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Article by Mohan Babu

Indian shopping in the US

Rain or shine, strong economy or a slowdown, expatriate Indians still want their ‘Made in India’ goods, observes Mohan Babu

Towards the end of 1994, preparing to travel abroad for the first time, along with my other apprehensions I was wondering what I should carry with me. Among other things, my boss who was on-site suggested that I carry with me some of my favourite music, Indian condiments and other ingredients. At that time I did not realise that the world was shrinking, and in the global village, one can find just about any kind of Indian spices and ingredients! Indians living in different corners of the world have their favourite Indian haunts from Devon Avenue in Chicago, to Southhall in London, not to mention the ubiquitous corner shops which exist in almost all the major cities in the US, Canada, UK and elsewhere. And of course one can also find exclusive Indian enclaves in Singapore, Mauritius and other parts of the globe.

Interestingly, many of the products one finds in Indian shopping shelves are the same ones being sold in the US and UK. Since they have to pass through rigorous checks abroad, like those done by Food and Drug Administration in the US, the products exported abroad are generally of a superior quality. This works out to a win-win situation even for the manufacturers and producers since they get a stamp of “export quality” which they tout aggressively in their domestic marketing. Even the ease of use and preparation of some of the ready-to-make Indian products has improved substantially in the last few years. For instance, rava idlis made using MTR’s mix many not be the same as the ones you get in a Kamat or Udupi restaurant in Bangalore, but they come close, especially if you are willing to discount the fact that you are making it out of a tetra-pack, thousands of miles away from Bangalore! It might surprise some to hear that Indian beer - Kingfisher and Knockout, compete for market space in the increasingly glamorous international beer market in the US. They are available at many large liquor shops across the country.

The advent of dotcom era, when everything “e” or “dotcom” became instantly fashionable, also saw the mushrooming of a number of Indian retailers in the cyberspace. I remember asking the local Indian grocer if he was threatened by the advent of the dozens of dotcoms. At that time, he just shrugged his shoulders, but I am sure that he is glad that his “business model” enabled him to survive while the dot retailers vanished faster than one could say “Parachute coconut oil”. Just to set the record straight, I must add that a few brave (and cash-rich) Indian grocers are still surviving in the cyberworld., and may be down, but not out.

As per the 2000 census, there are 1.7 million people in the US who identify themselves as Asian Indians or Indian Americans first- and second-generation immigrants or whose ancestors migrated to the US from India. If even half of this population consumes Indian food at least four or five times a week, this translates to a tremendous market. There are a number of established importers of Indian spices, lentils (dal’s), herbs and condiments who distribute them through the chain of Indian shops and bazaars. The market is huge but fragmented.

Another aspect of our “Indian culture” that people abroad love to nurture is our love for everything ‘Bollywood’. Although I don’t watch a lot of movies, I am in the minority. My wife is the kind of person movie marketers’ dream of - she loves Hindi movies and music, hence we are regular patrons at the local India bazaar which also rents videos and DVD’s. Technical advances, especially in the DVD technology, have made watching Indian movies a pleasure, especially when one thinks about the shoddy quality of some of the videos that used to circulate even a few years ago. In many metros in the US, people have access to Indian channels on cable. A number of movie-halls across the country also regularly screen Indian movies. I was reading somewhere that Bollywood recovers most of its movie production costs from “international rights”, a fact which I can attest to, especially when if one considers the exorbitant ticket prices one pays to watch Indian movies (as compared to what one would pay for Hollywood flicks). There are a couple of enterprising Indian immigrants in Denver who procure and screen latest Hindi, Tamil and Telugu movies during weekends. Their marketing is generally by word-of-mouth though they also maintain mailing lists and list-servers to inform patrons of forthcoming releases.

For those with an entrepreneurial mind reading this article and dreaming of flying to the US and starting an import-Indian-stuff business; I must warn you that it is a tough road, with a number of established players to contend with. An interesting list of Indian bazaars and grocers can be found at ( What this translates to be the fact that consumers like myself have an easy access to Indian groceries, spices, music and movies! Among the favourite shopping items on our visits to India include music, spices and herbs, especially the harder-to-find kind, not to mention the homemade pickles and savouries. Among the few businesses that haven’t taken a big hit in recent times are grocers (including Indian grocers). Rain or shine, strong economy or a slowdown, Indians still want their spicy food (and groceries, and music, and videos...).





About the Author

  • A Bio and profile of the author, Mohan Babu, can be found at his homepage
  • Mohan has authored a book on Offshoring and Outsourcing (Publisher McGraw Hill, India), a link to which can be found here
  • Mohan has also authored an Online book on "Life in the US," available for free download.
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    ©Mohan Babu: All Rights Reserved 2005

    Mohan Babu is an international consultant trying to find the ‘sweet spot’ where IT meets business. E-mail: mohan He is also the author of a recent book on "Offshoring IT Services"

    All rights are reserved. Mohan Babu ("Author") hereby grants permission to use, copy and distribute this document for any NON-PROFIT purpose, provided that the article is used in its complete, UNMODIFIED form including both the above Copyright notice and this permission notice. Reproducing this article by any means, including (but not limited to) printing, copying existing prints, or publishing by electronic or other means, implies full agreement to the above non-profit-use clause. Exceptions to the above, such as including the article in a compendium to be sold for profit, are permitted only by EXPLICIT PRIOR WRITTEN CONSENT of Mohan Babu. 

    Disclaimer: This document represents the personal opinions of the Author, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of the Author's employer, nor anyone other than the Author. This Article was originally published in Express Computers


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