This is now the fourth year I’m writing my predictions for Tech in Asia. And to be completely honest, I’m more excited about this coming year in India (as an Indian resident, consumer, and investor) than I’ve been about any of the last few years. So many startups are trying to make India a better, more global place to live. And technology is finally reaching a tipping point in its attempt to connect our massively fragmented society.
Here are three trends I’m going to be paying most attention to this year.
The “healthification” of India
All things healthy are going to kill it in 2018.
In 2015, the Puratos Taste Tomorrow report predicted consumer preferences for food in India. Almost half the people they surveyed expected food to be more natural, more sustainable, and fresher in 10 years.
Earlier this year, Mintel did a survey where half of Indian consumers surveyed wanted a healthier lifestyle in the coming years. The report said that India was now the fifth largest market for “natural” food launches in the world.
And then, much more famously, star cricketer Virat Kohli announced he wasn’t going to be the brand ambassador for Pepsi – not only a moral decision, but completely in sync with the current values and aspirations of his fan base.
Needless to say, being healthy is top of mind in India right now. And you better believe health is going to be a big part of the conversation this year – whether it’s how health-conscious we are, what we eat or drink, or how actively we manage ourselves or a loved one.
So who’s going to take advantage of this?
The food industry has been overflowing with new startups that are offering fresher, more organic, and healthier substitutes to what is available in the market today. And that ranges from fresh fruits and vegetables, packaged health foods, cold-pressed juices, ready-to-eat mixes, and so on. As many of these companies figure out price points and multi-channel distribution, which I assume they will, they will give us alternatives and choices we never even imagined. Low-fat avocado, anyone?
Yet this is only the beginning, because exercise is no longer just about breaking a sweat. From gyms to trackers, online personalized solutions to offline gym passes, and protein shakes to vitamin supplements – more has happened in this space in the last year than in the previous two decades.
And this is only the beginning, because exercise is no longer just about breaking a sweat. There’s an entire retail ecosystem that comes along with it, covering everything from yoga pants to SoulCycle to content consumption. Expect to see these kinds of businesses rise to the forefront in 2018.
Chronic diseases are a serious problem in India, but these diseases are among the most preventable as well. And startups have woken up to this. Preventive health startups are using technology to help people fight chronic problems like diabetes and obesity. Such patients need continuous support through a series of steps that are non-invasive and unsupervised by a doctor over an extended period of time. This kind of support is sorely needed but often difficult to provide, and technology companies are poised to change that.
Climate change and the human impact on the environment are among the biggest issues we face. “Concerns loom everywhere, from declining pollinators affecting food security, to air and water pollution affecting the quality of life, and land shortage and degradation affecting both agriculture and biodiversity,” the World Economic Forum reports.
These concerns have finally come to the forefront of India’s discourse over the last few years. These concerns have finally come to the forefront of India’s discourse over the last few years. Interestingly, the philosophy and values of Indian culture have always underscored a sustainable way of life, but somehow we lost our way. That’s all changing.
I haven’t ever met as many people in India concerned about sustainability as I did last year.
There are so many startups – completely sector-agnostic – that are making “Earth” their priority, and they have a huge advantage in operations and marketing. Operation-wise, because most of them develop a supply chain from scratch, they can start abiding by environmental values from the start. Marketing-wise, the timing is right because consumers care about these things more than they ever did before.
I recently met a clothing brand that does everything they can to be sustainable, including how they source materials, manufacture products and save energy. In every part of their business, they factor in their impact on the environment – from water they use to the carbon dioxide and waste they generate. And, by the way, they also make amazing clothes.
All things being equal, which brand would you pick: one that’s environmentally conscious or one that isn’t?
The right kind of retail
2018 is going to be a breakout year for retail. We’re going to see more brands and more innovation than we’ve ever seen before. As consumers, we are going to be offered the largest selection of just about any kind of product possible in the history of our country.
Everyone’s talking about it, and every prediction for 2018 includes “brands.” The rationale being: “they don’t exist in India,” or “the market is so fragmented,” or “the opportunity is so large.” And of course, I agree. But this isn’t really some shocking revelation. We’ve known this for a while. The larger question for 2018 is going to be, “What will it take for a brand to succeed?”
Brands need to reach two realizations, I think.
First, they need to realize that consumers are going to decide the winners (finally!).
It used to be that we bought whatever was thrown our way – irrespective of quality, irrespective of pricing, irrespective of customer experience. Brands took massive advantage of the situation: the larger the advertising budgets and the more extensive the distribution channel, the higher the chances of success. That’s all over.
Today, thanks to social networks, people are choosing the brands they want. And they’re basing it on product quality, fair pricing, and high levels of customer experience… the way it should be. Brands beware! We aren’t going to take retail lying down anymore.
Second, brands must understand the importance of the relationship between national culture and consumer decision-making styles. Last year, I said products that succeed will need to be “Made for India.” I was wrong. It should have read “Made for Indians.”
We want alternatives that reflect our sensibilities yet provide us a global lifestyle. It’s not one extreme or the other, which is what the majority of products are today. This is changing, albeit slowly, but surely. Royal Enfield outsold Harley Davidson every year for the past three years in India. Raymond’s advertising billboards have gone from a white man wearing a suit talking about wool to making proclamations like “The Khadi Story.” Patanjali is the fastest growing consumer goods brand in India.
Going forward, the winning brands will straddle these ideals. As a result, consumers are going to get better-quality products: tailored to our tastes, marketed to our sensibilities, priced ludicrously low, and made available everywhere through Jio-activated phones!