Invest now was the takeout message from the opening session of Fresh Produce India 2017.
Delivering the keynote presentation at this morning’s session, Asish Puri of OC&C Strategy Consultants said domestic and international suppliers targeting India’s fresh produce market need to react to the changing landscape of India’s consumer sector.
“There are enough macro trends to indicate how things will transform in the near future,” Puri said. “There’s only bits and pieces in place today, but in five to seven years from now the dynamics will be completely different. Players in this sector need to start investing now.”
New wave of consumers
Puri said India’s youth would play a significant role in how the consumer space shapes up.
It was a point reiterated by Purnima Khandelwal, chief executive and co-founder of INI Farms, a member of a panel discussion that followed Puri’s presentation.
Khandelwal said the way Indian consumers shop for fresh produce is already changing, with more traditional methods such as touching and smelling each individual piece of fruit becoming less common. She anticipated this trend will accelerate in years to come.
“The next generation has no real sense of what quality means,” Khandelwal said. “Instead they go by messaging relating to things like standardisation, food safety, nutrition and health.”
Branding to the fore
Therefore, it comes as no surprise that branding is likely to play a crucial role in the evolution of the fresh produce sector in India.
Puri said branded products that can deliver a desired quality on a consistent basis will deliver trust to Indian shoppers, and are thereby likely to gain traction. However, Puri said suppliers need to look beyond their products when it comes to brand development.
“It’s not only the product offering you need to look at,” he noted. “You need to improve the recall of recognition your brand has.”
The digital space is seen as a key avenue for driving brand recognition, as India’s expanding middle class has more readily access to mobile devices such as smartphones, tablets and laptops. Puri said the advantages of digital marketing extended beyond ease of use and access.
“The digital space is not just convenient, it allows you to engage with consumers actively and directly.”
INI Farms have already moved into this space, creating a fun-based marketing theme for children.
“We’re building an emotional connect with our consumers,” Khandelwal explained. “All of our fruits are characters who can talk, communicate the health benefits to children and create excitement. Digital allows you to talk directly to consumers.”
Speaking about the challenges facing the India fresh produce sector, Puri said fruit and vegetables account for 50 per cent of India’s food wastage. Food safety and cool chain logistics where also key concerns outlined by Puri, who said India was 10m tonnes short of cold storage capacity.
Sudipta Mukhopadhyay of WalMart India said these challenges could be navigated by companies willing to make meaningful investment in the industry.
“India is a huge market to tap for fresh produce, but you can’t tap it with shortcuts,” he explained.