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Opinion | What culinary tales tell us about new India

They have the aspirations and the means, as e-comm and food delivery make it affordable

Last week Zomato, the online food ordering and discovery platform, shared its annual report with a covering letter from its CEO—frightfully similar to the annual missive from Jeff Bezos to Amazon’s shareholders (But then no harm in copying a good idea, right?) Among other things, the annual report carried a revealing culinary map derived by crunching the big data generated from the company’s food delivery business. While it does demonstrate Zomato’s expanding footprint, the subtext, in this instance, is of far more significance.

But first some of the highlights:

—Tuni, a town in East Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh, is the smallest emerging city and almost cashless.

—Kota in Rajasthan has been identified as the largest emerging city.

—Ahmedabad in Gujarat saw the most deliveries in a Tier-2 city.

—Indore in Madhya Pradesh requested more midnight deliveries than Mumbai.

—Bhagalpur and Gaya in Bihar have more cyclists than bike-riders.

—Pizza is the most preferred dish in Anand, Gujarat.

—Abohar municipal corporation in Punjab, saw 1,000 deliveries on launch day.

—Among Tier-3 cities, Jammu’s citizens are most likely to eat fast food.

A quick perusal of the highlights reveal that the company’s new-found success is outside Tier-1 cities. On the face of it, rather counter-intuitive; but not, if one keeps in mind the bigger picture. For one, there is an emerging convergence in consumption habits between urban and rural India (as captured in the data put out by the National Sample Survey Office). Second, is the phenomenon called Rurban India—the grey area between rural and urban areas, essentially large villages that mimic the demographic characteristics of a town. Not only has this made the consumer map contiguous, the convergence in consumption habits of rural and urban India, together, with growth in internal migration, has made it easier for companies to standardize their products and embrace scale.

Not surprisingly, therefore, that former Myntra-Jabong chief executive Ananth Narayanan, in an interview with Mint, found that this new India was key to the success of the e-commerce venture. “We are finding that the consumer is very spread out. So, 55% of my revenues come from Tier-2. About 45% roughly are women, and 55% are men," Narayan had said.

At the same time, we must keep in mind that India’s demography has undergone a makeover. Census 2011 revealed that nearly two out of three Indians are less than 35 years of age. Unlike the generation, which falls outside this demography, their consumer habits are not bound by tradition and culture that defined the food habits for some of us (exactly why South Indians preferred dosa, North Indian rotis and Gujaratis dokhlas; but now, Zomato shows us that citizens of Anand prefer pizza). They have the aspirations and the means—especially with e-commerce and food delivery making it affordable. And, as a colleague wrote in Mint recently, ‘Small towns and value fashion a perfect fit’.

Online retailers have played an important role in raising awareness about the latest fashion trends in small-town India. Internet access, higher disposable income and a desire to look good have fuelled growth of value-fashion brands, the young small town consumer is no pushover; they are as discerning and picky as their counterparts in Tier-1 cities, when it comes to fashion choices.

Clearly Indian business has already made its big bet on this New India. What about India’s politicians. While it is fashionable and politically correct, especially at poll time, for politicians to wax eloquent about their commitment to combat absolute levels of poverty, they can ignore this New India only at their electoral peril.

Not burdened by the baggage of the previous generation, they are not bound either by convention or loyalties (though the pull of caste and religion is still very much visible); neither can their electoral commitment be purchased through populist giveaways. Not surprising, therefore, that almost all recent opinion polls pick jobs—the best means of economic empowerment—among their top five concerns.

It will, therefore, be interesting to see how this demographic segment votes in the upcoming 17th general elections. They may yet make the difference between the winners and losers.

Anil Padmanabhan is managing editor of Mint and writes every week on the intersection of politics and economics.

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