Fine-dine experiences and the Indian consumer

By Saurabh Saxena, Founder-CEO,

(This article was first published in Food And Beverage News, March 2015. A snapshot of the original article is inserted at the bottom of text.)

India, as a country, has a very diverse range of cuisines to offer. This can be attributed to the varied geographical terrains, cultures, religions and climates that exist in India. Food is an integral part of the overall Indian culture with many ingredients, spices, herbs and inter-regional influence on cooking styles. Over the years, Indian food has evolved and so has the taste preference of its people. Earlier, we preferred to stick to the cuisine we had been brought up on but now we are ready to experiment with our taste buds and willing to explore something new.

This urge to try newer cuisines has fuelled the growth of fine-dine industry in India. Today, more and more people are opting for superior quality culinary experience at restaurants and are eager to indulge in world food; cooked with finesse and served in a fancy manner. To begin with, eating out, as a concept, became popular in India only in the second half of the last century and with growing disposable income, more and more people are now able to afford a fine-dine experience every once in a while. With the launch of American fast-food joints in 1996, Indian food industry had begun its biggest ever cycle of evolution. Soon came world-food restaurants, home-grown speciality food services and increased focus on service quality in restaurants apart from the food that it offers.

However, what defines a fine-dine experience? Is the money spent on a meal directly proportional to its level of excellence? In the Indian context, those who are looking for a fine-dine experience may not necessarily spend an exorbitant amount. The Indian food market stands a US$ 50bn of which fine-dine segment makes for just about 10%. Casual eat-outs and quick service restaurant form the major chunk of the Indian food industry with almost 70% share of the market. Thus, Indian fine-dine sector has a long way to go before it can make a significant mark in the sector pie.

Price point is a huge consideration for Indians in every sphere. As a nation, we are obsessed with value for money and would think twice before spending on an expensive meal. Even if we did indulge in an exorbitantly priced meal, it might not be too frequent.

The organized food sector in India is only 5% of the multibillion dollar industry of which home-delivery forms a very small part. It is worth noting that home-delivery segment, even though is a minuscule chunk of US$ 400 mn, is growing at a CAGR of 40% compared to the overall organized food sector that is growing only at 16% CAGR. As per National Restaurant Association of India, of those who get food home-delivered, 80% of them order-in at least twice a month. Even though rising income, consumerism and increased working population has made the current generation more susceptible to eat outside food, the growth in the sector is over shadowed by growth of ordering-in services.

So why are Indians eager for food to come home than they are willing to step out on their own? It could be many things including price point, increased traffic on the roads which pulls down the overall outing experience, waiting for tables at the restaurants, lack of fine-dine restaurants in the vicinity, et al.

The question that now needs to be answered is – if Indians are unwilling to go out for a fine-dine experience, can the experience come home to them? In my opinion, there’s a huge potential waiting to be tapped in there. Let’s look at the options that a consumer has when wanting to order food at home or office – the regular mess/tiffin service, fast foods such as pizza, burgers, rolls and wraps, Indo-Chinese, regional Indian cuisines from nearby restaurants, etc

None of these options offer exotic variety in food or anything that can be termed as ‘fine-dine’. What if one could offer a French cheesy delicacy or an authentic Russian salad or freshly-made Pina Colada for home-delivery? That would fill the gap between demand for fine-food and consumers who prefer to order-in.

Indians today are aware of cuisines from around the world because they have been exposed to increased foreign travel, exposure to various cultures through television and films and information available on the internet. They are ready to experiment but would still prefer to do it their way. So why not identify that need and serve it to them on their dining table instead of hoping for them to step out?

Can we mix fine-dine with home delivery in India? Yes, there is a big opportunity to grab in that idea. If done elegantly, the fine-food industry can grow parallel to the home-delivery segment.

Technology will play a big role in this. Big data and analytics will be crucial in enabling a smooth process of connecting consumers with a home-delivered fine-dine experience. It will also mean that consumers will have to do away with the 30-minute delivery mind-set and start pre-planning their fine-food experience in order to get a qualitative service.

Service providers will have to focus more on packaging because presentation of the food will still play a major role in enhancing the fine-dine experience. A superior quality meal cannot be delivered in silver-foil packets or paper boxes; it would need a lot more than that. The focus will have to be on quality of the meal, ingredients, authenticity of recipes and presentation.

Going by how the consumers of today are intertwined with their mobile phones, there is a need to blend the fine-dine offering with mobile technology. Imagine if consumers could simply go to their phones and arrange for a superior quality fine-dine meal to be delivered at their door-step– wouldn’t that delight the Indian foodie? Of course it will!

There is an urgent need for the industry to re-look at the formats in which they can connect with their consumers and fulfil their needs. Use of technology at all levels will drive the food sector in near future; with focus on value pricing even in the fine-food sector. While consumers don’t mind stepping out on a leisurely day or weekends, there’s a lot left to be catered to on work-days and during the week.

Consumers of today are aware and willing to spend on convenience if they see worth in it. Marketers need to make an honest attempt at delighting their target audience with their offering without adding any unnecessary frills.

Indian fine-dine sector has a long way to go but it’s in a phase where a lot needs to be explored – by both, providers and consumers. With growing investor interest and entrepreneurial ventures in the domain, we could see many path-breaking concepts coming in place and ruling the industry. The growth will then be staggering and opportunities will still be many.

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