By Sandeep Goyal
Future Shock, the Alvin Toffler book was all about a ‘certain psychological state of individuals and entire societies’ when confronted with ‘too much change in too short a period of time’. The current pandemic is all about change, in fact very very rapid change. Change like never before. A slowdown from literally 78 rpm to 16 rpm, maybe even lesser. Food consumption, and eating habits, especially are likely to be significantly impacted as a result of all the new concerns about hygiene, personal safety and social distancing. But before we get into micro issues that have been monopolizing much of the media space, let us pull back and look at the larger picture.
The Food & Agriculture Organisation (FAO) took a macro view of the food & agriculture business post the lockdowns in most countries. Its perspectives are actually quite interesting. The FAO says that the 2008 financial crisis showed us what can happen when reduced income and uncertainty make people spend less and results in shrinking demand. Sales declined. So did production. Moreover, the most affected were forced to revert to negative coping strategies – such as selling of productive assets, less diverse diets, overfishing – to compensate for income constraints.
At the onset of the COVID-19 outbreak, there has been a significant increase in demand, perhaps out of the fear of possible scarcity. Food demand, emphasizes the FAO, is generally inelastic and its effect on overall consumption will most likely be limited, although dietary patterns may alter in a narrow range. There is a possibility of a disproportionately larger decline in animal protein consumption (as a result of fears – not science-based – that animals might be hosts of the virus), and other higher-valued products like fish, fruits and vegetables (which are likely to cause price slumps). These fears can be particularly true for raw fish products supplied to restaurants and hotels, including small and medium enterprises. Food demand in poorer countries is more linked to income, and, here, loss of income-earning opportunities could impact on consumption. Fear of contagion can translate in reduced visits to food markets, and one can expect to see a shift in how people buy and consume food – lower restaurant traffic, increased e-commerce deliveries, and a rise in eating at home.
Following the outbreak of coronavirus, says the FAO, countries around the world started to implement a number of policy measures aimed at avoiding the further spread of the disease. However, few have woken up to the fact that such measures might affect agricultural production and trade. For instance, many countries are implementing higher controls on cargo vessels, with the risk of jeopardizing shipping activities and with a particular risk to perishable goods, like fresh fruits and vegetables, fish and fish products, many of whom are today transported on the high seas. Measures affecting the free movement of people too, such as seasonal workers, might have an impact on food production, thus affecting market prices globally. Measures to guarantee acceptable health standards in food factories, may slow down production. So lots of change is on the anvil.
The food supply chain is a complex web that involves producers, consumers, agricultural and fishery inputs, processing and storage, transportation and marketing, etc. As the virus spreads and cases mount, and measures tighten to curb the spread of the virus, there are countless ways the food systems at all levels will be tested and strained in the coming weeks and months. As of now, disruptions are minimal, as food supply has been adequate, and markets have been stable so far. Global cereal stocks are at comfortable levels and the outlook for wheat and other major staple crops for 2020 is positive. Although less food production of high value commodities (i.e. fruits and vegetables) is already likely, they are not as yet noticeable because of the lockdowns and disruption in the value chain. Blockages to transport routes are particularly obstructive for fresh food supply chains. Transport restrictions and quarantine measures are likely to impede farmers’ and fishers’ free access to markets, curbing their productive capacities and hindering them from selling their produce. The need to upgrade international standards for hygiene, working conditions and living facilities on agricultural farms and on-board fishing vessels, also needs to be reconsidered in the light of the pandemic.
Read Also: Part 1| FUTURE SHOCK: 25 travel & tourism trends post COVID 19
Now let us get down to brass tacks. How will celebrations, eating out, formal & casual dining, choice of cuisines, home delivery, eating-at-home, street food, snacking, tiffin-boxes … be affected? Will all this impact what we buy, even before it impacts what we eat? I have been CTO (Chief Tasting Officer!) at FoodFood TV, India’s first 24*7 food TV channel, for almost a decade now … and the biggest joy of that has been my proximity to Chef Sanjeev Kapoor, the world’s best known expert on Indian cuisine. Sanjeev and I have been partners in FoodFood, though I have known the Chef since my Zee TV innings nearly 20 years ago. So I dialed Sanjeev for his views and inputs. I could not have called anyone better informed. The chat with the Chef helped me clear up my mind on a lot of what I cover below:
1. Branding of commodities: Since fear of catching the infection will be a big driver going forward, the first major impact is going to be on how we buy our food. Especially commodities. For years and years, the only commodities that were really branded were ghee and tea. Ghee meant for a long long time Dalda and Rath. And Gagan in the North. That expanded later to branded cooking oils. Postman, Saffola, Dhara, Ginni. In tea, there was always Brooke Bond and Lipton. Tata went packaged in the late 80s with ‘Annu Taazgi …’. And there were regional satraps like Wagh Bakri and Girnar. But a large part of the tea market remained loose. Then came the next wave. Branded rice. Kohinoor, Daawat, Lal Qila, India Gate. Then salt. Tata salt. Then masalas and spices. MDH, Everest, Priya, Catch. Then branded atta. Shakti Bhog. Followed by Aashirwaad, Annapurna, Pilsbury and more. There has been some slow movement towards branded daals. There is packaged and branded toor daal available from Tata Sampann. But now, in the days ahead, commodities like daal, besan, sooji (rawa), cheeni (sugar), chai, poha, sabudana, haldi, jeera, and more will come under branding. Branding will signify hygiene, safety standards and also in a way source credibility of the commodities in the pack. The likes of Big Basket, Big Bazaar and Amazon are already doing it through ‘store brands’ but what I am really talking about is a much bigger shift that will embrace middle India and even lower economic stratas.
2. A new return to home cooking: ‘Momade’ is the new normal ever since the lockdown got underway. ‘Momino’s’ is better than Domino’s! While it may have started somewhat hesitantly and reluctantly, home cooking is back in favour. Yes, it may have been a no-option situation but the fear of the virus is going to make sure that in most homes (including yuppies, even singles), a home sandwich would be preferred over a Subway for a while at least. And many have started to believe that home cooked is healthier. And well, yes, safer. Plus it makes for far better family togetherness, though the last few weeks cannot be extrapolated into the future, once offices and schools re-open.
3. New home chefs; new YouTube Chefs: The lockdown ensured that many more members of the family started to enter the kitchen, and cook. Dads. Teenaged sons. Working daughters. Most of them have had good practice over the weeks at home with the griddle, the pan and the oven … trying out and experimenting with never-before dishes. And praise on Instagram has only encouraged and flattered them to pursue this new found passion with even more gusto. YouTube is the new guru. So professional chefs will increasingly find more followers on cooking shows and demos, even if they don’t get enough customers in their restaurants!
4. New value-added products: Enhanced home cooking, especially by the new converts, will open up a new market for ‘value-added’ products. Prime consideration for these new products will be the elimination of the ‘jhanjhat’ involved in home cooking … the peeling, the grating or cutting or chopping or slicing, the grinding, the sauteing, the browning etc. are all difficult, cumbersome and time-consuming steps.
Take a basic cooking requirement like ginger-garlic paste. It is available in branded form in the better food stores. Now volumes and demand will grow exponentially, getting many more brands to get into such like products. Similarly, the ‘kanda-lahsoon masala’, a Maharashtrian must-use in the kitchen which has at best a week-long shelf-life could be the kind of ‘value-added’ product that the likes of FoodHall will surely start to stock up, but the demand will also strongly percolate to stores much smaller, and more widespread.
5. New intermediary products: The new home chefs will demand a lot more of what I term as ‘intermediary’ products. Making ‘rajma’, for example, would be much simpler if the entire gravy (not just the dry masala powder) made of tomatoes, onions, ginger, garlic and other condiments would come pre-prepared and pre-packaged so that all you do is to boil the beans, add the gravy, and add the dry masala powder to taste, and bingo the ‘rajma’ are ready to serve. Home cooking by many more, more often, will open up multiple opportunities for such ‘intermediary’ lines. Since the accent is expanding from ‘taste bhi’ and ‘healthy bhi’ to include ‘safe bhi’, there is a big market opportunity for brands – from simplistic idli & dosa wet mixes currently available in the semi-organised sector to much much more.
6. Restaurant jaisa khana: The demand for restaurant food is not going to go away. That is for sure. So, what happens when customers want ‘restaurant jaisa khana’ at home? Well, two things. There will be demand by some evolved folks for restaurant equivalent cooking flames … which means those that work at much higher temperatures. Few know that restaurant cooking essentially is done at much higher temperatures compared to home kitchen flames, and that is what releases food enzymes that make restaurant food tastier. So that’s a new opportunity area for some companies … professional cooking stoves for homes. Second, will be a market for ‘meal kits’ accompanied perhaps by recipe videos. Some companies like iD Fresh Foods are already doing some of this; but expect much more.
7. New lower priced gourmet ranges: Packaged Daal Bukhara has been marketed by ITC Hotels for a very long time. But the pricing is well, Bukhara grade too. Going forward, till the home-cooking safety seeking customer prefers to stay home, expect new lower priced gourmet ranges … whether as ‘specials’ off the menu from Dum Pukht or Avartana or creations of Chef Ananda Solomon or equivalent. There is a big market there for great meals at good prices. MTR Foods have been doing very good quality ready-to-eat paneer makhani, navratan kurma, bisibelebhath, bhindi masala and more at very affordable prices. You can expect many more players to enter this space soon, and grow the market.
8. Freelancer Chef at home: My friend Kanu Gupta of Secret Supper fame and I have often discussed how there is a big market for ‘Chef-on-Call’ services but getting an expert from the Taj or the Oberoi, while being do-able, was always far too expensive. With the restaurant business likely to be in doldrums for a while, my belief is that good quality, highly talented freelance chefs will be available at much much cheaper price points. Ashok Kalyanpur, once a major-domo at ITC Welcomgroup, provides this service in Dubai. You can choose the cuisine type, and Ashok’s company sends you a list of ingredients to keep ready for when your choice Chef arrives to cook. India too will have a lot of this tribe in coming weeks, for sure. Abhiraj Bhal at Urban Company, I am sure, would surely be able to do this, at much more affordable rates.
9. Pop-up kitchens; decline of street food: Whether we like it or not, street food … samosas, bhel-puri, sev-puri, vada pav … will take some hit at least with middle class folks who would want to avoid anything that looks suspect or seems unhygienic. Opportunity therefore, for many ‘aunty-ji’ pop-up kitchens who will make small quantities fresh in their home kitchens and supply anything from dhokla to khandvi to handvo to muthiya to homes and offices not very far away, in clean, safe, hygienic packaging. Not that it was not being done before, but many more of such pop-ups are likely to spring up. Already, Haldiram sells gol-gappas with half a dozen pre-mixed water flavours & condiments; many more will look at home preparations for the snacks market, taking away volumes from street vendors and ‘halwais’.
10. Increase in Takeaways: The UK has always been a take-away market. Takeaways are significantly cheaper than eating out at a restaurant, and almost as good on quality. India, in contrast, ever since the advent of the likes of Swiggy, Uber Eats and FoodPanda, became more of a home-delivery market. More convenient, more time-efficient too. With the kind of recent fear and distrust created by the Zomato delivery boy who tested Covid positive in Delhi’s Malviya Nagar and got 72 families into quarantine, it is possible that many customers in the future would rather pick food from their favourite restaurant on their own for greater safety, and want to eliminate a handler in the middle.
11. More home-delivery; Premium home delivery: During lockdown itself, the home delivery business has survived. Estimates vary but it would be safe to assume that despite all the magnified fears around food safety and possible transmission of the infection, home deliveries continued (albeit 50-60% lesser) because they were allowed as an essential service. Going forward too, home deliveries are here to stay, in fact, premium brands like Biryani-By-Kilo to whom I spoke to said that they have adopted extra hygiene measures like sanitizing their kitchen every hour, taking employees’ temperature every day for screening, sanitizing delivery bags after every order, and delivering fresh dum-cooked biryani handis which are opened by customers only in tamper proof seal bags. In fact with malls still closed, and restaurants still not allowed to function fully, except for home deliveries, many top restaurants will offer ‘premium’ delivery … the full food experience, sans the ambience.
12. Lesser incidence of eating out: It appears at least for the foreseeable future, the biggest losers in the food business are likely to be restaurants, food stands and vendors, unless they are able to pivot and offer meals with minimal human touch points. Corporate entertainment is likely to recede. Even team celebrations, family outings etc. are likely to remain low key for the next few months till the pall of gloom and fear lifts. Another downer for eating-out will be that the 50+ aged customers will drop very substantially. For premium restaurants these are, in fact, the better, richer customers. The likes of McDonald’s, and similar, too will get impacted as lesser number of parents will want younger kids, especially those below 10 years to eat out.
13. Sparse attendance at restaurants: Social distancing will be the biggest bane of the restaurant business. The government may itself mandate certain norms. Patrons themselves will in any case want to keep the necessary distance. Plus ‘hanging out’ which is quite the ‘old normal’ for millennials, will see a drastic drop initially. Doomsayers are predicting a low for two years. My own feeling is that the pick-up in business will be directly proportional to the flow of good news on lower numbers infected, and those dying. So business will start to revive substantially by Diwali.
14. No sharing, single portions please: ‘No sharing’ is going to be the new friendship drill. It is not only going to be about contact-less service but minimal contact between those at the same table. Restaurants will have to re-examine menus, portions and prices to cater to this new reality. So pizza by the slice may now be the new portion of individual choice, than whole pizzas, who knows?
15. Greater technology, no waiting, no contact: Dineout has put an interesting advisory that many restaurants may find prudent to follow. Customers are being urged therein to make their selection, and reserve a table, from any restaurant aggregation app, which would reduce waiting time and thereby minimise human contact. Customers can further choose to pre-book their food through the app, or do so via smartphone apps once they reach the restaurant and are seated. The seating arrangement may also be pre-informed to the customer through the app interface itself, which would detail the table number where a diner may sit. Valet services would offer minimal physical contact, via automated valet tokens and minimum-contact handover of car keys. Once the dining out process is complete, diners can simply pay via a selection of smartphone apps, thereby reducing the physical contact points to a bare minimum.
16. The ‘white glove’ service: Well, gloved service, masks and hair nets will have to be introduced by all decent food establishments. Restaurants that can manage to convey friendly, personable service and make customers feel like they are the only patrons around will prosper. This will require a gigantic leap forward in training of staff, and a conscious desire to up service levels so that those who have ventured out to eat encourage others to follow their example.
17. The kitchen in full public view: Chef Sanjeev Kapoor’s biggest and best insight to me was about the ‘naked’ kitchen. Going forward, patrons will always be more comfortable and confident when they can actually see the cleanliness and hygiene of a restaurant’s kitchen and its staff. So, restaurants which have an uninhibited kitchen view, will subliminally send out more welcome signals. He was 100% right when he repeatedly stressed that the cooking areas of most eateries are far below acceptable standards in our country. The pandemic may actually be a God-sent opportunity for the food industry to literally clean up its act, for now and ever.
18. Feedback , ratings, Instagram, food bloggers: One bad Twitter post; one bad customer review especially on hygiene will be enough to shutter an establishment over the next few months when customer sensitivities are ruling high. So, while beautiful and appetizing food will continue to bolster reputations of Chefs and restaurants, any negative posts will kill careers in no time too. Food bloggers will first be writing about hygiene and safety, then service, before they start to even talk about taste or presentation. So new rules and benchmarks are likely to kick-in, and perhaps stay on in the days ahead.
19. Branding will convey quality: More than ever before, accumulated brand equity will enhance customer re-assurance, and build loyalty. Respected brands in the past fetched better pricing, and larger number of covers. Now, branding will help separate the men from the boys. Customers will pay more, in fact pay more often, to eat at brands they trust.
20. The three shift restaurant: With costs and salaries under stress, keeping a restaurant open for only lunch and dinner may not ‘sweat the asset’ enough. Sure, out-of-home breakfast is not such a big market in India, but then that is where the inventiveness of good marketers will come to the fore. Besides full meal time menus, many restaurants will offer in-between meals menus, snack menus, all-day menus and maybe even late-night menus. Times, they are a changing.
21. ‘Asian’ food, read Chinese, may take a dip: The US has seen a dramatic drop in demand for Asian food … Asian in the US is synonymous with Chinese. Is it because President Trump keeps ranting about the ‘Chinese Virus’? Perhaps, yes. Or as Forbes magazine puts it ‘there will be decreased demand for exotic, risqué food’ because the Wuhan seafood market, where coronavirus is thought to have originated was a popular centre for wildlife such as snakes, porcupines, deer and racoon dogs, many of which were slaughtered in front of customers, is now shuttered. Since the onset of the coronavirus in 2019, 20,000 wildlife farms in China have been shut down or quarantined and a strict ban is being implemented on the farming and consumption of exotic animals. Well, Chinese food in India may not be that ‘exotic’ but it may still see a fall in preference, Trump or no Trump.
22. Smaller weddings: Much has already been written about the trimming of The Big Fat Indian Wedding, so I won’t dwell too much on this. But one thing is for sure … this golden goose will lay far lesser number of golden eggs going forward! A big setback in store for the shubh mangal business.
23. Decline in banqueting and catering business: With events, conventions, congresses and MICE in hiatus, the banqueting business is in very serious trouble. All major events of 2020 have already been cancelled or postponed. 2021 may augur better, but for now marquee events may just treat the current period as a leap-year. Curated events in controlled environs may come back by mid-year but recovery at a large scale is not going to be soon.
24. Flight kitchens may be seriously hit: With 2 out of 3 flights grounded globally, and passenger load on planes expected to decline substantially because of social distancing requirements mandated by the government, flight kitchens are looking at a lot of idle, unutilized capacity ahead. Low cost carriers may temporarily dispense with even the current food carts they have, to comply with distancing requirements. Bleak future for now.
25. ‘Vanity’ restaurants may fold up: I am keeping this one for the last. Many rich businessmen and celebrities ventured into the restaurant business for social prestige and the glitz. The pandemic will see the early demise of many such ventures. Food is going to lose some of its glamour till the virus finds a vaccine, or finds a cure, and makes people breathe easier.
On a separate note, Healthy and Organic Eating will most likely see an uptick. We have always known that, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” Amongst affluent Indians, there is likely to be an increase in demand for organic food, vegan, vegetarian and other healthy foods as a result of the pandemic. Coronavirus poses a significant risk to those with pre-existing health conditions such as diabetes and heart disease as well as those who are overweight and obese. The value of ‘healthy’ foods, as also of fruits and vegetables will get enhanced in these sensitive times.
So what are the main pointers for the future?
1. Resurgence in home cooking. New ‘chefs’ within the home. YouTube will be the new guru. Instagram will rule.
2. Branded commodities will make for safer food buying; new ‘value-added’ and ‘intermediary’ products will take the toil out of cooking and make it more pleasurable.
3. Meal kits, lower priced gourmet ranges and freelancer Chef-at-Home concepts could be interesting new realities.
4. Decrease in street food consumption, greater pick-up in take-aways, and better prospects for home delivery are predicted.
5. Lesser eating out, sparser crowds at restaurants, visible kitchens, no/low-contact technologies, gloved and masked service, single serve portions will be the ‘new normal’.
6. Social media and influencers will play a significant role in demolishing reputations. Beware!
7. Brands will carry a premium.
8. Bleak future for large volume catering both up in the sky, and on firmer ground.
Will the food industry rise to the challenge? There is no reason to believe it won’t. Much needed Health & Safety certifications prescribed in the FSSAI have been turned a Nelson’s eye for far too long. Everyone in the food chain, including handlers and delivery boys need a thorough scrub and clean-up, and the earlier the better. The pandemic may appear demonic as of now but it could well prove to be a great transition and take-off point for food related health and hygiene in our country. Those who will not change, nor evolve, will struggle to stay afloat. Those that will innovate, and learn to ‘cope’ with newer realities, will flourish and prosper.
As Lord Tennyson would have said –
The old order changeth, yielding place to new,
And God fulfils Himself in many ways,
Lest one good custom should corrupt the world.
Comfort thyself: what comfort is in me?
The author has been in marketing and communication for 36 years. He has during his career handled multiple brands in the food domain.
Source: Thanks https://brandequity.economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/marketing/future-shock-25-food-trends-post-covid-19/75590741