On The Food Trail

While planning for a holiday each of us have different expectations. Some seek adventure, others like to laze around reading a book, many like to lie in the sun on the beach, some love shopping, and yet another tribe would like to plan the travel revolving around food.

Back in college days had a friend who always used to invite friends to his city and he would take them around introducing him/her to the local food. He used to boast that he knew the best food joints of the city serving different cuisines in the town. These joints would generally be like a hole in the wall. The whole travel would be planned around food. Post that have met quite a few who travel for food. While lot of us do research about the local food we try to accommodate it during the sightseeing. But for a few the food is the journey as well as the destination.

Know of a friend who postponed her travel to one of the countries as the best restaurant in the city a Michelin star restaurant was fully booked for those days. Her purpose for the travel was trying the local cuisines. If the booking in the restaurant is not confirmed then her travel is also not confirmed.

The whole concept of Michelin company (a French tyre company) rating the restaurant is based on travel. A Michelin 1 star restaurant is “A very good restaurant in its category” where one could have her/his food if the restaurant is on their way towards the destination. While a 2 star indicates “Excellent cooking, worth a detour” Whereas a 3 star indicates “Exceptional cuisine worth a specific journey”.

Over the years have met several people who drive on weekends to faraway places just to eat at a specific eatery. Most of them are small snack joints specializing in the local cuisines. They serve just 2-3 varieties of food and don’t have a menu but they are best at it. In many cities these places are iconic places in itself where the visit to the city is not complete without a visit to these joints. A MTR in Bangalore, a Saravana Bhavan in Chennai, Paradise in Hyderabad and maybe an ideal ice cream in Mangalore.

Even within a city there are several walks planned by foodie entrepreneurs who take you around a locality with stops at different joints and trying out their best dish. E.g. there are food walks in different localities across Bangalore where a person gets to taste the best Idli, dosa, vada, coffee etc. in the locality. Thus a person gets the feel of the locality through it cuisines. In this fast paced world a foodie might know where the best food is available. These entrepreneurs though several trails and errors curate a menu for such walks. There are certain walks planned during festival so as get a feeling of the festival food. E.g Ramzan . Now isn’t a mouthwatering concept?

Have you have ever travelled for food? Know someone who travels for food? What has been the experience?

The Story Around Food

Since some time had been exploring various restaurants cafes etc. in an attempt to understand the restaurant business. Found quite a few interesting ones .Each of these cafés/ restaurants were based on different theme , had a purpose apart from being profitable and interestingly were all doing well. Yet another common factor is all these places were beautiful houses converted to the restaurants. That gave these place a homely feeling unlike the commercial ones.

One of the café was a book store cum library cum café. A couple who loved reading converted their beautiful 3 storied house into a this café. The place is full of books. Apart from this it has a lot of open space. Infact one of the floor is empty with a just a stage. As the library conducts lots of activities like the book release story telling, drama etc. At any point in time the place is crowded with people across ages from a four-year old kid who came with her parents for the story telling session or a 80-year-old lady who came for the book release . The day I visited there was infact both in different time schedules. The library also sell various books. Infact the founder states that he does not believe in the bill conversion concept as almost every customer buys a book there as he has books in various languages , various fields which are not readily available elsewhere. This he says is his hall-mark. While people loved to spend time reading, watching listening etc there, he identified a demand for tea coffee and some light snacks. Thus his bakery business started. Today he has a well-known brand of bakery products which is sold across the city with different retailers. Yet at heart he remains a book lover and wish to contribute in building the reading habit of people. The story telling session book release etc which do not charge for attending are the major attraction for people who tend to remain loyal to the library. So here is a person who does not believe in the normal marketing strategies and statistics just follows his heart and does well.

The second café was into healthy eating, fitness, organic etc positioned as a yoga studio and healthy food restaurant. This was started by 2 women who were into fitness. The food offered were the modern-day food with the healthy twist e.g. momos made of ragi, a pizza made of amaranthus flour base, scrambled tofu wrap with beetroot etc. The café is on multiple level with each floor having a different theme. The studio has aerial yoga, aerobics, kallari does classes on growing one’s own vegetables etc. The duo believe in the concept that healthy food can be tasty also. Through this they wish to bring a healthy lifestyle in society through a combination of exercise and healthy eating

The third one is purely based on eating and eating along and does not have any other aspects. But it’s not one of the run of the mill types. This restaurant serves dishes purely made of millets and other healthy rice like red rice black rice. Does not use white rice, refined flour, sugar, baking soda, artificial flavours etc. Right from the idlis, dosa, sweets, rotis etc. all are made of millets. The flavours are the ones which was lost long ago by the present generation expecting a fast convenient food. This is an endevour by a farmer’s son who after globe-trotting wanted to go back to his roots of eating millets. An attempt in his own words to reduce his sins for having sold unhealthy food to customers in the name of achieving the targets. An attempt to provide a healthy and tasty option to the customers and making the traditional recipes fashionable.

Here each of these place has created a niche for itself ,identified a gap, were passion turned to profession, an aim of giving back to the society, not driven by numbers and promoted using the non-conventional medium yet are successful??

Have you visited any such places??

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#enerjuvate, #attagalatta, #grambhojana, #healthyeating, #millets

Home is where the heart is, heart is where the retail should be

Few days back whenever I used to visit any store t would witness a great feeling, a feeling of excitement, a feeling of happiness. The whole city was decorated. Be it the local traditional market, a hyper store or a normal mom and pop store. Each one was decked up, geared up for the upcoming sales to serve their customers better. They all were geared up for the Diwali sales. A festival which unites India, a festival which whole of India celebrates.

Every place I visited be it the clothing store, food store or the general store had products specific to the festival. Some sold the festive specific attire, some the food items required for the Diwali preparation, the gifting items while others sold the diyas (lamps lit during Diwali- the festival of lights) and crackers and so on and so forth. Retail today gives the first indication of the upcoming festival. Be it the Diwali, ugadi, Christmas or ramzan.

Thanks to retail that people actually do not feel being faraway from home. Today we get all the traditional Diwali items required for the Diwali Faral (Chiwda, chakklis, karanjis, Shakkar pale) etc. infact gifting is big during Diwali that there are varieties of gift option at the retail stores from the sweet boxes to the dry fruits to chocolates to expensive crockery etc. all that we need to decide is the budget and the people. The rest retail takes care, such is the power of retail. Infact in India the chocolate companies have their highest sales during Diwali and not during Christmas or new year or even during Valentine day.

Even in the diyas which is yet another big selling product during Diwali comes with various options from eco-friendly to the traditional to the modern electric one in all shapes, sizes and colours. Each of us enjoy buying a few every time for the sheer beauty the little diyas are, the happiness they create around when lit. The whole festive atmosphere is spread when these beautiful diyas are lit.

Today in this competitive world of retail it’s important for the retailer to capture the heart and mind of the customers. The retailer needs to emotionally connect with the customers. Hence providing the festive connect, regional connect does the trick. These products are difficult to source due to limited options in the branded category and limited shelf life but they hold a very important place in the customers heart.

Remember a project done a few years ago. We had built a huge assortment of regional products catering to different communities across products categories e.g. in rice, oil, namkeens, sweets, papads, ready mixes, spices, flours, etc. We consistently worked on this irrespective of the difficulty in availability. We did an experiment in one of the cosmopolitan store. The catchment had people across communities staying there. The mere availability of their products led to high customer walk ins and purchases, the store which had been degrowing consistently started growing and slowly the store turned around and was profitable. The store which was about to be closed down as being loss making suddenly became profitable on the mere plank of having the regional connect with the communities staying around. That is power of connecting to the customer’s heart.

Recently a retailer has introduced a home brand which specializes in regional flours. E.g singhada atta, rajgira atta, ragi atta etc. There is a huge market for the retailer. As these products are a basic necessity yet dominated by the unorganized sector. This is definitely a winning shot for the retailer in the days to come.

Any such interesting observation?

Know Your Customer

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While ‘Know your customer ‘has been the buzz word in the banking industry a very few service providers really know their customer. This is true especially in the real estate industry which is troubled by high inventory, over pricing, legal hassles etc that knowing the customer is last of their priority. A Friend had been on a house hunting spree since sometime. She visited several apartments and villas trying to finalize a property for her family. Infact her every weekend was spent visiting some such property. She went through hundreds of pages of property advertisements both offline and online, did a lot of research, visited numerous property shows, exhibition to shortlist one, but she could never find an ideal house which she could make her home. Was her expectation high? To some extent yes. She felt that none of the builders actually understood the customer requirement. After all buying a house to most of us is a once in a life time investment.  yet she continued to hope

Then finally one day she called me for her house warming ceremony. On hearing I exclaimed almost spontaneously ‘wow! Finally!!’ She explained me about the house the family purchased, the journey and how this place made it to the list. She said with this property, things just fell into places just like in a jigsaw puzzle, a feeling which she never had before.

She said while she really liked the place, there were a lot of other factors which helped her in her decision. There was a bank representative placed at the property site .This made it really easy for her to get the loan approved and the necessary documentation done. There was also an interior designer stationed there who helped her put her dream house in place literally brick by brick. The designer understood her needs and combined it with the available property to give the look and feel which she always wished for. Now the banker and the interior designer really knew their customer and the place to find them. They were at the right place at the right time. Imagine if she had to run from pillar to post to find them, share her specific needs and identify a solution. All this was avoided thanks to the support provided by the builder.

She said the builder helped her with every possible requirement right from helping with a lawyer, a auditor, a banker (inspite of being a pre approved project) etc. it supported her with all the required documents as and when required so as to ensure the entire process was smoothened. While this is a necessity most of the builders do not support in the entire process as it was very time consuming and they have a tendency to do the basic support based on their convenience and not as per the customer’s convenience. Considering that the entire residential project had more than 3000 apartments and villas of which more than 90% of them were sold the effort taken by the builder was truly note worthy.

Apart from the other services provided she said the amenities provided by the builder was  note worthy. While most of the builders provide only the basic facilities like swimming pool, club house gymnasium and few sports facilities, this property actually had a full fledged  clinic, an ATM, super markets, spa, a library and lot of other such facility which no other builder provided. She said this property will ensure that her kids have a very fulfilling childhood with the nature and with lots of sporting activities close to schools etc. she said she was very happy with the decision she made.

Now here is someone who really knew the customer!!!!

 

 

Lot can happen over coffee

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During my visits to coffee shop to catch up with friends would always find the coffee shop crowded. Infact there are four coffee shops within close vicinity and each of them is always crowded . Would wonder do people actually come to drink coffee. Are they willing to pay such an exorbitant price for a simple coffee? Infact in most cases felt the people across the table were total strangers to each other. There was no feeling of warmth between them. Yet spend a lot of time in the coffee shop talking to each other. Isn’t surprising??

Upon a few enquiries and eavesdropping (considering that the table are so close to each other) the revelation was most of them were there to negotiate a deal or close a deal. They were on a mission, on a business deal..

Lot of business men/women visit the cafe to meet a prospective client and discuss the offering, pricing and the other business dealings, Entrepreneurs to meet prospective investor and share their business ideas and receive funding, consultants to offer their services. Infact real estate deals running in millions would be closed at coffee shops. The traditional business spots like a high end restaurant are increasingly getting overshadowed by posh and air-conditioned cafes. Cafes are relatively safe, trendy, and chilled out place.

In the current scenario where everyone is constrained by time and traffic is an issue such cafes provide an ideal place in terms of convenience and safety. Here we have customers lounging in comfortable couches for hours on end, having a cup of coffee, accessing WI-FI and closing a business deal. Cafe culture has re-defined the very concept of business negotiations in the country .I guess the day wouldn’t be far where lot of startups would conduct their meeting at such places as the cost of the same would be fraction of their regular cost.

In the words of an entrepreneur Valerie Wagoner (Co-founder of ZipDial which was finally sold to twitter) ‘Tip for investor in India: Hang out at Costa Coffee in Koramangala in Bangalore. At least 8 companies being started’.

The coffee shops are perfect examples of a business which is positioned or built on its non core offerings. The customers were buying the noncore offering of the coffee shop. The coffee shop became a place for networking.

With the focus on entrepreneurship and startup being the buzz word, truly lot can happen over coffee!!

 

 

 

There are no traffic jams along the extra mile

Few days back a friend had to get a minor surgery done for her infant baby. The surgery had been planned for many months as multiple opinions had to be taken, ensured that the baby does not catch flu etc, the concerned doctor appointment to be fixed for the surgery and  the  pediatrician had to give a clearance. She said previously the pediatrician had refused to give clearance certificate for the surgery as the baby had mild cold. Hence the eating habits and the other activities were monitored. After all this the day of surgery was fixed with the concerned doctor and hospital and clearance from the pediatrician taken. After all the planning and follow ups for several days with the hospital which is one of the best in the city, imagine her nightmare when she arrives to the hospital in the morning with the baby for the surgery and she finds that there is no room booked for her baby, no surgery planned etc. In short none of the hospital staff had any clue about the planned surgery. Unfortunately all the staff the lady had interacted with were either in the second shift or on their day off.

After a lot of discussion and blaming each other the problem was identified that the doctor had informed the same to the Operation Theatre (OT) in charge and he in turn did not inform the other administrative staff. Hence the doctor was not reminded the previous day. Isn’t this strange, the place where service matters the most and price a distant consideration, misses out on the basic service. Can it get worse? Just to state that the hospital has been doing a lot of marketing activities, adopting and maintaining various parks in the city, has its own magazine, runs various contest for the babies and the moms to be (as it’s a maternity and child care hospital)  and of course has the among the best doctors in the city. But without the basic service does others really matter (except the of course talented doctors) Common sense is of paramount importance in business and customer service

That’s the mistake most of the service providers do. While the rest is all well, the service is goofed up.  Customers don’t expect anyone to be perfect. They DO expect the service provider to fix things when they go wrong. The service providers need to train their staff accordingly which was missing in the above incident as the staff had no clue how to go about it with finally the patient deciding to call off the surgery on that particular day.

Have personally witnessed a few of such pathetic service provider, this is really visible when the staff is sales driven and they have a target to achieve. Unless the customer buys the required product the concerned will not even provide the basic service. Remember a friend stating that one of the biggest banks failed to provide her even basic service (Infact they would not say no but the work would never be done) as she refused to buy an insurance policy from them. Several follow up even till the top management did not help her. For the entire team emphasized with the staff and knew the importance of achieving the sales target. Hence they found the customer the villain for not buying the product and they thereby not reaching the target and getting that coveted promotion and incentives She was made to run around for even the basic banking transaction to be done once.. Finally after giving up she has slowly started shifting her transactions to other bank as the entire shift would be difficult at once. After all she was transacting with the bank for more than 10 years.

Now imagine a person in her 30’s transacting with the bank for more than 10 years and is the introducer for 4 more accounts  from her family and each of them transact in alteast  7 digits number every year, is not provided basic service because she refused to buy a insurance policy. I am sure just by providing good service the bank would have made many times more the profit  then they would by her buying a mere insurance policy.

While all the service providers wants to increase the sales, margins, profits etc and plan million of dollars budget on advertising, promotion etc to achieve the same they forget  the very basic what a customer expects. She just wants a good service rest are all cherries on the cake. Being on par in terms of price and quality only gets one into the game. Service wins the game

Learning Retail The Religious Way

 

During visits to different religious places one thing which always amazes me is the food which is provided to the devotees visiting. As the food provided at such places is considered auspicious their dining hall is always crowded. The challenge such religious places face  is providing free food to a huge number of people with  high quality, maintaining the hygiene, the logistics involved, the cost factor , planning the menu( considering lot of people provide different food items e.g. rice, vegetables, pulses etc)  is truly a great learning for a passionate retailer. While such places might always have an advantage of free manpower (devotees who come to cooks, clean, serve) other challenges always remain which are similar in nature often faced by a retailer.

While the religious places have always come out victorious in their endeavor, the biggest of the retailers continue to struggle. In retail, logistics has been the biggest challenge especially in food business. Higher the control the retailer has on its logistics higher is the chances of it dominating the retail business. The retailers find it difficult to handle different products especially in the food while the religious products have handled all of them with ease

  • Perishables products- which have low shelf life- e.g. milk,
  • Fresh products- products which needs to look fresh and hence need frequent supply e.g. leafy vegetables
  • Temperature sensitive products- products which needs to maintained in specific temperature e.g. butter,
  • Seasonal products- products which are available only in particular season or have high demand during specific season e.g. mangoes
  • Regional /community products- products which are available in specific region or consumed by specific community e.g. different types of rice- black rice , sona masoori, gobind bhog, ponny rice, matta rice, kolam rice.

The food served to the devotees is cooked considering the easily available seasonal product which is mostly given by the devotees. The quantity is cooked considering the approximate devotees expected during the specific day. Considering the shortage of food in the country lot of importance is given to ensure zero wastage. Incase of shortage, a dish which can be easily prepared in short span of time is always made during such situations. A Plan B is always ready.

Certain religious places have millions of devotes who visit daily. The logistics of such places is definitely a herculean task. This would be a nightmare for any retailer. The number of utensils which are refilled and used for serving devotees (same concept as of the carton being opened and distributed to multiple stores), the manpower planned to serve different dishes, different queues (same as appropriate number of people designated for receiving stocks, stock allocation, stock dispatch) the quality & hygiene of food served (the quality of repacking and transporting to stores to avoid breakage, leakages), minimum wastage (no shrinkage or damages)

Infact one of such places had invested millions of rupees in procuring the utensils which could identify and remove even the smallest of the dirt, sand etc in the rice. The technology used by the religious place is far superior to those used by any commercial entity involved in food. This is the level of commitment.

The motto of every religious place is to ensure the utmost satisfaction of the devotees during their visit; the same should be the motto of every retailer. Can this code be cracked???

 

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