- February 22, 2017 / 5 min readSales are increasing by more than 25 per cent in rural India, where increasing farm gate prices of cereals and vegetables are helping broaden the consumer base.
Oils surpassed dairy as India's largest packaged food item, underpinned by increasing awareness among consumers who now prioritise health and hygiene over expenses on the staple cooking medium.
Sales of cooking oils increased 22 per cent at Rs. 1.05 lakh crore, outpacing dairy that was below Rs.1 lakh crore during 2016, according to Euromonitor International. Domestic companies harnessed their last-mile distribution network beyond metropolitan centers to dominate sales: The top five companies in the overall packaged foods industry worth Rs. 3.5 lakh crore were homegrown.
Angshu Mallick, chief operating officer at Adani Wilmar that sells the Fortune brand of cooking oils, said rural India was at the vanguard of sales growth. "People are becoming conscious of what they eat. The per capita consumption of edible oil too has increased from 8 kg per person annually to 16 kg in the past one decade," he added.
Sales are increasing by more than 25 per cent in rural India, where increasing farm gate prices of cereals and vegetables are helping broaden the consumer base. The introduction of smaller and more affordable pack sizes is also bringing more packaged food categories within the reach of price-sensitive consumers in semi-urban and rural India. By contrast, companies are stressing health and wellness through innovative marketing in urban India, helping shift value to the premium end of the spectrum.
Ruchi Soya, the third largest company within the foods segment, launched the "Kill lethargy with Sunrich Sunflower Oil" campaign as part of the strategy to focus on health and well-being. Similarly, Adani Wilmar sought to attack diabetes, a condition that affects millions of Indians, with the Fortune VIVO diabetes care oil.
Siraj Chaudhry, chairman, Cargill India said the efforts of the industry and the government to increase consumer awareness on food adulteration and safety have helped spur sales.
"Consumers believe it is convenient to buy packaged oil. The cost difference between the two is also not much," said Chaudhry, who believes that sales growth would get more companies to fortify oil with vitamins.
Experts, however, attribute higher sales in part to a wider category: Dairy is consumed largely by end-users, but cooking oils have consumers within the processed food industry.
"The growth in edible oils is driven more by out of home consumption by fast growing snacking companies and quick service restaurants. Also, oil comes with a higher price tag compared to dairy products on a similar pack size," said Devendra Chawla, group president at Future Group, adding that dairy will be the next big bet within foods as the economy matures.
Changing lifestyles are leading to strong growth in areas such as savoury snacks, and manufacturers remain sensitive to the peculiarities of the Indian palate.
By contrast, dairy has not innovated much and the industry is largely controlled by state-led co-operative producers that are beset with challenges of prompt logistics and preserving products that have short shelf lives. Amul and Mother Dairy, the state co-operatives that lead the dairy business, remained the two largest food companies and accounts for about 10 percent of the entire packaged food market.
Dairy was the slowest-expanding category with 4 percent volume growth last calendar year due to its relative maturity in the food sector. India is the ninth-largest market for dairy products and the largest for milk, globally. "Dairy is still driven largely by loose or unbranded products even at urban centres. Hence, as a product category, it is way bigger than edible oil that is hardly being sold loose now," said RS Sodhi, managing director at Gujarat Co-operative Milk Marketing Federation that sells Amul.
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