On Thursday, Fitch Solutions, one of the world’s top rating agency estimated that India’s HHS – Household spending would grow 7.9% y-o-y in 2021 after 14% contraction in the year 2020 due to the Corona pandemic. In nominal terms, the HHS is estimated to be Rs. 125 lakh crores (whatever number of Zeroes, that is!), a 3.3% growth over 2019. Not bad at all, huh. Food & non-alcoholic drinks is expected to grow the highest among all other consumption categories and this, in my humble opinion is perhaps the biggest good news of the year!
Here’s why I feel that this will propel the economy to a large extent.
India has an estimated 14 million kiranas and retail touch points – who sell anything from cigarettes, biscuits, tea, coffee, grocery all the way to other household items including consumer durables, fashion, footwear among others. This segment drives India’s consumption opportunity, a key reason why the Amazons, the Walmarts, the Wall street Investors all the way to the Chinese & Japanese billionaires and everyone in between are eyeing a small pie in the Great Indian Retail Story which is yet to unfold. The world has been witnessing an ugly battle in the public involving some of the most reputed businessmen and their companies, thanks to a hostile take over which has seen stiff resistance from the other. Meanwhile, Indians are jolly well shopping their home needs and personal requirements through gadgets – apps as well as a simple phone call to order their roti, kapda and makaan – quite literally.
I started working in the retail Industry 24 years back scooping ice-cream and later with one of the pioneers of Grocery Retail, Foodworld Supermarkets two decades back. Even back then, most Indians in bigger cities had to travel not more than 2 kms to buy their food and grocery. Every locality and neighborhood had a kirana store who offered personalised and tailor-made solution for her / his customers. From topping the shopping bag with FMCG freebies (what we call as Loyalty points these days) to offering a chocolate to the kid (instant gratification in today’s terms) all the way to a speedy home delivery (some Start-Ups who never made a transaction level profit over 10 years are now Unicorns!) and so on. The Kirana offered credit at a time when a “Credit Card” was a western phenomenon and raised capital – through internal accruals and market offering, rather than the obnoxious Equity based Investments.
Cut to 2021, my excitement with the latest Fitch report is simple. Though the Kiranas have dwindled in real numbers – not because the Modern Retailers or E-Commerce companies replaced them – rather than many of them did not have second-gen successors to run their businesses, they have simply been replaced by “Convenience Stores” – family owned as well as Corporates who vie for the consumer’s spends. And daily shopping for Food & Grocery shall never go out of fashion in the India’s consumption story. As most Indian households are small and barely have refridgerators, and even if they do, no more than 165 – 200 litres that cannot hold over 2-3 days’ needs; the kitchens of India are big enough to accommodate one adult to stand and cook with a provision to carry 3-4 weeks dry grocery requirements. Daily use items like Milk, Biscuits and snacks are almost bought every other day, rather than the large packs of colas, juices and nachos which are more the western phenomenon. Small is Beautiful and India’s sachet revolution is a glaring example of how and what India consumes.
If you are unable to relate to most of the above, I can understand as yours and my house are perhaps a lot bigger than the majority of consumers in India, for you are reading this on a digital gadget which is a privilege for a few of us Indians. The majority still read physical newspapers, watch sops and news on TV sets and shop from their neighborhood stores as they walk back home after work or leisure. In fact, shopping is a form of entertainment in India, isn’t it, for we make-up and dress up for buying groceries or eat at a restaurant.
I have always reckoned that “Consumption is Growth” compared to “Consumption leads to growth”. The moment, we are consuming, there is a need to repurchase and the cycle continues. The Covid-19 pandemic has pushed us behind, but not by light years. The recovery across segments, from automobiles to entry level smart phones, consumer durables to even the more discretionary types, is a confidence boosting measure that things are back on track, slowly but surely.
As Indians, what we can do to boost our economy is to consume. And consume a tad more than the previous one. Be it our daily dose of coffee & tea to household needs or fashion, every rupee that we spend will go in to building back India, one step at a time. But where’s the money to spend, one may ask. I have eternally believed that India is one country where no Indian can sleep hungry – if they choose to work and earn their meal. Such is the opportunity in this country. While lakhs of people have been displaced of their daily jobs, we have seen a resurgence in our mental strengths, especially from the marginally placed and the lower strata of the society. One will find enough work in this country, if they choose to. And the entire ecosystem has to work together. Am I living and writing this from Utopia, No. Am I sure that we shall survive this crisis? Well, we have always created history with our resilience over the centuries and this pandemic is also one which shall pass by.
Back to the Fitch estimates, Food and Grocery are the real propellers to the Economy’s consumption pattern. We earn our dough, spend at the neighborhood stores which employ people and provide them a livelihood; they in turn spend on their basic necessities and slowly but surely increase their non-discretionary spends and the cycle continues. Daravi in Mumbai has more set-top boxes than many urban clusters in India, remember.