New Delhi: The consumption patterns in India and what people wish to spend on is getting increasingly democratized, with the line dividing the Indian urban and rural consumer getting blurred, according to Nitin Paranjpe, chief executive officer and managing director of Hindustan Unilever Ltd.

Shifting trend: Hindustan Unilever CEO Nitin Paranjpe says the Indian consumer no longer feels guilty about spending on himself.

Speaking on the last day of the India Economic Summit during a session on “The Age of the Asian Consumer: How to Build Sustainable Value Chain", Paranjpe said that the aspirations of the Indian consumer are becoming homogenous. “It is difficult to say that the urban consumer will do this and the rural will do different things," he said.

However, despite its growing per capita consumption, India is lagging China in consumption of detergents, shampoos and skin care products, among other things. But it is safe to say that India’s per capita consumption has increased in the last few years and will continue to grow.

According to Paranjpe, several factors are driving this growth. For a start, people who are becoming a part of the consuming class today or entering the workforce were born after the advent of mass (private) television. They grew up in a post-liberalization era. “These consumers have been brought up on a diet of advertising with brands beaming down the message and stoking desires and aspirations," Paranjpe said. Clearly, the Indian consumer today has more money, a different attitude and more choice.

Commenting in the changing consumption pattern he said that the Indian consumer no longer feels guilty about spending on himself. “Self-indulgence was frowned upon not so long ago but austerity is no longer the value people cherish," he said. The propensity for instance gratification has led to growth in sales of personal care items as well as expenditure on leisure, entertainment and eating out.

The discussion centred around sustainable solutions to increased consumption which would otherwise impact natural resources. Paranjpe said that creating sustainable solutions was a challenge for companies. “But we are creating water-specific innovations since our products are used with water. So we have detergents which require less water to rinse. Our aim is to reduce the consumption of water."

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Other participants in the discussion included James Scott, regional operating officer, Asia Metro Cash and Carry Development Co., Singapore; Niren Chaudhary, managing director Yum Restaurants, India, which operates Pizza Hut and KFC, and Saurabh Srivastava, chairman, CA (India) Technologies Pvt. Ltd, among others.

Srivastava said that growing consumption was not a bad thing since it meant that people would move away from poverty. Quoting a new global study, he said the carbon footprint of the richest Indian is less than that of the carbon footprint of the poorest American. “That’s comforting, to my mind. Also, in India we don’t throw away things quickly. Television sets and cars are used for many years and even then they are handed down to others who could use them."