#Forecast2021: Rural consumption to rule the roost, says Parle’s Krishnarao Buddha

5G launch will be an important event for the industry as well as consumers.


NEW DELHI: In 2020, marketers learnt to grapple with unforeseen challenges elicited by the lockdown, and they are prepared to handle such circumstances, incase of another such instance in the future (hopefully not).

Parle Products’ Krishnarao Buddha remembers how the brand activated its factories, managed permissions at state, central and district level to ensure that the production stayed afloat and they were able to deliver the biscuit throughout the country. The management incentivised the transporters, factory workers and retailers to ensure that the product pipeline continues, as a result of which the brand achieved record production amidst lockdown.

From a marketers point of view, he observed several trends during the nine month period. These included ads shot at home, some of which went viral, surge in content creation, spurt in digital content and data consumption, increased focus on digital medium for advertising, work from home and how every industry adopted it, new need for gadgets especially laptops, phones, and ipads, increased consumption of staple food and products at home, increased online shopping and online payments.

Going forward, Rao predicts several big trends for 2021 that are going to set the course for the industry as well as consumers.

Increased focus on digital medium for advertising

There will be a low dependence on television and increased focus on the digital medium. Further, there will be greater focus on content tailored for the digital medium. Content is not just a television ad, it can be a tweet, meme, post or a share and the beauty is that anything – positive or negative – could go viral on this medium. Anything that is newsworthy or has some interest for the end consumer is content. Whether that content is good or bad, it will be defined by the consumer. For instance, a consumer has a problem with a certain product and he/she uploads the pictures of it on the internet, it is a user generated content. The situation is a concern for any marketer, because he must address that consumer and find the root cause of his grievance and quickly figure out a solution and convert the situation into a positive outcome. So the crux is that the content can come from any side of the business.

Work from home to continue

There is a lot of discussion on work from home for many organisations extending till mid-2021, which will reflect on the consumer behaviour. There will be slightly less focus on eating out and increased consumption of staples and packaged food. Families will be spending more time together and eating more meals together. Many of them are still reluctant to order from outside, although restaurants are open and following safety protocols, and as a result, they are cooking at home, which leads to increased usage of staple food and packaged products.

E-commerce boom

E-commerce will continue to thrive as more people will flick online to shop and avoid going out to physical retailers. The lockdown has converted a lot of hardcore retail shoppers in to online shoppers as they were unable to source products from retail outlets and had to rely on online platforms for their needs. It will be a boon to online payments that started in 2020 and will continue to reflect so in 2021 also.

Roll-out of 5G

The roll-out of 5G will be one of the most important events of 2021. It is expected to be somewhere towards the end of the year. We all know what happened with the launch of 4G in 2016 by Jio and how the rest of the telecom players followed. With 5G, it is going to further aid in the digitalisation of the economy, thanks to the current government who took the mandate for a digital India as soon as they came to power. I believe that India has really gone digital in a big way. Even the smallest towns and in the hinterland, people have access to connectivity and smartphones and they are able to watch movies and content. 

Rural gaining ground

We are now seeing that rural is responding much better than urban in terms of consumption and spends. The reason could be –there is a clear mandate from the companies around work from home as it is going to extend for a while. A lot of bachelors and families have gone back to their native places during the lockdown. Interestingly, this audience always had a lot of disposable income that was being spent on food and other things. Their cost of life is reduced in their native places and they are now spending the same amount from tier-2 and tier-3 towns and as a result, we are seeing these places doing better than urban.

As a result of this movement, a lot of corporate space and residential premises are lying vacant. The demand and rentals for these premises has gone down drastically.

And finally, another truth that none can shy away from is that there has been a lot of job losses during the lockdown. Though we are rising from it, there is still long way to go because things might change as we progress.

(Krishnarao Buddha is senior category head of marketing of Parle Products. This is an excerpt from a conversation he had with Devesh Gupta.)

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