The Covid-19 pandemic has been a life-altering phase of historical magnitude for all of us. But like all seminal events in history, there are always multiple perspectives with which we can evaluate this phase. The most common and visible perspective is one of misery and hardship which the pandemic has brought upon all humankind. But even against this gloomy backdrop, there exist a few pockets of positive change in aspects of business and behavior which also deserve to be presented and the snack market is a case in point.
Our snacking habits correlate to the time we have on our hands. The pandemic with its lockdown and change in schedule led to a net increase in the snacking opportunities which in turn translate to an increase in consumption for the category.
In the initial phase of the lockdown, with more time on our hands, we consumed more snacks as an accompaniment to our entertainment at home. As work-from-home became the norm with no real work timings, this led to an increase in the hours of snacking at home for the average Indian. In this way, the snack food category proved itself as a bellwether of the FMCG industry with industry leaders such as Britannia reporting 50 percent plus growth during the lockdown quarter as compared to the average 20 percent decline reported by other FMCG companies.
A recent survey by the FMCG giant Mondelez revealed that 88 percent of Indians were snacking more than before the pandemic with a large majority of millennials and those working extended hours from home preferring snacking over meals. With entertaining also becoming a home-bound activity, snacks have also proved to be a convenient and hygienic replacement to a restaurant starter.
While it’s clear that snack consumption has increased as a side effect of the pandemic, what is not so obvious is the trend of what we are consuming. The key to understanding our consumption is to understand why we are eating snacks in the first place. The answer may surprise you. There have been a number of surveys to this effect and these are the two key insights:
• When we see a snack, we don’t just see a packet. We see comfort in that wrapper. We also see snack time as our break from the routine. Our snack is a source of happiness.
• We see snacks as a complement or substitute for nourishment. Our snack can contribute to our health.
It is these two triggers that have translated into our snack choices over the past year.
Yeh Dil Hai Hindustani
The pandemic brought home a lot of stress on account of health and employment and as a natural reaction to all the uncertainty, we turned inward towards things that gave us a sense of familiarity, comfort and predictable joy.
Traditional Indian snacks with their crunch and their chatpata flavours were the primary beneficiary of this behaviour. Through the lockdown and thereafter, the Indian namkeen category has boomed. While in the offline space consumers defaulted to their known legacy brands such as Haldirams, a handful of new brands managed to capture the opportunity in the more virgin online space.
So, while Indian namkeen was already the fastest growing sub-segment of food in the last few years, the pandemic has only cemented this direction further.
The pandemic brought home the importance of a strong immune system and while immunity is acquired through a combination of physical activity and diet over time, companies began to latch on to people`s fears and hopes by incorporating a dose of immunity in all their products (legitimately) or their marketing (superficially). This has resulted in a new food category of ‘immunity-infused foods’- from Amul`s Haldi Doodh which was launched in April 2020 to the bakery brand Bonn which added turmeric, pepper and herbs to its breads, immunity was everywhere.
You can also see the shift in marketing messaging with Horlicks now being positioned basis its vitamin and mineral content. With this shift, its estimated that the ‘Immunity-Boosting Food’ market in India will touch $347 million by FY26 (as per a report by TechSci Research).
The green shoots for our abiding love of traditional food and our emerging love for health options were visible for the last few years and the pandemic has helped accelerate the process. This is in itself a curious dichotomy but customer behaviour and resultant business numbers bear out the fact that our consumption behaviour is a complex mix and not uni-dimensional. As our lives normalize, it will be fascinating to understand the new normal patterns of consumption.