Indian FMCG Brands In The UK

The growing diaspora and e-commerce distribution model fuels the need for new products

Amongst the many changes that the pandemic brought to Great Britain, was the spiking growth of the supermarkets during the first lockdown.

A frenzy of buying and storing engulfed the nation due to rumours of shortage which propelled strange consumer behaviour. Never in the history of mankind has tissue paper been hoarded before.

However, the behavioural pattern changed as the lockdown extended.

New distribution modules emerged, especially for Indian FMCG brands, which had essentially been at the mercy of the supermarket chains until then.

The period witnessed a mushrooming of online ‘supermarkets’, even with Indian names such as, Red Rickshaw, etc. Time seemed to have arrived for Indian brands to claim their due and the diaspora had no dearth of choices.

About forty such websites emerged with an array of products from ‘desi’ mangoes to spices. A trip down nostalgia through popular brands like Maggi, to lesser-known regional pickles like Bedekar or Triple Seven, were also available.

What Changed During The Pandemic?

Hundreds of Indian IT workers, who were furloughed, launched online shops from their living rooms and garages. They rightly targeted the underserviced diaspora market in their venture.

Culinary experiments became a trend, as food became the only source of happiness and relaxation. Baking became as much a kitchen activity as a social media statement.

Among the Indian diaspora in the UK, a practice of ‘discovering India’ started in the kitchens which otherwise were used to just staples or British dailies during normal times.

These trends boosted a diaspora market, which otherwise was cloaked before.

What The Market Lacked?

Will the brands from the subcontinent have a long-standing place in the UK?

Do they have the urge and might to conquer the lucrative market where food trends change every few months and cuisine from every part of the globe has a room?

As a multi-cultural marketer focused on diaspora in the UK, I have found that South Asian brands have more often lacked ambition which inhibits their growth.

The United Kingdom is probably the only country in the world with an Indian restaurant in every major high street. Even in villages where you might struggle to get a pub, you still would find a local Indian.

Such is the popularity of Indian cuisine, that it has become akin to British identity. However, there is not a single brand from India which has been able to piggyback this success story of Indian cuisine, to find their way into the British households.

There are a few who have tried, but though they might have a better claim to quality, they have only been able to secure second place in their British competition.

A major reason for this failure is the population and demography of this nation. While India has an ever-growing population, which constantly creates new ‘takers,’ the UK market is way more saturated due to its constricted population. While there is a buyer for ‘everything’ in India, the UK population and even the diaspora are choosy.

Ray Of Hope

However, there are indications in post-Brexit Britain that growth of the diaspora market will plummet as more and more Indians will be making Britain their first or second home (the UK Home Office seems to be disposed on allowing more Indian skilled workforce into the country).

Additionally, the British love for curry has now led them to experiment with Indian food at home. Currently, most middle-class British families have a dedicated curry night, alongside traditional pizza nights.

The other obvious driver is the phenomenal growth of veganism amongst millennials. While the meat industry will face the canon due to this trend, the Indian vegetarian platter is well disposed to take advantage of this.

Few high-profile acquisitions last year also indicate a better future. Private equity firm Exponent bought out brands like TRS, East End, and Cofresh for millions, to create a new powerhouse of South Asian food and spice industry named Vibrant. Acquisition of pickle brand Patak’s, by Westmill foods (part of AB World Foods) is another British fairy tale worth millions.

More such acquisitions are in the pipeline. Time is ripe for Indian culinary brands from the subcontinent to pull up their socks to take over the global north.

The author is Manish Tiwari, Director, Here And Now 365

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