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Quality of Indian snack foods- Innovations during pandemic
Monday, 29 June, 2020, 15 : 00 PM [IST]
Trupti Bhat
The Indian snacks market is dynamic and the times of pandemic have experienced dynamism in the consumer preference like never before. The market research, facts and figures of the decade have clearly shown the growth path during pre-Covid-19 times.

Processed snacks market in India registered a positive compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 23.97% during the period 2013 to 2018 with a sales value of Rs 65,865.20 million in 2018, an increase of 19.43% over 2017. The market achieved its strongest performance in 2015, when it grew by 28.73% over its previous year and its weakest performance in 2017, when it increased by 18.47% over 2016.

Biscuits grew at double the rate of growth
To consider the fact of dynamism, an example of one of the preferred snacks, that is biscuits - organised biscuits market in India  valued at Rs 37,000 crore in size  grew at double the rate of growth in April-May against pre-Covid levels as people stocked up during the lockdown. 

Multiple industry executives and analysts reveal that from the levels of about 7-8 per cent in terms of growth rate seen before the lockdown, the organised market surged to levels of about 12-15 per cent in April-May.

Monstrous spike and ripple effect
Demand for food supplements and immunity boosters is experiencing a monstrous spike and has a ripple effect across the food sector with similar expectations from all category of food products including snack products.
For instance, honey and Chyawanprash manufacturing giant Dabur reported a 400 per cent rise in the demand for its flagship product. The Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) in Mysore developed a nutrient-dense food to aid immunity during the Corona virus pandemic.

Ideal nutritious snack
Spirulina groundnut chikki  endorsed by the Central Food Technological Research Institute (CFTRI) has been an ideal nutritious snack already supplied tonnes of this seaweed-based snack to healthcare professionals and migrants across Bengaluru, Mysore and Delhi and many manufacturers have taken steps to multiply the snack product manufacturing as a need of the hour. The launch of Veda biscuits with use of ingredients inspired through Ayurveda by companies such as ITC and Unibic with their launch of Chyawanprash cookies are clear indicators of the demand driver and effort of the food industry to meet the consumer expectations. 

The fact that Indians have an emotional connection with food with the popular statement that consumer borders for states is just geography while consumer unity for preference of snacks across the country is unanimous and mainly snacks is a factor which undoubtedly needs to be considered as one of the driving factors towards growth of the snacks market even in the coming years.

Indias total healthcare spending (out-of-pocket and public), at 3.6% of GDP, as per OECD and that is another critical fact based emotional driver for focus of consumer from merely snacking for pleasure to health focussed snacking and eating habits overall. Along with the term health focussed, another important term quality is now precise highlight.

Change in attitudes towards eating healthy
During the pandemic there has been a topsy-turvy change in attitudes towards eating healthy adding up a turbo mode to the trending quality snack preference in India over the last decade. The sector has been growing at super speed, but recently, people have been demanding an emphasis on nutrition too, which was perceived to absent from earlier, so-called health quality snacks.
The term immunity boosting has found its way onto the food labels. The fact that immunity of the body is not magic and it does not come in one single shot and it is a consistent daily habit that will strengthen with each day is the most critical factor why the consumer expects quality, nutrition and immune boosting snack products combined with packaged food snacking convenience. 

Many definitions of quality
There are many definitions of quality. Some are more related to objective facts while others to more subjective feelings. Quality is the degree to which a set of inherent characteristics fulfils requirements. A subjective term for which each person or sector has its own definition.

In technical usage, quality can have two meanings: 1. the characteristics of a product or service that bear on its ability to satisfy stated or implied needs; 2. a product or service free of deficiencies. According to Joseph Juran, quality means fitness for use.
According to Philip Crosby, it means conformance to requirements. Add to this the consumers definition and perception of quality as the pandemic has also provided opportunity for the consumers  to deeply introspect the quality of their preferences of food consumption in daily life making quality factor a more conscious highlight and inseparable factor of purchase preference. 

The word quality has many meanings. Furthermore, the quality of a good or service is the perception that a customer has about it. It is a consumers mindset who accepts a specific good or service and acknowledges its ability to meet his or her needs. The professionals being the influencers of the drivers of mindset therefore become an additional quality factor driving the snacks market.

Boosting immunity and adapting healthy lifestyles
The earlier concern with preventing and minimising the risks of chronic diseases has been extended and intensified during Covid with the focus of professionals shifting to boosting immunity and adapting healthy lifestyles with conscious quality food preferences. On top of this intensified concern with minimising disease risks, many nutrition experts now superimpose the new goal of people achieving an enhanced or optimal state of health and of optimising bodily functioning and performance. These influences translate into high expectations of consumers from the snack products. This also adds a new dimension to the quality factor in snacking industry.

From a value perspective, quality snack means providing value to the consumer both nutritive and immune boosting. Further inturn it practically translates that along with affordability, the conditions of snack product and the ingredients used in it, meet or even exceed consumers expectations. The wow effect for the snack is another element of quality expectation of the consumer.
Quality snack delivers to the consumer not only what he wants, but also what he never imagined he wanted and that once he has it, he realises that this snack product was exactly what he always had wanted. However this could be a very subjective judgment of the consumer.

Consumer needs and expectation
In todays pandemic world, manufacturers are still struggling to be consistent in meeting basic consumer needs and expectation with plants operating with adjustments and inclusions of additional GMP GHP measures for Covid.

The faith in the superiority of home-prepared foods is a perception about quality for consumers and, on the other hand, it is also true that people till pre-Covid times did not buy food for its nutritive value but for its taste and convenience of tedious processing at home and this adds on to the challenges for the snacking industry as a whole from a quality perspective. 

The segmentation of snacks market pre-Covid times considered was sector-based - Organised and unorganised, industry segment-based - extruded, namkeen, chips, biscuits and other snacks also freshly prepared, home cooked and packaged snacks add up to the segmentation.

Affordability combined with health and convenience
But the pandemic times have underlined an additional segmentation for snacking such as healthy, immune boosting and organic product based snacking. Affordability combined with health and convenience in snacking is a new trending mantra.

To conclude, consumer is definitely looking for health and nutrition as a part of their quality snacking experience and this has opened up new opportunities for new and innovative products to be introduced post-Covid with a focus on quality of the snacks based on consumer introspection. 

(The author is a national resource person, consultant, food safety trainer and nutritionist. She can be contacted at truptione@gmail.com)
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