With busy lifestyles of the millennial workforce, increase in family incomes, and nuclear families becoming the norm, consumers today increasingly seek convenience food options. The ready-to-eat (RTE) and ready-to-cook (RTC) categories have been growing, as a result. This mounting inclination towards convenience foods is being directed by the particularly gruelling work-from-home schedules in the last two years, increasing disposable incomes in the hands of the middle-class, a myriad of new product launches and growing reach of retail markets. Time is of the essence, and the western culture where everything is fast and easy is uber-cool. So, how bright is the future of RTC and RTE segments in India in this scenario?
Broadly, this market cleaves into two segments—frozen and shelf-stable categories. According to Technavio’s latest market segmentation analysis, we can expect this category to grow by $751.43 million from 2021 to 2026, translating into a CAGR of 18.63% during this period.
Furthermore, the frozen food division will make significant strides and add a whole gamut of offerings such as meat and poultry, snacks, ready meals, vegetables, and fruits to its offerings. It is important to remember though that the frozen category is a tough one, given the numerous dynamics at stake, such as the requirement of temperature-controlled environments from the time of production to the moment it reaches the consumer’s plate.
What we see now is a budding demand for quick food that’s also high on nutritional value; the most popular RTE products in India include preparations of paneer, chana masala, rajma masala, pav bhaji, etc.
This category commands constant innovation and additions at planned intervals and studies are highlighting how the right size pack containing niche, regional options and flavours are more likely to find favour with contemporary Indian consumers. For example, small, single-use packs of upma are great at targeting the young, entry-level office- or college-going consumer, while medium packs of various kinds of masala parathas, fries, etc., are what compact, nuclear families are more likely to purchase, with the sliding price range of the different size packs becoming a key sales determiner.
Other than the growing requirement for a variety of product offerings and pack sizes, sustainable packaging is also another critical ingredient. With all these additional, dynamic parameters, companies still have to be able to maintain the economies of price per pack as well.
The Indian consumer is evolving, as is their demand for more niche, region-specific, ready-to-eat meals that are packed in a clean, green manner. If all these factors can be fulfilled by the industry, we should be prepared to witness a booming market soon.
The author is director, Bikano, Bikanervala Foods