I began researching for this article on shopping and franchising,
my mind went off to the large desi shopping franchise sweeping
North America; and no, I am not talking about the Patel-Motel
phenomena, which by itself would be a story to tell.
My family, as that of most desis of Indian origin, enjoys
regular desi food more than any other cuisine. Given that
there are over three million desis -- here I use the term
desi to talk about people from the South-Asian region – in
the US and Canada, most with quintessentially ethnic tastes
when it comes to food, it is a market waiting to be tapped
and served. And yes, there is a whole supply chain that has
sprung up catering to this market.
a cursory glance listing on GaramChai.com (an online Directory)
brings up listings of hundreds of Restaurants and Bazaars
serving the Indo-American community across North America.
Restaurants range from the ubiquitous ‘Taste of India’ and
‘Udupi Bhavans’ and chains like Saravana Bhavan to the few
upscale (read expensive) restaurants. These restaurants attempt
to serve ‘authentic’ Indian cuisine from the different regions
of India, adding an exotic touch to attract western
clientele too. The range of operations is truly breathtaking.
In larger metros, the upscale restaurants try and create either
authentic ambience (importing expensive Natarajas and decorative
artwork) or a completely retro look, as the case with the
‘Rupee Room’ that I had visited during a business trip to
New Jersey. In smaller towns and cities in the US and Canada,
the Indian Restaurants also double as grocery shops. Indian
takeaways and ‘roti shops’ are also common in larger metros.
To serve the varied palate, and to prepare authentic dishes
ranging from the ‘regular’ dosas and naan combo to Hyderabadi
Biriyani, stuffed capsicum, chicken chettinad or Murgh
Ke Shami requires authentic ingredients. The story behind
the supply-chain of Indian ingredients is intriguing and complex.
interesting aspect of supply chain serving the ethnic restaurants
is that it also attempts to serve the needs of the Indian
Bazaars and grocery shops. There are literally hundreds of
ethnic shops and bazaars specializing in Indian and South
Asian grocery in the US and North America. With the growth
of Indo-American population, the grocery vendors have also
attempted to keep pace. These shops procure Indian grocery,
produce and packaged products including brands familiar to
ethnic community like ‘Parle G’ biscuits and stock them. Similarly,
a whole cottage industry has sprung up in growing ‘Indian’
vegetables like drumstick, bittergoud and the like in sub-tropical
and moderate regions of the US like Florida and California
and supplying them to wholesalers and retailers.
recall during the dot.com heyday, the likes of Namaste.com
attempted to ape e-grocer and other models by building a supply
chain to sell grocery directly to consumers, bypassing the
local retailers. They even enticed customers in far-flung
cities by offering discount coupons and shipping discounts.
Regular desi retailers who were initially threatened by their
models recouped well and continue to hold steady. They attempt
to entice consumers by providing a local ‘water cooler’ atmosphere
where one can post classifieds, meet other Indians and physically
browse for grocery. To their credit, online retailers have
had an edge in information based retailers like Music CD’s,
Movies, DVDs. Needless to say, both the online and regular
retailers continue to vie for a larger pie of the market.
The likes of IndiaPlaza.com and Namaste.com continue their
online presence, and on their websites claim to have an increasing
share of the market.
in Ready-to-eat dishes has been one of the most noticeable
trends in the recent years. The market has also been equally
receptive to generation of sufficient demand, especially among
double-income working couples, single technologists on business
travel in the US and students. What began as an experiment
by a few suppliers to provide ‘chutney powder’ and the like
in a packaged format has really taken off. Aided by food-preservation
and packaging technologies developed by the military (called
MRE’s, Meals Ready To Eat) the technology has successfully
been adopted to freeze-and-microwave even crispy dosas, samosas
and vadas. Brands like Deep Foods, Haldirams and Shalini Foods
have really been at the forefront of innovation, adopting
many of the emerging technologies in processing and packaging
foods. Amul has been similarly innovative in packaging Ghee
that it is best known for, along with Gulab Jamuns and Rosgullas
in heat-and-eat packs.
To some, microwaving and opening a pack of masala-dosa or
Naan with Murgh Masala for dinner may not be the same as the
aroma and experience of cooking it from fresh batter like
Maa back home would do it, but after a busy day at work that
probably included a hurried trip to the office cafeteria for
a sub-sandwich or a plate of chicken nuggets, a ready-to-eat
Dosa and Naan comes close.
Babu, first published in Biz-India. You
might also be interested in the new Ready-to-Eat section of