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The evolution of the breakfast category in India

By Amarnath Halember

New Delhi, Dec 4 : Every morning the first thing on our minds is ‘What’s for breakfast?’ But the most important meal of the day as we know it today was not always part of our (India’s) daily routine or culture, and neither was the transition into it.

Until the 14th century, it was not particularly usual in India to consume an early morning meal. Meals began only around midday for us (which made up for the primary meal of the day followed by a siesta for some people). The only other big meal was a night time supper, which used to be lighter than the midday meal. Since the population consisted primarily of land-owning farmers and gatherers, this way worked the best for them.

With the advent of employment in the nation, things started changing. People who worked on other people’s fields, homes or mills began to make time for an early morning snack, which was the case earlier with only children, elderly and the ill. In the 17th century, since Europe had discovered coffee, tea and chocolate, by the time The East India Company made its expedition to India in the 19th century, they brought with them the concept of breakfast. In the then Occidental social elite circles, people congregated at their tables for breakfast before going about their day in the age of the industrial revolution. And this time also coincided with the rise of crackers and the birth of the breakfast cereal. And with that, dawned the era of commercialisation of ready-to-eat breakfast items.

In India, in the meantime we were beginning to create regional dishes specifically for the purpose of savouring at breakfast. In the North, poha, parantha, suji ka halwa, upma, puri-sabji, samosa, chole bhature, dhokla, kachori, chilla etc. began to make regular appearances on our plates at breakfast. In the South, varieties of idli, vadai, dosa, upma, etc. began to be paired with lots of chutneys, rasams and sambars to be savoured in the morning. There were also sweet bhajjis and sheera for ones with a sweet tooth.

While so many areas of our lives are undergoing a sea change, the breakfast palate stays more or less uniform from this time to now in Indians’ houses. Very rarely were these time-consuming, lovingly prepared delicacies being replaced by bowls full of cornflakes and milk, oats or muesli. Even though these are super easy to prepare in the super busy mornings (they are usually packed ready-to-eat today), and are also reported to be more nutritious to the beloved Indian breakfast items.

Slowly however, hectic lifestyles especially of the matriarchal figures of the family, need for convenience, changing taste buds, etc., have begun to boost the sales of the ready-to-consume breakfast food products, even in India. In 2020, the worldwide ready-to-consume food products category witnessed a boom driven by increasing demand sourced from emerging markets, on the back of reasons like increasing disposable incomes, more buyer power, etc. And this trend is not only here to stay but also grow exponentially till 2027, at a CAGR of 5.5 per cent. This exponential growth bubble is being led by the Asia Pacific, which is being seen as the fastest-growing segment.

In fact, the breakfast cereals market in India has grown positively in the recent times. As per London-based market research company, Euromonitor International, the breakfast cereals market in India is valued at Rs 2,256 crore in 2017, grew at a 12 per cent CAGR to Rs 3,411 crore in 2020. This is a market shift from the time India proved too difficult to handle for global giants such as Pepsico and Kellogg’s to consolidate any form of growth in the breakfast cereal category.

Now brands are taking cognisance of the Indian palate and our regional tastes and addressing the breakfast and snacks segment from a localised point of view even in the cereals category. Indians have always loved traditional Indian flavours and hence this could be a major turning point, especially when you combine it with traditional Indian grains such as the beloved ragi and millet.

The world over, the breakfast category looks simple but requires a lot of time and effort investment to create. Innovations added to traditional flavours, brought about by deep understanding of consumer behaviour, may just be the key to unlock massive growth in the direction of more nutritious ready-to-eat breakfast ranges that include articles such as varieties of cornflakes, muesli, peanut butter and chocolate spread in India.

(Amarnath Halember, Executive Director and CEO, NextG Apex India Pvt. Ltd.)

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