Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Changing face of cooking oil business in India-Shift from loose vending to branded products

Cooking oil is an essential component in the budget of every hold in India. Unlike in western countries most Indians consume home fried snacks in stead of depending on the products offered by the industry. Depending on the region preference varies and some of the commonly used oils include that extracted from groundnut, coconut, sunflower seed, sesame,  rice bran, maize germ, soybean, etc but critical shortage of domestic oils during the last 3 decades set a trend of importing palm oil from Malaysia and Indonesia in sizable quantities. To day the number one cooking oil is Palm oil and its fractionated version Palmolein with most people switching over to it for economic reasons. till 1990 oil was packed in square tins of 18 liter size for retail dispensing in consumer's container. Due to development high function plastic packing materials loose vending started declining and to day more than two third of the oil sold in the market is in plastic unit packs under different brands. Probably Indian consumer embraced plastic packed oils because of rampant adulteration of cooking oil on a massive scale by unscrupulous traders and fraudsters trying to make a fast buck. Here is a report on Indian oil market as it is being developed by a few national players and some strong regional brands. 

"There has been a surge in consumer preference for branded and packed edible oil, as compared to the traditional loose-sold variety. In 2012-13, sales of the former category in the country overall rose 30 per cent. And, the share of branded and packed oil in the overall cooking oil segment shot up to 60 per cent from 45 per cent in the previous year. The packed/branded category has a strong presence among regional companies. The share of national brands continue to remain between 10 and 12 per cent. Consumer awareness of the benefits of using packaged oil from a known brand and the ability to afford the higher price for this (termed 'increased financial scalability' in trade jargon) appears to be the reasons for the shift. Also, the difference in prices has narrowed. "The attraction towards branded and packed products is increasing rapidly. Branded and packed edible oil has replaced the loose commodity in urban areas," said Siraj Choudhary, chairman of Cargill India, producer of edible oil brands, such as Gemini and Sweekar and the Indian arm of the US commodity giant, Cargill International. Manufacturers have also started retailing the commodity with value additions, such as promises of various health benefits over the loose ones. Ruchi Soya Industries, the biggest in the branded category, with Sunrich, Nutrela and Mahakosh as leading brands, has posted 17.4 per cent growth in branded edible oil sales, at Rs 5,413 crore in 2012-13. In the fourth quarter, it registered 10.75 per cent growth in branded edible oil sales at 2.1 million tonnes (mt) as compared to 1.9 mt in the corresponding quarter of the previous year. Says Dinesh Shahra, managing director, "We witnessed a staggering growth in branded sales in the last two quarters. Our focus on the growth of these has helped in achieving better margins." A recent paper presented by Dorab Mistry, director, Godrej International, estimates India's edible oil consumption at 17.6 mt in the oil year of November 2012-October 2013, as against 16.6 mt in the previous year. He forecasts per capita edible oil consumption at 13.9 kg in 2012-13, up from 13.4 kg in the previous year. "Shifting is happening very rapidly from loose to branded and packed edible oil, which can be attributed to a combination of factors, including growing prosperity of the middle class and narrowing of the premium over loose products," said Atul Chaturvedi, chief executive officer of Adani Wilmar, producer of the 'Fortune' brand. The premium for branded and packed products has been narrowing in recent years, with the difference between packed and loose varieties now Rs 10-15 a kg and Rs 15-20 a kg between the loose and branded ones. Branded edible oil was earlier Rs 30 - 40 a kg costlier."

The cooking oil prices are escalating practically every day in spite of galloping imports of palm oil products and there is no sign that this trend is showing any abatement. Imagine some of them like Coconut oil and Sesame oil costing more than Rs 200 per liter, almost 100% increase in 1 year, reasons for which are not clear. Though from the health angle experts frown on too much consumption of oils like Palm oil, the failure of the country to increase the production of oil seeds commensurate with demand has given this sector a golden opportunity to reap higher and higher  each passing day! Annual per capita availability of 13.9 kg of oil working out to about 45 gm per person per day is not bad considering that the recommended fat intake is 50 gm per day per person. After all a significant part of fat needs are met through invisible fat present naturally in the diet. The only worrying fact is that every Indian citizen is forced get 50% of his daily requirement oil through imports! A pathetic situation indeed and shame to the Government of India!


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