There are countless efforts in Europe and America and other mature markets to increase consumption of fresh produce.
To the best of our knowledge, none of these have worked. If you talk to the people who run these various programs you will know the cat is out of the bag when you ask about increases in consumption and get back statistics as to how many plastic bags had a logo or how many menus mention produce items.
For those concerned with health, this is an enormous problem, and intense research is necessary to try to find ways to change diets to be more healthy – and thus to incorporate more fruits and vegetables.
For those whose primary interest is commercial, whose primary interest is they want to sell more fruits and vegetables, the lack of effectiveness of these consumption-boosting programs leads them to look for new markets.
That is not easy either – just think about those who had focused on Russia and now find that the companies in Russia struggle to pay their bills or that trade is blocked by political fiat.
In countries such as India and China, the massive growth in the middle class is noted, but finding identifiable marketing targets is not always easy as these populations are not necessarily in one defined area geographically.
Still, it is pretty clear that if you want to dramatically increase sales, finding new markets, rather than waiting for incremental growth, is important.
This fact creates a new reality for big retailers in the West for it means that producers will be seeking alternative homes for their produce. Perhaps these markets will pay more for the best stuff or, perhaps, they won’t be so quick to reject product or demand producers jump through as many hoops.
In any case, The London Produce Show and Conference stands at the center of these issues, with UK retailers long known as the great standard-setters of the world and an overall market that is tough to sell to and, by reputation, very demanding and not exactly looking to pay top dollar.
But how real is the opportunity in developing markets? One man is expert in both how to market into these markets and how to retail and promote the product once it gets there.
He once represented the California Table Grape Commission, Pear Bureau Northwest, Washington Apple Commission, US Apple Export Council and California Prune Boardin marketing their commodities into India. Now he heads up the fresh division for a major retailer in India.
When we heard that Sumit Saran wanted to present at The London Produce Show and Conference, we snapped him up and asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to find out more:
Head of International Foods
Q: We’re excited you will be presenting in London. To start, what should produce industry executives know about Future Group and your role at the company?
A: Future Group is one of India’s largest retailers. We have 600 stores with different shapes and formats servicing customers in 100 cities. We have supermarkets, convenience store formats and gourmet stores, so we cater to all segments of the population throughout the country. I head the international food business for the group and I also head the fresh business, as in fruits and vegetables.
Q: That sounds like a huge responsibility… what does it involve?
A: My role is three-pronged. Direct sourcing of imported foods is a key component of my work. We are looking to enter into long term partnerships with growers and exporters who view India as a key market in their growth plans. I am especially looking at a category management approach to fresh produce where we can work on newer varieties or newer product groups.
The second area is joint venture tie-ups. We have created a state-of-the-art food park in collaboration with Ministry of Food Processing Industries, Government of India, just outside of Bangalore in south India, and it is a perfect place for an international food company to establish a production base in India and expand market reach.
The food park has been developed in an area of 110 acres and provides a “plug and play” model for international companies that want a local presence in India. “Import in bulk and process locally” is the New Mantra for success in India, and I will be working on getting these tie ups.
International food promotions are another major part of my role. With Foodhall, Food Bazaar, and KB Fair Price, we have stores in all formats and cater to all socio economic consumer segments. We look forward to creative, below-the-line promotions, where we actually work on creating long term demand for the promoted food category. I am also working hard to change the retail perception of what food promotions are.
Q: How will you be helping attendees tap into this multi-faceted expertise? What are key points and messages you want to share during your talk?
A: There are many areas where Future Group can play a role, but my presentation in London will be more towards the supplier side. It is pretty obvious there are opportunities, but a lot of companies and suppliers are not able to put their arms around them.
India is a very complex market. My objective will be to showcase those challenges and opportunities and also the tools they can use to get into the market in partnership with modern retailers, and also into the different formats. That’s the core crux.
Q: Why is it so complex?
A: The reason is that when you’re talking about a population of 1.2 billion to 1.5 billion, depending what product you’re marketing, your market will be anywhere between 200 million to 300 million. The problem is those 300 million customers are mixed in a 750 million-people market area, a myriad of small towns, mid-size towns, etc.
In essence, we’re a diverse country,extremely heterogeneous,so how do you reach your customers? It’s very complex. Along the food chain, the languages and customs change. So how do you get through all that? A lot of people are not able to figure out how to enter the market and tap into it.
Q: As a retailer, how do you navigate those heterogeneous markets?
A: We have the reach and formats to change our product and positioning depending on where we are.We have store chains that cater to various segments of the population. For example, the Food Bazaar is the large format hypermarket that targets middle class India, while Foodhall is a gourmet store focusing on more upmarket consumers. Hence depending on products and its appeal, we are able to tailor-make promotions.
Q: Do you have some examples?
A: I joined the Future Group in April this year. From the time I have been there, we have done some excellent promotions with Washington apples, USA apples and Zespri kiwis. Average sales growth in all these promotions has been over 30%.
Before joining Future Group, I spent 14 years working with retailers to conduct promotions for high value imported foods. I understand the difficulties that the promoters and the promotion agencies face. I am trying to create an atmosphere that has a value proposition for both the promotion agency as well as the retailer.
Q: Could you elaborate?
A: I firmly believe that promotion is not about a few extra dollars to the retailer or about the sales increase that happens during the promotion days. It is about the difference that you make to the category in the long run. For the products that we have promoted at our stores, we are seeing 12-15% sales increase two weeks after the promotion has ended. That I see as the real success.
Q: How is the import mix changing?
A: When we look at imported foods, we have two distinct categories, that of supplementary and complementary foods. Supplementary foods are those that our country needs to import to meet the demands of a one-billion-plus population. Products like cereals, pulses, edible oil and sugar fall in this category. Complementary foods are those that are imported to cater to the demands of a burgeoning Indian middle class and its aspirations to be a part of the global consuming family.
Q: How important is fresh produce in that makeup? And how quickly is demand increasing in connection with rising incomes and modernity trends?
A: According to various trade reports and analysis, market size for imported food products in India for complementary foods is estimated to be close to US$ 1.5 billion. Fresh fruits, dry fruits and nuts, certain type of oils like olive oil and processed foods like confectionery items, beverages and pasta products etc., are the fastest growing import items in this category.
The key driver for the development of the imported food segment in India is the modern Indian consumer. In very simple language, Indians are eating more; Indians are shopping more; Indians are spending more and consequently Indians are demanding more.
Q: With India’s population size, couldn’t these consumer spending and lifestyle changes translate to big sales and profit opportunities?
A: From a food marketing perspective, these seemingly extremely straight-forward and simple statements have huge ramifications. It should not come as a surprise that in the changing world order, India is becoming one of the most sought after markets. The growth of imported foods in India in some ways has mirrored the overall prosperity in the Indian economy, which has continued to boom despite the overall global slowdown.
The growing Indian economy, combined with the media revolution, has meant that more Indians are aware of global consumption patterns and trends. Their aspirations towards a better and healthier life are bringing about fundamental changes in food consumption patterns. The Indian consumer today is not only exposed to the world but is also ready to spend that extra buck for buying foods that are nutritious and of superior quality.
Q: Roberta Cook will be presenting a talk on changing demographics, trade liberalization and supermarket trends transforming the global fresh produce market. She points to mature developed markets as one instigator for investments in developing countries…
A: Where traditional markets of North America and Western Europe are stagnating, the impetus for growth is coming from the developing economies such as India’s, and this is a trend that is most certainly going to continue in the near to long term future. In that sense, India is a classic growth market at present.
Q: What produce categories show the most potential in India?
A: Tremendous growth rates can be seen in products that can sustain themselves comparatively better in non-refrigerated environments, like apples, pears and oranges. Import volume of very temperature-sensitive products, such as fresh grapes, stone fruits (peaches, plums and nectarines), etc., is also growing as modern retail establishes its footprints and gradually creates the necessary infrastructure for these fruits.
As far as the future is concerned, it is extremely bright. The growth we are seeing currently is still only the tip of the iceberg. The infrastructure challenge in India confines the opportunities for imported fresh produce to only the more prosperous areas of India. There are tremendous opportunities in the small and medium cities of India. The real growth in the market will come when importers and retailers are able to reach the consumers across the country.
Q: How does Future Group go about sourcing fresh produce? What can produce suppliers do to help you in your efforts? Are you looking for new companies to work with?
A: The international sourcing model for fresh produce is getting established within Future Group. We are already importing some apples and citrus. My endeavor will be to increase the size and the assortment of the basket.
For products that are established, such as apples and citrus, we are looking at bringing in more varieties. For products like pears, grapes, cherries, kiwis etc., that we currently do not source, I am looking to get these items added to the import basket immediately. For products like avocados, berries etc., that are new for Indian consumers, we are very willing to import small loads by air or sea and then partner with grower associations or bodies to launch and market these across our store formats.
Q: It is exciting to hear you talk about your strategies to build your fresh produce offering and your desire to work with a range of produce companies and associations in those efforts…
A: Fresh consumption is on the rise, and we see consumers every day at our stores buying more and consumers demanding better.
India is a huge market with varied tastes and patterns. If marketed and promoted properly, there is tremendous potential for foods across categories. Naturally some categories will be faster growing than others, but opportunities exist across the board. What is important for the global food marketers is to spend time and effort in understanding the market and the target consumer base and then launch their products accordingly. Partnering in modern retail will be key.
There are no formulas for instant success in India. Companies will need to do their ground work and enter this market with a clear long term vision to have any chance of success. The market is extremely rewarding for those who can persevere.
Sumit has kindly agreed to serve on our Thought Leaders Breakfast Panel and to give a presentation Thursday at 4:00 PM.
You can learn more about the event on the website.
You can pre-register here or come to the Grosvenor House and register at the door.
The opening Cocktail Reception kicks off tonight, Wednesday, June 3,at 6:30 PM in the Grosvenor House Great Room Balcony.
If you are already registered, please consider:
Add one of our five great tours.
Send your ”Better Half” to the Spouse/Companion program.
And we still have a few seats for the European Premiere of Fear No Fruit, the documentary about the life and times of Frieda Caplan. Let us know if you wish to attend here.
Come engage with us and Celebrate Fresh at The London Produce Show and Conference.