India has a growing appetite for Western foods

Improved transportation infrastructure and food storage paves way for wine, high-quality fruits and seafood

Vancouver, B.C.     October 30th, 2013     Originally published:

Spurred by a provincial government push to diversify markets for the province’s agri-food products, more B.C. agribusiness companies are looking to India as a potential new market.

Key to increasing such exports is the growing consumer appetite among middle-class Indians for Western foods, according to Teresa Wat, B.C.’s Minister of International Trade.

“India has been and will be one of our priority markets because its economy continues to grow and generate wealth, with a rapidly growing middle class interested in international flavours and high-quality foods,” Wat said in an email to The Sun. “B.C. food producers are looking at the Indian marketplace as a lucrative consumer base and opportunity for B.C. exporters.”

She said B.C. businesses are eyeing the Indian market for goods such as high-quality fruits and berries, health-food products, processed foods, wine and seafood.

One B.C. entrepreneur who has established a foothold in the Indian retail market is Karnail Singh Sidhu, managing director of Kalala Organic Estate Winery in West Kelowna. A small shipment – 200 cases – of Kalala wine hit shelves in Bangalore this year and Sidhu said he and his partners have further plans to open a Canadian wine bar in the city.

“For a long time, India was ignored by Western countries,” said Sidhu, who grew up in India before immigrating to Canada and taking up viticulture.

He said the changing demographics have meant more interest in wine culture, but high duties – up to 150 per cent on the wine he imports – and the challenges of making business connections abroad mean a huge investment in building relationships and brand awareness.

Sidhu was one of several agribusiness representatives who attended the Annapoorna – World of Food India trade show in Mumbai last month to showcase their products and investigate trade possibilities. The delegation was led by Trade and Invest B.C.’s team in Mumbai, who worked to introduce B.C. food producers to new importers, buyers and market potential in India.

While Sidhu sees enormous opportunity for B.C. producers, he cautioned patience. He explained that improvements in Canada-India trade relations, a focus on growing connections, and maintaining an on-theground presence to introduce a product into the market are keys to success.

“It’s a good time, but I will say it’s long-term. If you’re looking at the market like you can go and get established in a year or so and make money, forget about it,” said Sidhu.

According to a 2011 Agriculture and Agri-food Canada report, higher projected consumption rates in India are being fuelled by a growing young population – projected to reach 242 million by 2015 – and a jump in households considered middle class or wealthier. The latter segment is expected to reach 100 million in 2020.

Food and grocery is the fastest growing retail sector in India, and the entrance of supermarkets and big-box stores like Walmart have hastened development of refrigerated food storage and transport infrastructure in India – an important development, food producers say.

Jock Bray is CEO of Aqualine Seafoods Ltd., a wild fish wholesaler operating out of Delta that ships internationally.

Bray was initially skeptical about exporting to India. But after attending the Annapoorna trade show, where interest in Aqualine’s products was strong, he said he is now preparing to send a sample shipment of wild fish caught off B.C.’s coast.

“The timing of us moving into that market might be right,” Bray said. “India with 1.2 billion people is certainly worth looking at. The disposable income people have is leading them to look for more choices and possibly better fish.”

Bray had heard rumours of other suppliers being hindered by bureaucratic hurdles and high import duties, so Aqualine had never considered doing business in India previously.

“It hadn’t been on the radar really, because of that,” said Bray, explaining that his mind changed after consulting with Indian seafood importers during his September visit.

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