Archive for the 'Food' Category

The Sweet Deal in India

I read an interview by Perfetti’s MD in Business Line recently where he was talking about how difficult it was for them to convert the 50p price point and raise it to Re 1 and another article here on how the main issue with Indian market is price points (MRP), that the costlier, “stylized” chocolates are better sold in “malls” and that the Indian chocolate market is largely limited to children and has not been able to convert the adults.

I beg to differ with the concept that “price” is  an issue with sweets. The people (both adults and children) who crave for sweets don’t care about price, it falls under “crave” items. The problem with Indian scenario is that overall there is a dearth of options, lack of quality and absence of richness in the confectionery and chocolates category. In fact, there are no lollipops worth its salt (sweet) that an adult would buy (even if they craved for it), chewing gums are ok but now there are too many clones in the market (especially with the sugar-free version) and can I please get an eclair that does not get stuck in my teeth (I mean, I used to like eclairs before these cheap versions started flooding the market)?

Chocolates is another disaster story, for the price I pay mostly there isn’t even a bite-full to eat (things have changed slightly with Cadbury Silk in the mix and some imported German chocolates). I can do far better with most of the traditional Indian sweets in all their variety and richness right around the corner. Of course, not to mention that dark chocolates are more chocolate than dark (cocoa) and the difference in taste between the “Indian” and “Foreign” versions of “Kit-Kat”, “Ferrero Rocher” doesn’t make them taste any better (in fact, they are worse).

All of these “sweet” guys (Perfetti, Nestle, Nutrine, Parle) who are talking about price, placement and segment issues in India, my question to you is, what have you done to understand India and put together an honest, good quality product mix for us? We might be a disparate market, we might stand divided by caste, creed and religion but we stand united by our sweet tooth and reject products that lack in quality or range thrown at us and oh, yeah! no amount of advertising is going to make up for the fact that the products don’t stand up for themselves.

PS: I should give a special mention to Cadbury as they have always attempted to work towards this goal. They are having to run three separate ad campaigns – one each for dairy milk silk, temptations and the regular dairy milk. I can see what an uphill task it is for them in Indian market to stand up for quality when everyone else is gunning for costs!

What do you think? Any special chocolate stories to share?

Wants vs. Needs

I was listening to Melinda Gates at the TEDxChange talk aired on Sep 20th on the Millennium goals. It was wonderful to hear all the speakers, but one thing she said stuck in my head.

She was narrating the story of the reach & success of Coke and comparing it with the success of the Millennium Goals. She said, as she travelled all over the world trying to spread the message of a life without disease and misery, even where there was no electricity, education or sanitation facility, there was COKE. For quite some reason, coke had figured out the secret formula that eluded the best of the international efforts at alleviating poverty, disease and lack of education!

She pointed out that it could be broadly ascribed to three things – they are very data oriented, they  tap into local entrepreneurial culture and create incredible marketing campaigns. In short, make you aspire to something you don’t even need in the first place! However, for some reason, she said, “We don’t seem to think that we should make people want what they need” when it comes to poverty, education and disease eradication. This results in colossal wastage of the best laid out aid efforts in the poorest of countries. Since, we don’t craft the messages with “sufficient aspirational value” they don’t seem to get through to the people and she gave some very interesting examples (Go watch the talk for examples, I’m not giving them away :)).

This is so beautifully said that I can’t add anything to it except for the fact that, what “they need” is generally a “perception” from an outsider’s point of view, for them  it is something in their core – a “habit”, “culture”, “religion”, “chore” – that you want them to change and instead do this “other thing” which they are not familiar with. Why should they trust you? Why should they put in the extra effort?

Inspiring someone enough for them to “want” to do something is the best way to create a “need” – marketers figured this out way long ago. But making someone want what they need, while making it available is the best way to reach out and make a difference in the society, probably the most exalted job for marketing there is to be!

PS: Seth Godin wrote an article on the same topic in his blog recently –Needs don’t always lead to demand.

GETrim needs a strategy

I’m sure many of you around Bangalore (especially the health freaks) might have seen a drink mix called GETrim, from a company called Satva adorning the shelves of major retail outlets. I’ve seen it around for more than a year and a half now and well don’t see it flying off the shelves at the outlets that I frequent (and over the past one year I’ve tried more than 10 of them already and that’s fodder for another story altogether). So, what’s wrong one may ask?

I’d like to start with what is right first – it is a health drink mix, crisply promises that one can lose 4Kg in a month and is very elegantly packaged (one ends up taking notice). So far, so good. However, it is priced at Rs. 600 per tin (that promises 20 meals), well Rs. 30/meal – not bad, but having to cough it up all at once without getting to try the product for at least one or two meals seems too much and that is the not so right bit of it. Maybe, they need to learn a lesson from the 50p Shampoo sachet in India that helped break the mental barrier of large shampoo bottle purchases in India.

I’m not arguing that people don’t buy costly stuff to eat, they do – take Olive Oil, Nutella, Corn Flakes and not to mention Frozen Desserts etc. But the initial hiccup is the first step to justify trying something and a price more than Rs. 200 for a large pack and more than Rs. 10 for a small one is beyond it. It could well be that they want to keep it high-priced and ensure it does not fly off the shelf – you know create some kind of exclusivity of sorts. Then, they have got their retail distribution chain wrongly mapped out for sure.

What do you think?

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Healthy, snacky recess food for children?

I was passing through a school corridor during recess. As I was navigating my way through noisy children running about all over the place, I noticed how children opened up packets of junk food and gobbled it up (and continued running). Also reminded me of a conversation I had with a friend of mine, Vaishali, who told me that packing snacks for her kids that is healthy and yet, tasty was a daily challenge of her creativity. The other day, I read in the newspaper an interesting news article of how schools were requesting parents not to send “messy” foods like chutney and sauce for lunch/recess snacks. All in all, I can see the dilemma of the parents and their concern over the health of their children. Of course, children need something interesting to eat during recess, that is a given.

All these independent dots, bring me to an interesting idea – if there was a company that came out with packaged food that was healthy and yet snacky so that either parents picked it up at retail stores or children had access to it during school recess hours, it opens up a very interesting and socially responsible business opportunity for them. What say?

The Visual Treats

It’s funny I was having a conversation with a designer the other day. He was telling me how fancy font are so important for the restaurant because that’s all they have to show on the menu and the fact that many of them spend large sums of money on it. Right? Wrong.

Now, here’s something I’ve noticed, when we eat, our sense of smell and sight serve as amazing appetizers as much as any actual food could. So, why do all the restaurants only rely on “fancy fonts” to convey information about their cuisine? I agree they scatter a few pictures around (which for the most part, have nothing to do with the dishes mentioned or don’t even look remotely like them when ordered).

In sharp contrast, every single restaurant I’d been to in China had a “picture menu” where every item had a picture against it and even more importantly, it was the actual picture of the dish and not an air-brushed or “aspirational” version of the same. What I miss to understand is why air-brush something or spend on a fancy font so much money if all you have to do is to put out your dishes as they are served on your menu for customers to understand what to expect!

My Chinese Impressions – Part 5

Funny and a few interesting foodie experiences in Shanghai…

Ordering Aloo Paratha at the Indian Kitchen

I had blogged previously about how I figured out Indian Kitchen in Jian Qiao. This was find indeed for me and excited as I was, decided to order Aloo Paratha, which is a standard Indian dish made with potato boiled, mashed with spices and rolled within wheat rolls and roasted on a pan with lots of ghee. Now, what I got instead was aloo pizza (mashed potato topping on top of wheat bread). I found the twist on “our aloo paratha” hilariously funny!

How we arrived at FACE!

After the previous incident, I re-started my search for Indian food and found an address which seemed to be pretty close to the office in Pudong and my colleague and I started our journey towards this new place in a taxi. We arrived at a Government guest house and the taxi guy continued his journey inside – there was not a soul in sight even to ask for directions or to know if we had the wrong address and were to end up in jail within the next couple of minutes for trespassing or whatever! However, we arrived at the best Indian Restaurant in Shanghai (also one of the costliest…) – it’s called FACE. I can vouch for it, I have eaten at the restaurant twice and both the times the price and effort of getting there was worth it. However, I can never forget the random thoughts that were racing through our minds the first time we were about to find the best Indian restaurant in Shanghai…!!!

Belgian Chocolate Foundue

Saving the best for the last. I’ve learned that the Indian way of speaking English and our pronunciation of certain words are too fast and far away from their vocabulary for the Chinese. It is not the right or wrong, it is just not their way…that’s it. Now, my colleague and I strongly believe that the night at the restaurant near our hotel we ordered Belgian Fudge or something like that, but instead what we got changed our concept of dessert forever – lots of freshly cut fruits and melted Belgian dark chocolate (kept that way using a small candle flame below the pot) and do I need to say anymore..I don’t think it made a damn difference what we ordered, what we got made us really happy!!!

My Chinese Impressions – Part 4

Being a vegetarian in China

I think, of all the things I want to talk about China and my experiences there, this should be in the top 10 and it is…so here we go:

The day I fell sick

2 days after I arrived in Shanghai, I had my stomach twirling in all kinds of wild ways that it could and my head aching from the constant pain. A quick snapshot of thoughts running through my head, “How hard can it really be? Food is food, rice is rice right? I have eaten Chinese food in India as well as in the US, I even like it! Then what went wrong?” After thinking a bit, I realized, I had eaten ‘sticky rice” the previous night and not being quite used to eating semi cooked rice, my stomach might have overreacted. I kept away from sticky rice, the entire trip and to imagine, I had packed up a lot of “allied food material” with me, thinking, worst case, will make a meal of it with sticky rice

Ordering vegetarian food in Chinese

Most restaurants in China carry pictures of the food that they have listed on their menu. It is so colorful and appetizing…except it is not vegetarian! Trust me, staring at menus that were wholly composed of exotic non-vegetarian dishes you cannot eat, attempting to ordering vegetarian dishes to a Chinese waiter (who either fall into the category of sympathizers – “Oh! what a shame” or assume all sea food is vegetarian!) and of course, not to mention that ensuring the oil used to cook the food is not animal based, was an adventure in itself..

However, I did find an elegant way out of this mess – I got flash cards written with information on specific vegetarian dishes, instructions on what is vegetarian and usage of vegetarian oil for cooking. Now I had eased the communication and hoped and prayed that they executed it – because, seriously, if I were eating alone, I wouldn’t even know the difference!!!

9 and counting…

Well…now, that is the different kinds of Chinese noodles I ate ranging from Shanghainese to Cantonese. There are, in fact, subtle differences in tastes too – but I got tired of ordering different kinds of vegetarian noodles and really, badly ached for some Indian food…(of all people, me who when outside India, always liked to try global cuisines…and avoid Indian food)

I did wonder about this later, when I was well fed, maybe the experience of eating global cuisines in, say US or India or Europe, is eased up by the cultural setting in which it is offered and in the restaurant’s attempt to attract a global crowd they offer their culture, menu, food and ambiance in a manner that suits a global palette.

But, to really enjoy Chinese food, one has to go with a local Chinese who would explain the intricacies of the cooking, eating and ingredients to you, even order an exquisite vegetarian spread which would have definitely missed your eye on the menu! And, I had the great fortune of having several of these experiences with some of my Chinese hosts.

Want to go HOME!

By now, my craving for Indian food had reached its peak and I really wanted to go home (just so I could eat food that I liked)….the only Indian restaurant I knew in Shanghai was about 45 mins away from my office and though I could make that trip for dinner, if I wanted, my lunch was still not taken care of. I started searching on the internet, in earnest in the hope that I will find a decent Indian place to eat and lo behold! what I found was Jian Qiao – it was way beyond what I had asked for. This was a mall right in the center of an expat settlement in Shanghai and catered to the global crowd – there was an Indian restaurant (Indian Kitchen), a Carrefour, a nice gelato place and even an American style “burger place” (although high end) – called Blue Frog – where I eventually spent many of my Sundays eating burger brunches and drinking chocolate milkshakes in the restaurant’s balcony.

“Sour Bites”

Sometimes an international experience teaches you some things that you take for granted about you or your life style and even some things that you didn’t even know about yourself. I realized that I sorely missed the sour taste commonly found in many Indian dishes, which seemed to be missing in most of what I ate in China!

This post has already been stretched too long and I wanted to write about a few more funny foodie experiences that I had in China…maybe in a later post…ciao for now.

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