Food comes first

107JiggsKalra Jiggs Kalra | Arvind Jain

Over the past few years, the Indian food service industry in general, and the restaurant retail sector in particular, has witnessed exponential growth. According to the India Brand Equity Foundation estimate of April 2016, the food industry, currently valued at $39.71 billion, is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 11 per cent to reach $65.4 billion by 2018. Of this, food and grocery account for approximately 31 per cent of India’s consumption. According to its latest estimate, the Indian food and grocery market is the world’s sixth largest, with retail contributing to 70 per cent of the sales. Valued at $490 billion in 2013, food is one of the largest segments in the Indian retail sector and is expected to reach $894.98 billion by 2020.

The Indian dining space is currently expanding at a rapid pace, with a number of indigenous as well as foreign businesses exploring the landscape, setting up base in tier-2 and -3 cities. According to data from the department of industrial policy and promotion, the food processing sector in India has received approximately $6.7 billion worth foreign direct investment between April 2000 and December 2015, while investment in food startups has increased by 93 per cent.

The expansion of the industry can be attributed to international exposure, DINK (double income no kids) families and socioeconomic growth. With the concept of dining out growing, heavy investments are being made towards innovation, bringing in interesting concepts and cuisines from around the world. However, it is not always necessary that the concept floated out would be right or workable. For example, during the course of working on my concept of Masala Library three years ago, a number of people kept saying it was too adventurous and that the audience was not open to such an idea. Three years hence, not only is Masala Library considered among the top restaurants in the country, but it also has many copycat versions, most of which were started by the same set of detractors.

The Indian culinary legacy reflects a 5,000-plus years’ history, encompassing an array of native regional sub-cuisines. The concept of Indian cuisine, outside of India, has largely been focused on dishes found and served on the dining tables in north India and need not necessarily represent the culinary landscape that the country has to offer. Despite having such a global presence, the cuisine lacks authenticity, standardisation and a sense of panache. This is because there has been no record-keeping of recipes, even royal khansamas never shared their secret recipes with anyone, thus leading to the slow, but steady, death of many classic dishes. And the impact worsens when successful concepts are imitated without putting in any research into the product, thereby leading to further dilution of the cuisine showcased.

With today’s supremely demanding professional and social lives, a restaurant is an extension of one’s own dining area.... Sadly, most modern-day restaurants believe that spending money on interiors or fancy equipment or an expansive menu will entice today’s well-travelled and exposed diners, and that’s where they are mistaken. Ambience, equipment, crockery, cutlery, music and service only add to the overall dining experience. The primary product of a restaurant was, is and shall always be food. That has to be the focus of any establishment to be successful in the long run.
Jiggs Kalra is mentor and culinary director at Massive Restaurants Pvt Ltd

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