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February 12, 2007

The New Indian Consumer

Business Today's 15 year anniversary issue has an feature on the changing consumer landscape in India.
Unarguably, the set of consumers that a Jaeger LeCoultre caters to is minuscule; of the total 1.1 billion population, only 8-10 million comprise India's richie rich with a household income in excess of $100,000 (Rs 45,00,000) a year. Yet, what is prompting marketers across the globe to pitch their tents in India is, one, the fact that even this is not a small number to cater to, and two, a new-found confidence that this group is only going to swell in the future. Indeed, close on the heels of this exclusive set is yet another band of some 50-60 million consumers, living mainly in the metros, whose average annual household income hovers between Rs 3 lakh and Rs 10 lakh and following them is a group of some 250 million consumers with an annual household income of around Rs 45,000-2 lakh; this group represents India's real middle class that mostly lives in the country's top 27 cities. Says Naresh Gupta, National Head (Account Planning), Grey Worldwide: "Our research shows that a majority of consumers in the metros are as global in their orientation as those at the top-end of the consumption cycle. They are exposed to the best global consumption culture and have no qualms about indulging themselves." Another report by the market research agency acNielsen says that the consumers living in towns beyond metros are also increasingly becoming open to the idea of consumption and a better lifestyle.

Put together, this set of people, which is loosely bunched together as the Indian middle class, has given immense fillip to the consumer culture in the country in the past two-to-three years. And marketers are hopeful that their enthusiasm will not abate in the future. "If the economy continues to grow at its current rate (India's GDP has grown over 6 per cent on average in the past one decade), and there is no reason why it should not, the breadth and the depth of the consuming class is only going to expand," says Rajeev Bakshi, the outgoing Chairman of PepsiCo India, adding: "The 50-60 million population of metros is going to double in the next five years and that, indeed, is a sizeable opportunity for most marketers across the globe." Agrees Rajan Mehra, Country Manager, eBay India: "Even with 100-150 million population, India will be a bigger market than Canada and Australia put together and hence, its attraction for marketers."

... The past two-to-three years, in fact, have been stupendous as is obvious from the following: television penetration in 2005 stood at 50 per cent (of these, more than 60 per cent were cable and satellite connections) of the total population as against 35 per cent in 2000, refrigerator penetration was 12 per cent last year as against 9.4 per cent, and a total of 12 per cent of the population had telephone connections in 2005 as against 6.5 in 2000. Also, the average age of home owners during this period came down from 40 years to 28-30 years. Today, there are around 130 million mobile phone users and the internet population stands at 40 million. Credit card penetration is still quite low at around 2 per cent, but it has grown 10 times between 2001 and 2005.

Arun Natarajan is the Founder & CEO of Venture Intelligence, the leading provider of information and networking services to the private equity and venture capital ecosystem in India. View free samples of Venture Intelligence newsletters and reports.