Case for an Indian Food Revolution
Indian packaged food has a global potential
India’s traditional snacks, it turns out, are making huge inroads and even poised to overtake western ones, in the country’s packaged foods market. If this deserves only two cheers, it is because desi snacks should be ruling shop shelves not just in India but across the world. Sugary soda and potato wafers have successfully invaded every market and no movie is complete in any cinema, whether in Delhi, Shanghai or Dhaka, without popcorn. Superior marketing has allowed mediocre fare to become staples of the good life in any culture. Suppose such sophisticated marketing, along with hygienic production and snazzy packaging, could be brought to bear on traditional Indian snacks.
India’s regional and cultural diversity also means a great variety of different kinds of food: crunchy, soft, spicy, steamed, bland, finger food, bakes, fries, preserves, pickles, roasts, meats, vegetarian savouries and an endless array of sweet dishes, ranging from runny payas, kheer and prathaman to chunky barfis and pedas and amorphous halwa. Ready-to-cook foods are gaining ground in urban India, as double-income families look for quality and convenience. The likes of ITC and Amul have the muscle and the entrepreneurial energy to brand them and market them around the world, even as a large number of smaller companies cater to the demand from the desi diaspora. Indian food remains relatively untapped terrain for startups. Globally present Indian food would not just add to India’s soft power but also enrich the Indian farmer and grow a vast food-processing industry.
India’s diverse agro-climatic conditions permit diverse crops, to each of which considerable value can be added, with a step-up in technology, as compared to traditional method of processing. With support from the food regulator to ensure quality and traceability, continuous power supply to run cold storages and food processing plants in rural areas, and good roads for transporting rural produce fast to urban markets and ports for exports, there is no reason why India’s food processing industry should not produce a global champion.