Understanding young consumers is the key to unlocking demand for fruits and vegetables, Fresh Produce India hears

Fresh Produce India made a welcome return this week for the first in-person event since the start of the pandemic. A capacity crowd of almost 300 international delegates gathered in Mumbai’s Trident Nariman Point hotel to hear about the latest developments in India’s fresh produce market.


India’s booming economy and growing middle class present a huge opportunity for fresh produce suppliers. In the five years since the last Fresh Produce India was held, substantial investment has gone into ramping up domestic production and improving cold chain and transport infrastructure, setting the industry on a steady course for growth.

India’s fresh produce sector has long been compared to bamboo in that you need to wait five years before it starts to grow. It appears that time has finally come. A quick glance at the latest trade figures show an industry in rude health, with imports of products like kiwifruit, blueberries and avocados having grown exponentially since 2019. “The fifth year is when the magic happens,” noted Sumit Saran of SS Associates.

He said there is a structural shift taking place within Indian society that has seen people make substantive changes to the way they eat as they become more aware of the importance of following a healthy diet. This accelerated during the pandemic, when young professionals forced to move back to their towns and villages during lockdowns brought with them new consumption habits which they then spread to their families.

Experts agreed that young people are the key to unlocking India’s potential. Gen Z makes up a whopping 45 per cent of the country’s consumer base and understanding them better is a must for suppliers seeking to tap into new demand.

IG International’s Tarun Arora and Saurabh Raina of Reliance Retail said today’s aspiring young consumers are technologically sophisticated, have high expectations and are willing to spend more for the right quality. This has led to the increased premiumisation of the produce sector, creating new opportunities at the top end of the market in particular.

At the same, consumers are becoming more conscious of food safety and sustainability concerns. “They are reading the label more intently than ever before, and this will likely become the norm in the next five or six years,” Raina said.

Rising income levels also mean that consumers want more choice, both in terms of what they buy and where they buy it. Looking ahead, supermarkets and online retailers will play a key role in meeting this demand. Today, organised retail accounts for just 5 per cent of produce sales and online retailers for less than 0.5 per cent of the market. But things are changing fast. “What’s driving online growth is what drives sales in any category – a wide product range, value and convenience,” Amazon Fresh’s Siddharth Tata told delegates.

“One thing that has changed in recent years is that when it comes to quality, the perception of online produce has improved markedly. “It was once a category that scored highly for convenience and value but not quality, but this is no longer the case,” Tata said.

This is largely down to ongoing improvements in India’s cold chain infrastructure and the introduction of new technologies that enable better monitoring and control of supply chains.

Meanwhile, increased local production in new categories like blueberries and avocados is expected to fuel demand for both domestically-grown and imported produce, experts predict. “Whether it’s Indian or imported produce doesn’t matter so much. What consumers want is a uniformly good quality product,” Arora concluded.