A German student who researched cultural influences on consumer behaviour is trying to put into practice some of his college learnings in faraway Bangalore. Robin Decher, 28, moved to India a year ago to take up his very first job with the German-owned Arthur’s Food Company. Decher, a graduate of Giessen University, is business development manager for Arthur’s, which makes and sells German processed meats, a novelty in India. They make old-style pork and chicken products that are now being made available in the neighbourhood supermarket.
Between Decher, his German business owner and their German master butcher, the three are introducing cured specialty meats to the local palate and want to advance another rapidly growing movement amongst urban, upper middle class Indians: home grilling and barbecuing. At the same time, the German trio is part of another, bigger trend. Decher and many foreign food entrepreneurs and professionals have set up base in India to start restaurants, food businesses and catering services. They are offering a plethora of specialised foods and international cuisines.
In Bangalore, two French chefs have opened pastry shops and continental restaurants, a group of recent American graduates have launched a California-style burrito chain and an American couple has opened an upscale tex-mex restaurant called Habanero.
Food is obviously a popular niche. Nearly a third of the members of the Bangalore-based Expat Entrepreneurs’ Circle are in the food business, said Ema Trinidad, who founded the network. And more businesses are looking to set up. It works to your advantage if you are a Frenchman opening a French restaurant or an American opening up a Mexican chain, Trinidad said. But does it guarantee success? No. “You will be judged so you better be really authentic and good. Indians are very well travelled and nobody is fooled anymore,” Trinidad said.
“There is a great curiosity for new tastes in India,” said Decher, explaining the trend. Arthur’s has tweaked some ingredients of the very traditional German recipes for the Indian palate and is offering pork and chicken sausages. Decher said many myths, such as “a majority of Indians are vegetarian” and “Hindus do not eat pork”, have been busted along the way.
Arthur’s has a state-of-the-art food processing unit in Bangalore, complete with imported machinery, solar energy and water recycling infrastructure. It now distributes a range of 37 products to major Indian cities, including specialties like pork bratwurst, chicken garlic krakauer, smoked chicken chilli ham and pepperoni salami. Many of the ingredients and casings are imported.
The demand for such products is growing as they are seen as high in standard when it comes to hygiene and quality, said Decher. “Urban Indian women are getting more career oriented, and these ready-to-prepare foods are seen as convenient and nutritious to pack as a school lunch or serve as a quick evening snack,” he said.
Meanwhile, Indians are getting used to labels and brands when travelling overseas. If these familiar brands show up at their own doorstep, they are quick to consume, said Aslam Gafoor, who heads the India unit of a grill maker. The consumption patterns and demographics of India’s young population are getting specialty food makers and foreign chefs excited about the market. However, the actual numbers are small. It is the right time to introduce new products and trends, said Gafoor. “An understanding of the value-conscious Indian market is essential, and companies have to localise. Otherwise, they could fall by the wayside,” he said.
For Decher, selling pork sausages and chicken salami to Indian supermarket chains and retailers is turning out to be a study in globalisation. While he attempts to widen the market for his products, he is also broadening his own horizons. “What better than to live in a country so different from your own and understand its food and culture,” Decher said.