The way urban India is celebrating has changed. For instance, festival spending is no longer just about traditions and home-cooked sweets (think besan laddoos and mathri). Nor is it the one occasion in the year—other than the birthday—when people splurge on buying new clothes or consumer durables.
Festival spending is also an occasion to show off and socialize. Restaurants offer authentic regional food like Onam sadhya; packaged foods and drinks companies adapt to celebrations and beauty salons are a part of the new ritual. For some, it is about getting away from the community madness and holidaying out of town with family.
As a result, besides the traditional consumer durables and apparel, many more segments are now seeing a surge in sales during the festive season and these include packaged food and beverages, grooming and travel. Moreover, companies are also now walking the extra mile to cater to the unique requirements of the Indian consumer.
“Earlier, our identity was community-driven. It came from the region of our ancestors and from our caste. Now, this has changed to where you live and work,” says Santosh Desai, chief executive officer (CEO) of Future Brands. He says people celebrate not as a custom but as an occasion.
This (pan-India celebration of regional festivals) is a post-liberalization phenomenon that has got accelerated in the past 2-3 years, says Desai of Future Brands
The nine-day Navratri festival used to be unique to western India—Maharashtra and Gujarat—where people participate in garba and dandiya (a popular dance). But now, these are celebrated across the country, with people dressing in traditional garba attire.
Likewise, the traditional Onam sadhya is now available in restaurants like Zambar in Gurgaon, Mahabelly at DLF Place Mall, Saket, and Just Kerala at Hotel Samraj in Mumbai, and is not restricted to Malayali households.
“Your tradition is my modernity. For the Malayali, sadhya is tradition whereas for others, it is about modernity and celebration,” says Damodar Mall, CEO of Reliance Retail Ltd (value format), which has supermarkets and hypermarket chains like Reliance Fresh and Reliance Smart. “The change is that people are getting more relaxed about traditions and everyone is celebrating.”
Taking a cue from Indian consumers, Jubilant FoodWorks Ltd, which runs pizza chain Domino’s, launched a Navratra pizza made of water chestnut flour (singhada atta) and white millet flour (samak ke chawal ka atta), ingredients used during fasts as practicing Hindus don’t eat wheat and rice while fasting for the first time in October.
The pizza is topped with mozzarella cheese, cottage cheese, tomatoes and crunchy sabudana (tapioca), with a layer of tomato sauce, rock salt and without onions or garlic. Moreover, India’s largest pizza chain also turned completely vegetarian at 500 of its outlets for the nine days to cater to the unique demands of the festive season.
Coca-Cola India identified festive consumption as an occasion to bond with the consumer for the first time about three years ago. They started with Durga Puja in the east where the company associated with restaurants and pandals with promotional offers of Rs 5 off on a combo offer that included a Coke and a roll at a restaurant.
“India is a land of festivals and we are looking at building consumption of our beverages through festivals,” says Ajay Bathija, director (colas) at Coca-Cola India, while explaining that celebrations could mean anything from Durga Puja and Diwali to college fests and birthdays.
“Gods have become more secular,” says Ashni Biyani, director at Future Ideas, a strategic innovations consultancy which is part of the Future Group. She says everything from Karva Chauth to Varalakshmi Vratham, Valentine’s Day and Halloween have become big festival consumption occasions, causing sales spikes for the retailer. Future Group is the parent of listed companies like Future Retail Ltd, which runs chains like Big Bazaar, FBB and Foodhall.
According to Biyani, the adaption of cross-culture traditions—Halloween being a prime example as an event driven in India by American films and TV shows—is being led by sharing on social media. There are other factors like increasing middle-class affluence and growing media, cinema and television penetration.
“This is a post-liberalization phenomenon, which in the last two-three years has got accelerated,” says Desai of Future Brands.
The festive season generates as much as 30% of yearly sales for sectors such as consumer durables. For categories like salons and travel too, there is a spike of over 20%.
Thomas Cook recorded a growth of over 36% last year during the festival season (which is largely the second half of the year starting with Onam and going on till 31 December), across domestic and international travel, says Abraham Alapatt, president and group head (marketing, service quality, financial services and innovation) at Thomas Cook India Ltd.
That trend started in the last four-five years, with the affluent urban Indian travelling during the festival season but now the trend has become widespread across tier-I and tier-II markets as well. This means people have started taking more than one (summer school holidays) outstation trip in a year as was the case till some years ago.
To cater to this growing demand, Thomas Cook has in the last two years come up with festival-related packages around Durga Puja, Diwali, Pongal and Onam which it markets and customizes for the traveller. This could include a traditional meal and small pooja at an exotic location during the holiday.
“Festive season now accounts for close to half of our annual turnover. Traditionally we were a uni-seasonal company with just one season summer,” says Alapatt.