutritional choices. It is also heartening to note that India is self-sufficient when it comes to agricultural produce and horticulture crops.
A key trend that has emerged is the growing deployment of technology to enhance farm productivity levels and meet the changing consumer demands with a focus on fortified foods, enhanced healthy foods, adoption of balanced diets and a thrust on organic, chemical-free natural produce.
The recent Budget too has several clauses to encourage higher production of fruits and vegetables and allied farm activities, promote the use of drones by farmers with incentives for agri- start-ups. In this article, we shall explore some more food trends in India that are shaping the future of food.
Food Trends #1: The ever-evolving food value chain
The food value chain in India is complex and vast with the presence of multiple players from the farm to fork journey. It comprises farmers at the initial stage of farming with agricultural inputs, including the intermediate process of value addition to produce food products, till the end stage when the food products are distributed to the final consumer. The below chart highlights the key stages in the agricultural supply chains (ASCs):
Changing diet is the new reality
A CII-Deloitte study predicts that the share of wallet towards food for the average Indian household is expected to jump to 35.4% by 2025, up from 33.2% in 2005.
• Higher prosperity means better food choices: With higher population levels and growing awareness of the importance of healthy eating, it can be expected that food demand would rise and consumption patterns would be altered.
• Food diversification: Another trend is the diversification of food choices. For example, the report highlights that the share of grains has dropped in the last 60 years from 63% to 55%, with an increase in the consumption of fruits, vegetables and superfoods.
• Millets as super nutrients: There has been greater awareness of the benefits of nutritional cereals like millets. In many instances, consumers are substituting traditional staples like rice, wheat etc with a certain portion of millets in their meals towards enhancing nutritional value. The recent Budget too announced special steps to be initiated to encourage millet consumption, given that 2023 has been formally dedicated as the International year of millet.
• Multiple factors: Diverse factors are playing a key role in influencing food choices. Some of these are demography changes with a higher number of younger age groups, socio-economic progress, stressful and demanding lifestyles especially in urban areas, cross-cultural integration programs of the Government such as Ek Bharat Shreshtha Bharat, the influence of social media channels with readily available information on popular food trends, evolving tastes, exposure to global food habits, traction towards convenience foods, ecological consciousness and the need to reduce carbon footprint. A series of factors are impacting food preferences across the social spectrum- rural and urban.
Regional food brands hold sway
A common theme across India is the marked preference for and rise of strong regional food brands- be it coffee brands in the South, atta brands in the North or Ghee brands in the West, customer choices are adding a twist to regional cuisines. Seeing this trend, many national brands are introducing localized versions of their variants. This could be in the form of tamarind infused spices or coconut flavoured ingredients in the South etc.
Affordability at the top of consumer minds
Along with the health focus, consumers are increasingly turning budget conscious. Rather than opting for expensive options or imported ones, value-seeking customers prefer local, healthy and economical substitutes for say using rice bran oil instead of olive oil. Further in rural regions, customers prefer sachet size product purchases of foods unless it is staples or essentials like rice, atta, cooking oil etc. This has also led to a jump in private label brands with leading retailers launching staples like sugar, dals, lentils, rice etc under their in-house brand.
Ready to eat categories continue to garner attention
Convenience foods have soared in popularity. This is evident in the ready to eat and frozen food segments, including online food purchases and home delivery of restaurant-prepared foods. A CII Deloitte report indicates that online food delivery is slated to grow at a CAGR of 28% and online groceries at 53% CAGR during 2020-25.
Food Trends #2: The rise of agri-tech
• Higher start-up participation: Recognizing the immense potential of the agri and foods space, over 1000+ agri tech start-ups have forayed into this segment in India, backed by the support of the Indian Government. A CII Deloitte report pegs the market size of the agri tech industry at INR 14 Bn in 2020 with a growth opportunity of upto INR 1687 Bn., estimates reveal.
• Automation in the farm: The tech factor has made inroads into the farm and agri sector as well. A CII Deloitte report reveals that the manual human workforce employed in the agriculture space has dropped from 636 Mn in FY2011 to 582 Mn in FY2020 along with a rise in wage levels.
Tech players too have made tech access affordable for farmers by offering them pay only upon use and subscription-model based products. The mechanisation aspect is a welcome step and increases prospects of a boost in farm efficiency levels and crop outcomes. For example, through accurate digital techniques, it is possible to ascertain the health of the soil or forecast the arrival of monsoons. Through drones and sprinklers, the fertilizers can be distributed in the field in an even manner, raising the scope of healthy crop produce.
Food renaissance in the making
As per a Godrej Foods report, the following trends were evident across India
• In North and Central India, homegrown cuisines including namkeens, mithai, condiments and seasonal produce found favour amongst consumers.
• In South India, home-cooked meals, community cooking styles, immunity-boosting foods and age-old recipes were predominant concepts
• In West India, cloud kitchens, street foods remade at home, new recipes learnt from social media channels were experimented with, along with a focus on mindful eating
• In East India, home kitchens, comfort foods and home delivery of foods gained prominence
Emergence of similars to the ‘home-cooked food’ model
To simulate the Ghar Ka Khana experience with the paucity of food preparation time, multiple options emerged, as per a Godrej Foods report as follows:
• 72.2% opted for home delivery from home chef kitchens
• 46.8% preferred DIY meal kits
• 46.8% ordered through cloud kitchens and branded restaurants specializing in regional cuisines
• 44.3% bought food mixes that enabled ready to eat traditional Indian recipes like Puliyogare Rice, Sambhar Rice, Poha, Dosa Batter, Dhokla mix, Rajma Chawal etc
• 39.2% were inclined towards masala pastes, gravies and powders as flavours to recreate home-cooked menus
Strengthening farm to fork connectivity
The foods space in India is at the cusp of a digital-led overhaul and recipe reinvention, with safety and wellness being a key priority, accelerated by the pandemic, the proliferation of middle-class population, the rapid expansion of food product categories, the emergence of hyperlocal retail, the e-commerce boom, evolving consumer expectations and growing awareness of the importance of healthy foods with the need to source inputs from safe locations in adherence to stringent quality standards and hygienic conditions.
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