India and Vegetarianism

In terms of sheer numbers, the non-veggies outnumber them. But when it comes to sales and marketing strategies, the veggies are the main drivers. Sounds like a chapter straight out of the international bestseller Freakonomics? It’s not — in fact, it’s the reality in the world’s second most populous country, India. Be it food chains, fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) or even apparel lines — they all are consciously adopting a ‘vegetarian’ product positioning to cater to the growing demand.So while leading food chains and food retailers attribute more than 50% of their sales to vegetarian products, FMCG products such as toothpastes, soaps, ice-creams and cosmetics boast a 100% vegetarian stance. Egg-less confectionery items, including cakes and patties, are basking in the glory of high demand. Even leading international apparel lines are against using any animal fur or leather.According to industry estimates, more than two-third of India’s population is non-vegetarian. Interestingly, however, the Indian economy is predominantly a vegetarian economy. “Almost 72% of Indian population is non-vegetarian yet approximately 90% of the total consumption by value in India is vegetarian. Fish makes up majority of the sales of non-vegetarian food products,” says Arvind K Singhal, chairman of Technopak Consultants.He feels that the real reason driving the Indian population towards vegetarianism is not spiritual, but economic.“India is a poor economy and income levels in the country are not such that one can enjoy a non-vegetarian meal daily. Hence, there may be a growing trend towards vegetarianism,” says Singhal.Usually a non-vegetarian meal requires more ingredients and fuel as compared with a time-saving veggie meal. It also turns out to be more expensive. But it’s not just time and money alone that are driving the shift towards a vegetarian preference.Religious beliefs, health and social consciousness also play their part in bringing about a change in mindset.“Vegetarianism is becoming a way of life now, not just in food but also in lifestyle products as people care more about health, environment and animals. They do not want to brush their teeth using bone-powder, they want to exclude leather from their furniture,” says NG Jayasimha, campaign — manager, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) India.
Food chains second this change of lifestyle and food preferences. “Non-vegetarian food is taken more like a luxury. So while there’s a non-veg side dish...one would still prefer to have daal and roti on any given day during meals. And even the ones who eat non-vegetarian in India abstain from it on a number of days,” says Anup Jain, director (marketing) of Pizza Hut . Asking for variety and how! Pizza Hut attributes at least 60% of its sales in the Indian market to vegetarian food items.And its not just Pizza Hut that is gung-ho about this shift in consumer preferences. Leading food chain McDonald’s has developed a menu especially for India with vegetarian selections to suit Indian tastes and preferences. They also do not offer any beef or pork items. Hence it’s not surprising when vegetarian food shows more demand. “Vegetarian products account for around 50-65% of our total sales by volume. Except for a little variation, in general, across the states, vegetarian products lead the sales,” says a company spokesperson from McDonald’s India.Ditto is the case with popular fast food chain Nirula’s that is present in 60 locations across North India and sees vegetarian food products contributing to more than 50% of revenues. “Over the years, more and more customers have sent their feedback to us asking for greater variety in vegetarian products. We complied even to the extent of launching vegetarian kebabs. As a result the consumption of vegetarian products have shown small but significant growth year on year,” reveals Sudipta Sen Gupta, senior V-P (marketing and sales) of Nirula’s. Besides fast food chains, a lot of food retailers like Food Bazaar and Spencer’s also prefer limiting their product line to the vegetarian category.Reliance Retail, for instance, has very distinctly divided its vegetarian and meat & poultry business between Reliance Fresh and Reliance Delight. After a thorough market research, Subikhsha, one of the largest supermarket chains in India, has started selling fish in Kerala.“Our market research showed that consumers mainly buy vegetarian products and hence we have very limited operation. We have recently got into fish sale only in Kerala where it is a staple diet. But in northern India we do not deal in poultry or fish as people mostly prefer buying fresh fruits and vegetables,” says R Subramanium, CMD, Subikhsha.Celebrity chef Sanjeev Kapoor also cites interesting facts about the ‘vegetarian’ society. “If I release a book on ‘non-vegetarian’ recipes, even then 70 out of 100 dishes would be vegetarian than just purely non-veg dishes.” Saravana Bhawan, one of the leading all-vegetarian South Indian food chains, has reaped the benefits of vegetarian trends across the country. “At least one lakh customers visit us on a daily basis across our 25 branches in the country. We have been doing brisk business,” says Ravi Chandran, F&B controller, Saravana Bhawan.
However it’s not just food that’s going vegetarian. The younger generation is now happily flashing ‘vegetarianism’ as their style statement. Be it cosmetics, toothpastes or ice-creams, the 100% vegetarian tag is not hard to find. Take Swedish cosmetic company Oriflame, for instance. The cosmetic major prides itself in selling an entire range of natural and vegetarian products. Shilpa Ajwani, national sales manager, Oriflame India feels that people in India feel a lot safer when they know its a vegetarian product. “Women use our products even while fasting! It’s a great plus point in India where people rely a lot on vegetarian products,” she says.Lush Cosmetics that boasts of a complete range of natural handmade bath and body products offers products that are 100% vegetarian and are accredited by The Vegetarian Society. In fact around 75% of them are also suitable for vegans and are approved by The Vegan Society. Sangeeta Kamath, director Amaltas Retail - the promoters of Lush in India, feels that the vegetarian positioning definitely converts into better sales from customers. “With the growing sales of Lush in India it is becoming obvious that the demand for vegetarian products is very high and it also builds our confidence, as we see mail orders flowing in from all parts of the country, including small cities,” she says.Similar is the case with Mary Kay, a leading global name in skin care and colour cosmetics that neither uses any animal ingredients in products nor does it tests products on animals. Nirupama Rao, senior marketing manager, Mary Kay Cosmetics India feels that even customers appreciate a company who takes such a decision. “It makes customers proud that they become part of a cause by using such products. The fact that the product delivers and makes them contribute towards a certain cause makes it more appealing,” says Rao.
FMCG products such as ice-creams, soaps and toothpastes too are not far behind, in joining the veggie bandwagon. Premium ice-cream retailer Baskin Robbins has 100% vegetarian ice-creams which is advertised in a big way. Pankaj Chaturvedi, executive director, Baskin Robbins doesn’t deny the fact that a vegetarian positioning makes one hold a stronger position in the market. “India is a vegetarian country as it draws in a big way from religious beliefs. We don’t use a non-vegetarian product. There is a perception that ice creams are normally non-vegetarian. We wanted to change that belief and hence have been keeping our vegetarian stand very clear,” he asserts. Vegetarian soaps that include contents such as sandalwood and neem also belong to this category. Lush has vegetarian soaps in its range and there are also a variety of ayurvedic and herbal soaps that win popular favour. Even toothpastes such as Colgate and Anchor follow the vegetarian strategy. Colgate carries the ‘always 100% vegetarian’ label on the carton which acts as a good psychological mechanism for spiritual-minded Indians.
Even some of the apparel lines believe in not using animal leather or fur in any of their designs. International apparel, cosmetic and accessory brand Stella Mc Cartney does not use fur or animal leather. The ready to wear line uses organic silks and cottons. Charu Sachdev, CEO, The Sachdev Group, distributors of the brand in India, feels that Indians are going back to their roots and are taking inspiration from yoga, ayurveda, etc and it is this awareness that has created a greater demand for vegetarian products.No doubt India is fast tilting towards a strong vegetarian bias. And the reasons for this cannot simply be categorised as spiritual or financial. A change in mindset, health concerns and exposure to international trends and lifestyles have all played an equally significant role in creating a definite vegetarian way of living.

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