You can spot him easily ' the confused young man with a shopping basket overflowing with chips, some frozen cold cuts, chanachur, soda, Maggi, a packaged Chicken Chettinad. A young techie after a hard day's work about to unwind with his friends over a few drinks. Now, he can pick up his bottles of beer too, without leaving the cool comfort of his preferred supermarket. Cooking is not his forte but the microwave does just fine'
Just behind him in the overcrowded aisle is the composite shopper. Her son hovers around patiently (his job really is to drive her home). Out comes her list and her cart soon brims over with five-kg packs of atta, buy-one-get-one-free Basmati, Kelloggs, Surf, masala, tomato sauce. She doesn't even stop to examine the fruits, veggies or frozen meat. Her greengrocer and butcher are still better bets.
The supermarket revolution has arrived. Almost every locality has one, with size being the major variable. More importantly, the shoppers have grabbed the opportunity to stock up essentials ' leave alone the frills ' in comfort and comparative style. Sure, she or he still lines up at the para 'stationery' store once in a while, and more likely than not still goes back to the bazaar (ubiquitous bag in hand) for fresh produce (quality concerns, after all, still reign supreme). But whenever and wherever possible, to the supermarket they head.
'Supermarkets are the future. They are the way of tomorrow. The only question is, how fast can we get there' says Rohan Ghosh, director, C3.
At the end of the day, retailers are dependent on one factor: how far and how quickly can the customers' mindset change'
'I find compact, all-under-one-roof destinations most comfortable,' explains a Salt Lake housewife, picking up groceries at C3 City Centre. 'Women like checking out a lot of things before choosing. Here, they don't have to ask, they don't have to wait,' she feels. As long as prices stay within the reach of the middle class, supermarkets will win in the long run, she adds.
She could be right. Supermarkets ' big and small ' are about to swamp the city. Already, there is C3, Food Bazaar, Wot Not, Nice 'n' Fresh, Arambagh's Foodmart, Speedmart and Convenio, and the line-up will soon be joined by Giant and Spencers. The old hands too have expansion plans.
Choice is champ
The rules of the 'marketing' game are changing fast.
Take Atrayee Banerjee, a 30-year-old professional. She likes the freedom of choice the supermarket format provides. 'Here, we can look around, compare prices and shift brands. At the traditional store, you will only ask for a new product if you have seen it advertised on TV,' she points out. Every store already has its share of company representatives to push products.
If the Calcutta consumer has come out of the closet, the battle against the grimy, yet familiar, marketplace has not been won yet. It is, however, being waged on a number of different fronts.
The dual-income family is the obvious buyer, and the frozen foods and ready-to-eat packs lining shelf after shelf are slowly catching on.
But while the bottle may be new, the wine (which has also nudged its way on to the racks of at least one store), in spirit, is old.
Organised players are working hard to turn on its head the myth that air-conditioned environs mean higher prices. The bulk buying bargain benefit is being passed on to consumers, in the form of discounts, buy-one-get-one free options and freebies.
The message is making its way through. C3's Salt Lake outlet is doing better than its Lee Road property. Though the average bill amount at the south Calcutta location is around Rs 650 while at the township it is just Rs 258, the larger customer base more than makes up for it. Lee Road repeat footfalls are less frequent, City Centre customers come back quite often.
An internal survey at Food Bazaar, too, shows that a large number of customers come more than once a month.
'The man who comes in for his chal and dal and tel on a rickshaw is exciting,' smiles Ghosh. Shoppers are shifting to supermarkets for their monthly rations, leading to a significant spurt across brands during the buying cycle, generally from the 26th of the month to the 10th or 12th of the next.
Smaller outlets have learned this some time ago. Arambagh's Foodmart has stuck to the 550-1,000-sq-ft format with some success, particularly in south Calcutta. It has 16 outlets in the city, and has plans for more. 'We want to be seen prominently across the city,' says Biyas Roy, manager, Foodmart.
The convenience stores inhabit the space between the supermarket and the kirana shops. 'We cannot offer the space or variety of supermarkets, but we also don't have the same pressure on sales,' explains Roy. The model has worked well with housewives and the middle-income group. 'We provide the touch-and-feel factor that the traditional store cannot,' stresses Roy. Assurance of quality is a further advantage. Most buyers would leave with a portion of the company's trademark chicken, as well as rice, dal, cooking oil, masala...
Super to hyper
At the other end of the spectrum is the hypermart. Food Bazaar outlets within Pantaloons or Big Bazaar cash in on the crowd that comes in to pick up other products. At a Big Bazaar, some shoppers may wander over to the grocery section to check it out and then pick up some stuff. 'More family crowds are seen here, spending more time,' explains Manish Agarwal of Pantaloons.
The customer profile (defined by location) impacts spends. Food Bazaar at Baguiati has seen a steady growth over time, with mainly middle-class buyers who are more interested in special offers and other promotions. Camac Street and Alipore see a more upmarket crowd, looking for convenience that demands more spacious aisles and faster checkouts. Hiland Park has witnessed this and that.
The value per bill is highest at Food Bazaar, Alipore, indicating once again that a grocery store is feasible on its own. Standalone stores, stresses Agarwal, see far fewer casual customers. The clientele has come with a specific mission. Both models work, and future outlets of the national player (there are two or three more lined up) will come in both.
If supermarkets are the future, the consumer most aggressively courted is not the elite family arriving in its air-conditioned car. Look out for more fresh produce ' not the dry vegetables currently available on shelves ' more variety, more pre-packaged meals ' TV dinners have at last (or alas!) arrived.
From the bazaar bag to the shopping cart ' a revolution in carrier, content and convenience