Thursday, March 31, 2016

Should Govt Regulate Discounts

Following the heat turned up by the latest FDI note from the govt, the question being debated is          " should discounts be regulated?".  I will answer this with trepidation.  Yes. but with moderation. The money flowing in is foreign money. If this money is being used to discount to take the selling price below cost of production then it is unfair to the free market economy. It will destroy the foundation of any industry. It could undermine the Indian business which is trying to make a feasible business within the framework of Indian laws. However, there is nothing wrong in legitimately challenging the cost of production using lowering of cost of production from better management sourcing or productivity.  Beyond saying that selling below cost of production is predatory,the govt must have only a limited role. 

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Everyday Miracle Juice

This has been my morning miracle juice for 20 years. It's simple, versatile, easily available, and very affordable.

What Does it Contain?

It's all vegetable - Tomato, Beetroot (Chukandar), Indian Gooseberry (Amla), White Pumpkin (Ash Gourd, Petha in Hindi), Bitter Gourd (Karela) 1/4th, Bottle Gourd (Lauki), Carrot (Gajar), Lemon (Nimboo) 1/2, Sprouted Pulses.

That's to my taste and liking. Sprouted pulses add to the nutrition and half of a lemon enriches the taste. You may add whatever suits best to your taste.

How to Prepare?

The process is very simple:
  • Grade all or fine-chop the vegetables
  • Run them in a mixie with very little water in it
  • Course strain to make it as thick as you can drink
What's There for You?

Many people ask me about its nutrition value. Basically, it's about uncomplicating life and getting raw nutrition. And the drink is equal to eating 1 Kg of nutritious vegetables. When cooked nutrition is lost. This is raw. It not only gives you day long nutrition and micro nutrients, but also keeps your stomach alkaline in nature.

How Much Does it Cost?

It is so inexpensive for something that can keep away anaemia, and gives you natural vitamins. It's a fulfilling and invigorating health drink at sub-15 rupees. Here are the ingredients (minus sprouts and lemon, both are optional) that will last for at least 10 days. Prices as of 24/12/2015:
  • Max Fresh Tomato ₹31.50, Carrot ₹25.00, Beetroot ₹28.80, White Pumpkin ₹26.90 (1 kg each)
  • Bitter Gourd ₹34.20 500gm (2 pieces roughly 100gm will be enough for 10 courses), Bottle Gourd ₹24.40 600gm

Monday, December 14, 2015

Relativity of Honesty

Honesty, it has been argued, like several other ethereal concepts are relative to the time, situation and the laws of the land.

Did you know that in the 1960s and 70s the Food Adulteration Act, set limits of adulteration in atta and other flours as “one piece of hair/one piece of rat castings” (amongst other things) as being permissible? Why? All the atta consumed was ground either at the neighbourhood chakki (mill) or bought loose at the local merchant’s store. These were kept unprotected during the night and liable to rat infestations. Hence the law, it often sets it at the level of what is practised rather than at the level of human tolerance. Laws have changed since practices have also changed. Packaged commodities offer better accountability, predictability, and safety to the consumers now.

Honesty, therefore, sometimes defies definition. In my view honesty has two dimensions.
  1. Believing that the law of the land as sacrosanct, as the lowest minimum requirement to do business.
  2. Promising what you say you will deliver. Consumers choose a buying destination according to the range, price and quality that they see as being promised.
GrocerMax wants to set a different level of Standard for honesty. We want to honestly understand what the consumer requires, and when. And at what price.

Winter is here in NCR where we operate. And our plans are getting ready to present the consumers all the things that the consumer wants or sometimes even don’t realize they will want. Fabric softeners for example for winter clothing, will come in handy. It should be on offer, along with the Kinnow and Pesticide-free Grapes.  Not forgetting the lotions and creams.

For GrocerMax, honesty is not about not-being-dishonest. This one should be as a default. Honesty is about being “honest in your purpose” towards the consumers and the vendors we work with. Understanding the consumer’s requirements, the right time, and price.

It is honesty of purpose and honesty of intent.
We may not be perfect, but we are always Honest.

Friday, November 20, 2015

My Tryst with Maggi

Maggi launched in 1983. And I was in the team that launched Top Ramen and Cup Noodles, in 1989 under Hindustan Lever (actually Brooke Bond India Limited). I have seen Maggi from up close as a competitor, and there won't be many like me, because only a few have done national launches for noodles.

Unfortunately, again due to an interpretation in the Packaging Commodities Act we had to withdraw Top Ramen from the market - top 30 towns. I can empathise with Maggi of what it takes to withdraw products you make with so much love and destroy it. A national loss. It takes time to recover.

Maggi is not just a fast-to-cook, good-to-eat snack, it is a generic, for wet snack meals. If you have been out in the markets in India, there are very few nooks which don't have a van selling Maggi.

Being Maggi - needs deeper understanding.

After becoming being a regular home snack, it has also moved out of the home a long time ago and has found itself a place in Indian Street Food genre. It is the substratum which enables creative street food artists to use their imagination to make meals using Maggi noodles, but the meal looks nothing like what Maggi Noodles is meant to be. Maggi is relegated to be an excuse, for meal creation. Add Chicken stock and spring onion and eat its soupy form. Or dry with shredded chicken pieces, or Green peas. Take your pick. There are as many ways as there are moods!

Maggi's absence created a void in the after school snack meal space. It was Mommy’s savior.

But why is Maggi more popular than Top Ramen or WaiWai? The main reason I think is not only the marketing effort of Nestle, but the versatility Maggi as a products that can metamorphose into a meal of "my making". It is the food canvas on which I can experiment as I want. It does not tell me that "you have made a meal out of what was already a meal". I can claim that the dish is my creation.

When I was involved in launching TopRamen I always felt that it was a better tasting product than Maggi. But slow and poor marketing of TopRamen never allowed it to surface the way it should have. Or is it that Indians prefer the European noodles and not the Oriental Noodles of Wai Wai and TopRamen, both of which are pre-seasoned noodles think noodles.

All I can say is that let things be. Just enjoy what ever suits you. Maggi adds to the colour of the Indian street food!

But keep it safe, keep it tasty.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

How Did I Get Here?

Recently I was speaking to a small group of young Management college graduates. They had only one question to ask.

 "How did you get where you are today?"

They obviously saw the CEO positions I had held in my career as being somewhere to get to, aspirationally, and now as the Co-Founder of If anything to go by, such open-ended questions have END in the focus, and not the MEANS. Nothing wrong in it, the end should fascinate you.

My honest answer was - "I don't know". Life has it, but we don't - we don't have stock answers for every question. For me the positions were just stops in the long road called Life. However, I didn't also reach here by a mistake or meander into one position or another. I tried to find an answer, which I will share with you.

Reason #1 - Build on what you have at hand

Every job needs your sincerity. I have moved from Tea tasting, to tea marketing, Noodle making, seafood selling, Frozen food launches, and retailing. Seemingly disparate lines, but all with food and consumer products. In every job I grew it and developed it, and left it much better than it was when I got it. Innovate to better it. Your life must depend on the work, no matter how small or insignificant. Stay consistent, honest.

Reason #2 - Diversity in education

At School I studied science with biology. In college economics, and in University - Post grad in Econometrics. This is not by design, and I don't advocate it. But after I started working I got myself qualified as a SAP qualified consultant to understand how the ERP world works. I have read widely from philosophy to management, and very deeply.

People become the real subjects once you're out of campus, irrespective of what you pursued in your studies. A diverse academics helps you know your subjects better. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Stay honest at what you do, you'll start loving it.
If you love what you do, you don't have to work a day in your life.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Ice Cream in Winter

Ice cream is the ultimate comfort food. Bad day? Grab a cone. Ice cream speeds up your metabolism. People love ice cream round the year in the West. Ice cream stores are open in the dead winter. Winter makes eating ice creams a leisurely & pleasant act, it won’t melt and drip over everything.
Diwali is approaching and with that the enjoyable Indian winter. This brings to mind a meeting several years ago I had with a Danish company who had ambitions of selling ice creams in India. Denmark prides itself to produce some of the best ice creams in the world, as a consequence of the great quality milk that they produce. The Danish company presented the sale of ice cream in the year. I was surprised to see that there was only a little dip in sales during their winter months. And I would assume that the Denmark would be cold through most of the year. Then how is it that ice creams sold equally well in all the months?
The company could not explain. It then struck me that all homes in Denmark would be centrally heated, to say 22 degrees the comfortable living temperature. My belief solidified when I read a survey – restaurant customers maintain steady purchase in December and January as they did in Summers. For the same reason, people loved ice creams in the cozy comforts. It would be like the weather in Bangalore throughout the year in of most of their homes, and undoubtedly all the restaurants. Then why not ice Cream all year long.
Indian homes are not heated, nor are several offices or public transportation. Hence ice cream sales is inverse to the weather – one falls, the other goes up! However, south of India enjoys equitable sales of ice cream I would assume, but 70% of India would find less favourable. No wonder Coke and Pepsi and Walls would thank Indian topography for keeping their sales hopeful.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Why Women Actually Love Grocery more than Fashion. Well, They Should!

"Two-thirds of women are the primary grocery shoppers, 84 percent of women are the sole preparer of meals in the household and majority of these meals (64%) are made using fresh ingredients," suggests a survey conducted in the USA by Private Label Manufacturers Association (PLMA) and Global Market Researcher. Back home in India those numbers and percentiles only increase. Women do grocery more out of love than anything else. Grocery (the stuff and the recipe) goes with grace of a woman; brings more goodness to them than the fashion of the hour does.
Now follow the run! And the names in this story are NOT fictional.
Leela was shopping at a high-end Gurgaon mall with Sharat, her fiancé. They had to grace a friend's wedding ceremony. She knew she had to look well dressed. After all, his relatives are going to critically examine the bride to be.
The smart manager at the store sensed the kill and was effusive in his greetings. Leela liked it. She settled for the dress, a Pink Polygeorgette Sequinned Kurti that the manager suggested. The gentleman Sharat was, he would not let her pay. (He might have changed his mind had he seen the price tag before displaying his bravery to pay. No wonder the adage “discretion is the better part of valour” is so apt.:)) . And arm in arm they headed home to change for the evening function.
Leela was looking gorgeous in her new pink dress, and so were 4 others wearing exactly the similar dress ! She was distraught. She even wanted to return home as soon as she saw the dupes! She insisted that the others were wearing fake stuff. But still nothing could assuage her inner grief. It lingered on like remorse after paying your taxes !
Cut to 3 months hence.
Much married and settled happily with Sharat. He suggested that it was time to call his extended family of 12 people over for dinner, now that the excuse of the honeymoon was over. It had to be this week on Saturday since the US cousin was leaving on Monday. Kanta Bai, the maid was always off on Saturdays. Leela had a prepare for a marketing pitch on that day too. She thought to herself, “I have 5 hours to cook or to croak”. She felt more adrenaline in her from the thought of the dinner test than the pitch. Clients come and go. But relatives only go!
She logged onto an online grocery portal in Gurgaon. She had seen their parachute logo, but this was the first time she was going to order. To be sure, she called up the call centre and an executive, Chandrakanth answered all her questions very patiently. She placed a big order of Rs 5000. She hoped like hell that she had ordered everything.
The delivery boy called up from the online grocery company at 12:15. He had arrived. Hurray ! India is changing. For once things are on time. And what’s more - in full.
She set about the cooking. Sharat’s people were Maharastrians. She summoned courage and made a range of their dishes. The mutton rasa was the highlight. She was nervous. But the table looked appealing.
The dinner done. It was grand success. The Rassa and Aamti were super hits. Even Priya (Acid) Aunty pinched Leela’s cheeks and said, "Sharat bhagyawan ahe".
Leela reflected. The dinner was her own creation. Without Kanta Bai. Sharat had a new found respect for her now. He asked “ who else can we call for dinner next?” The rolling pin narrowly missed him! Leela was happy.
You see?

Monday, September 28, 2015

Fresh Wheat Grass

Wheat Grass - The panacea on earth

It was way back when  I was a teenager, that , unlike what most boys of my age would have liked to do, and curiously so , saw something fascinating in the Naturopathy as a way of living. Curiosity got so heightened that I eventually decided to take a course in the discipline, trained under Shri Ganesh Sharma from Puthokotai-TN. Eventually I was told that I had qualified to be practitioner, which of course, a line that I never pursued. 
It was then that I learnt about wheat grass, eulogised as panacea on earth.
This is a good read. I have seen it used for several years, in the case of my sister who was a cancer patient. It is difficult to say whether it contributed substantially to her cure but we know it helped to keep her immunity levels up and the blood count recovery faster. It saw her live through  another 25 years after the first occurrence of the dreaded disease. It Helped in good measure, that I know.

I also recall that when I used to the VP , Operations for Foodworld Supermarkets Limited, Bangalore, I had introduced it in the stores in packets. At the Jayanagar store in Banglore, a lady would buy it every day. At the end of two months she showed me the results of her sugar level tests, which had improved substantially, her insulin doses were reduced.

It has always been my endeavour to get wheat grass everyone - healthy or ailing. The best results are when it is harvested live, and processed through a wheat grass juicer (now available in India online). But even without that it can be just chewed and swallowed or just run in a mixie. 

So when I started an online grocery store in Gurgaon, now moving to NCR, I developed a few reliable suppliers of the same, and made them grow it in a tray. Today the 25th of Sept 2015, there was the first order for wheat grass, which was carefully door delivered. I am delighted. I would like the  to say not " we sell" but "we care".

I hope more and more people will see the benefits of wheat grass and  I will be happy to deliver.
live wheat grass

Monday, September 21, 2015

Why a Clever Competitor is Good for Your Business

You may fear or hate your main competitor, and seldom do you love them. It's simply because they compete for the same mind and wallet share of the consumer. However, in the past months that I have been involved in setting up as a leading player in the Indian-online-grocery business, I have learnt otherwise. A clever competitor is good for your business.

Grocery retail is US$450 Billion in India, the largest category in the consumer space. Mouthwatering for any investor and growing YOY. The online space is in its infancy, and making brave efforts to be the king of the mountain, riding the tectonic shift that the mobile penetration is creating, and the Apps enabling.

I see around me several competitors, some of who started before me, but many others after; some heavily funded, and others wating for a glad eye from the investor community.

I am very aware that at this time when investors are treading stealtily in this space, it is importat to have a player who is big and growing, as the climber ahead of other aspiring ones. Imagine this one big player is taking major shares, in a large growing industry. Investors who have not already invested would not turn a blind eye to look for the second successor coming up from behind, to a grab major share. The leader often makes the life of  clever successors easier, and infact allows them to be smarter,learning what not to do which the leader would have.

Pray that your competitors is a clever one, and not stupid. I say this because I see the more that  things change, the more they remain the same! More about that later.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Sabatical of Different Kind

Well it's been a long time indeed since I embellished my Blog.
It's just a sign of a few things - one, busy? Nah! a Lame excuse. Lack of time is the worst of excuses to make for something you are passionate about, and retail is one such in my life. Its my only life and first Love.  Two - Re-Discovery of myself or as Kishore Biyani has tended to make it popular inside Future Group- Re-Imagine my own mind? Yes that seems the more plausible excuse.
In more than a year that I have not blogged, time was spent in seeing the Future Fresh Foods the F&V initiative under Future Group merged back into the group from being a separate company. This was a great disappointment for me, where it looked as if top management had little interest in developing F&V as a stand alone profitable business.
But added to my portfolio was KB's Fair Price stores. Small locality grocery stores. In a year from May 2013 to May 2014, it was almost a turn around story in all aspects of the business- category intelligence, replenishment, stock and cash arrangement, vendor terms etc. All parameters looked good.
But my own expiry date in Future group had reached. :)
Just as well.
FRESHKINS, was the result of my leaving. With Neeraj Gupta to set up the neighbourhood retail stores in franchise mode,  concept to roll out was a pleasure.
The new though now emerging - Online. It beckons.

I M back and I will blog !

Monday, February 11, 2013

Why I Dislike Glorifying "Jugad"

Why I dislike glorifying - Jugad.

Before you throw rhetoric at me let me explain the context.
At the RAI Leadership Summit, in Mumbai,  yesterday I had the honour of releasing the book Jugad Innovation. This book will sell well just for its name. Indians feel proud when an Indian concept gets internationally acknowledged. I only wish we were more aware and proud of the “zero” Aryabhatta invented to give meaning to Mathematics.

Jugad is a colloquial usage to mean a lot of things that is contextual - but generally it means “innovatively finding a way out of a tight corner”, even though it may not be the best solution. 
Jugad is a name given to a culture that is inherent in the modern Indian work ethics, and here I might be exaggerating to make a point. Indian work ethics replies too much on “Shoot and aim”, for some reason that escapes me, there is some allergy in spending quality time deliberating and planning. It is considered “theoretical’ and relies too much on the view -that we will correct it as we go. This will only result in quick to start and slow to finish, and a lot of leaks on the way, wastage and over runs.
 Hence, I believe in planning longer and deeper, to try to get as many things sorted out as possible before starting. Surely time is of the essence, as always, but prior planning should not be the victim of Jugad.
 It probably stems from some things that are ingrained in my subconscious from my early years of having worked with the Japanese, of planning in detail to get it right first time. You might not eventually get it completely right totally, but it is the duty of managers to fool proof to the extent that is visible and possible.

As a junior in the Japanese company my first insight to planning was the meticulous manner in which the Japanese colleagues put together a programme for the visit of Vice president from Japan. They outlined the Moments-of-Truth and wrote down a action to meet its requirement, every contingency, and in an era where cell phones didn't exist it became even more dependent on the every one doing his/her job on time and correctly. It is not a process its part of a culture. 
I concede that in an uncertain environment the horizon is not always without clouds, but ‘fool proofing” of even what we know is a good approach.

 Why is there an allergy to -get it right the first time?
Over the years Jugad has become a matter of pride, and Indian businessmen consider it a virtue to have. Is poor planning leading to non-delivery and at the spur of the moment to do something that obviates the problem, considered smart and a matter of pride? Well I for one wont doff my hat to that.

A word that needs to enter the lexicon of Indian business seems to be “rigour”. The word means the diligence in, say, planning that goes behind every event, and more importantly to get serviced providers outside your company /group also aligned to such rigour.
Jugad must be seen for the positive elements of the phrase. In India where a lot of things are not totally predictable even when planned, to retain a sense of innovation to solve the problem is not only good but also essential to surviving in Indian Business. But let that happen after some careful planning has happened prior to the event.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Frog in a Boil - Indian Retail - is This Where We Are?

Most often in life changes don't come is perceptible torrents that we should sit up to take notice. Changes good and bad, happen and are happening in tiny tiny measures that we don't sometimes see, until either it's too late to correct, or if it's a good thing, goes unnoticed.

This is like a frog in a boil. The narration goes that if you drop a frog into a pot of boiling water it will obviously jump out. But what if you put the frog in water that is at room temperature? It will happily swim in it's small world pool. Now if you light a low fire under the pot, a very low and slow one, the water heats up almost without having changed anything to frog. It's body adjusts quickly to the heat, till it become too late.

I have this nagging feeling that Indian retailing has been quite like that. In all the years in retail I have not seen significant changes. Infact things have even gone down at the store level. In Foodworld I remember as a VP Operation we ran a drill every day called STUC- Show that you care. Every cashier wished every customer. As small and simple as that. Store being ready before that first consumer comes in. Face ups happening at 3pm. And many small nuances by now would have become hygiene, for the staff and consumer. But check outs are as slow, stock are as high, range is lower, neatness is lower.

Is there a realization that retailers must be on constant vigil so that the small things are corrected and bettered.

Are we on a boil. Well Friedman regret in his latest book "that used to be US", that the US is surely that way. We know for a fact that China is not.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Ice Cream in Winter and Carbon Footprint

I remember, many moons ago, as a younger retailers in Foodworld, I was subjected to a presentation by a Danish company that used to distribute Ice Creams in Europe, and were looking at setting up a similar business in India. This was as far back as 1999. I took them around the Indian cities and markets. It is today a day in 2011, and they have never returned since! Should I laugh or rue the fact that India has changed only at the margins in food distribution.

Similarly, even earlier in 1988,when I was involved with the Indo-Nissin Foods project (makers of Top Ramen and Cup Noodles - then a Unilever JV), I toured with an outstanding FMCG executive by name- Ken Sasahara, from Nissin Japan, (he is today President of Nissin, USA), all over India, and he was adventurous in food exploration. We ate at all types of restaurants, from way-side to 5 star hotels- from Kakeda hotel in delhi, to Dhabas in Punjab to Muniandi Villas and Military hotels in south India. In typical Japanese style he catalogued everything on this laptop.
In a month we were back at our office at Brookefields in Bangalore. As he made his report he asked me- "hey, I have catalogued here 100s of delicious dishes. When there is so much food around, who will want to eat noodles? It will always remain a small category". And so it is. Since Maggi launched in 1983, instant noodles has grown but in the context of the over all food category, it remains minuscule.

Coming back to the ice cream story, the insights from that presentation were startling. The Danish company showed the trends in sales over a year in Denmark. I saw that the sales did not decline in winter and peak in summer, as it does here, to a factor of 10. I saw that in Denmark where it is cold, read freezing, for most of the year, the sales never declined. They themselves could not answer why, and infact it never occurred to them to ask why. It struck me then that their homes, and offices and cars are all climate controlled to 16 to 20degrees at all times. So then what does it matter even if the outside is -20degrees? Our homes in India nor the offices are warmed up in winter. Even in the west and south of India where in winters temperature do not go below 10 degrees, it is considered winter and there is decline in cold beverages and ice cream.

I then begin to think, of the huge carbon foot print that the western countries have compared to India and they consider India polluting? China,USA and Europe account for account for 54% of world's carbon emission. India disconcertingly is in the 5th position, 5%.
Let's not use ice in Coke that is cold, plastic lid off a glass of beverage, cut off the air-conditioning at 6 am, etc. Walk more drive less. These are small things that we can do silently to save our planet. Let's not do it the news papers, let us do it for ourselves, for our own silent satisfaction.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Top Management - Forgotten to lead from the front? The bane of the cozy corner room.

I have been bitten by a “reading history”, bug. Something has provoked my interest in Indian Medieval history of late, and why not? Isn't it true that "the one who forgets history is condemned to repeat it?”
In a passage in it, there is a narration of the life of an Afghan raider of the Sur clan, later to be known as Sher Shah Suri. His conquest and expansive reign was short lived, 1540-45. What is interesting here is that in the 5 years when he was king from his fort in Chunnar, Sher Shah defeated Humayun the great Mughal twice, and the latter barely  escaping with his life, but with the great Kohinoor Diamond!
But finally, Sher Shah in his attempt to capture the fort of Klinjar in Rajasthan, died at the battle front when a rocket rebounded off the wall of the fortress and landed on a pile of ammunition, which exploded to badly burn and char the Afghan. He was a departure from many of the other kings, in  being constructive for the lower strata of people. He reorganized the administration and weeded out corruption from the army ranks (poor man didn't have an Anna then), and many other acts that are admirable. But a raider and looter he remained.
I think in terms of today I wonder how many of the leaders - CEOs, Presidents, VPs, go to  face the gunpowder? How many come down the ladder to the front end staff to understand, empathize, absorb, and act? They need to come down not only to empathize , but to align to what is "on the ground", and what the employee is saying, thinking and serving the consumer. High level decision making, we see happening without a full understanding of consumer speak. Once an individual reaches top-management, he is sucked into other shareholder priorities. I have seen insular decisions made all the time.
I know of only one retailer who does, and it shows in his business.
This is true of all businesses, where the cozy corner room removes the decision makers a long way away from reality. That is unwise for any business. Sam Walton again stands out, for this obsession with being in close contact with the front end associates. Who is our Sam Walton?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

India eats what media cooks-Anna included

Who are these two people? One on the right we know by now, our own Anna Hazare. But the one on the left?
Wikipedia tells it better-
Irom has the record for the longest fasting in the world! but hopefully that is not what she will be remembered for.
And who is this man, who died?

If you don't know, you are forgiven, because the 4th estate has not bothered to spend time on him. This man  is Swami Nigamananda, who died fasting for the cause of a clean Ganges. The media didn't cover it for more than 30 minutes I guess, since it won't sell. Even when it did, the swami was dead.
And the lady in the pic is someone, manipuris call "Menghaobi" ("the fair one"). Her fight is against the  Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 (AFSPA). She feels it is draconian and unlawful. The Govt thinks otherwise.
Some Pointers on which to Ponder -
1. The Media is needed to make a Cause a Movement. But then what about Gandhi's independence movement in an age where there was only letter writing and postal service? Well even then the Dailies played a key role. But then Gandhi was an enigma, that we can't totally explain! In Modern times it is difficult to get a movement except through the media into which the millions of ears are tuned. The clutter of noise is so high that unless there is something of the thunderous proportions of the kind Anna is doing, it wont be heard. 
2. People are interested only in what affects them locally. Corruption does, and hence the the tuning in. But Telegana does not, the AFSPA does not- it is in Manipur, Narmada does not- it is in Gujarat. We are so busy living, that we don't mind letting some things die, as long as it is not in my neighbourhood, or it affects me. Do people in Mumbai raise a voice for bad roads in MP?
3. Media: selling airtime to eye balls is Money.  Media is a Profit making company. Anna sells well, Irom does not. They are prey to the people's moods. Salman sells , Ritwik Ghatak does not. Poor media blokes, just as much as they want to be a good Samaritan they can't. I was watching a byte on the internet from the Editor of Wall Street Journal, who says that he does not "care about Democracy" he only understands Capitalism - free market economy. From the Holy grail of business if this is what comes out, why are we surprised about what happens in the USA?
We are what we want to be. That is sometimes the problem. We may not end up being what we Like ourselves to be. We don't sometimes know we should be.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Anna Hazare – a Messiah or a Ticking Time Bomb?

We Indians are always known for holding extreme views, and emotions not laced by “pure reason” (as Tagore calls it in Gitanjali). From worshipping our cricketers to burning their houses, from acts of honour during the Kargil war to the 3G Scam.
I am afraid many of those in that rally, proclaiming “I am Anna”, “mein Bhi Anna”, don’t have a clue as to the difference between the Lokpal bill as passed in the Parliament, and the Jan Lokpal bill. Are the youth wrong? Not at all. The youth in any country and era, always wants a cause to attach themselves to. The Indian Government, if it had the leadership to move the country ahead to become a world super power, then that passion would have ignited the young minds to rally around that cause. But alas there is none!
Now Anna arrives on the scene, as a (seemingly) affable old man. Only if the young people knew that the same Anna had in his village flogged two young people for drinking alcohol, banned liquor shops there, regulated TV time, and almost forced people to lead a pious life. Once a driver in the Indian Army, Anna, has now risen to this stature from his own conviction. But unlike Gandhi who never used fasting like an antagonistic tool, Anna is using it to fight adversaries. Anna must remain rigid against Govt attitude but flexible to diverse views. That is the essence of democracy.
So will I not join the rally? Yes I did join the rally. But for me Anna is only a reason. Anna is living his convictions and fighting corruption. We must commend him for rising to the occasion. But even he never would have expected this kind of support he is getting, just as he did not expect such ineptitude on the part of the govt. Why this kind of support? The support is for the cause more than support for Anna, who is revered for being the reason of it.
Some people are asking, whether the Anna movement has dented the Indian image of a democratic nation? In fact to the contrary, it is an emphatic affirmation that democracy in India is truly alive. Thousands came to the street, but all non-violently, for a country where the mob at the smallest provocation torch buses.
Anna has put Corruption on red alert. This is fabulous. Decades ago as a young man in Kerala I heard a wonderful speaker and Gandhian, M P Manmadhan. Even in the 70s he spoke of the curse of corruption. He said the difference between corruption of old and of new, was that in the olden days there was“sourness” (pulip -“sourness” in Malayalam) when it was done. But now there was no sourness, it had become a matter of course. I agonized always, over whether my sons would grow up thinking corruption is ok? Anna has held up the mirror to our faces. At least the sourness is back.
But then that is it. It ends there. I don’t agree to the Jan Lokpal bill being greater than the parliament. Then who will be the Lokpal of the Lokpal?  Anna is saying that impeccable humans will be chosen to head the Lokpal. This is untenable. There is no perfect human. Only Collectively we check and balance.
 I would like every government official to come under the Lokpal bill. Put all the investigating agencies under the Lokpal and then let all findings be sent to the parliament to decide, for major issues.
But what about the small local cases of corruption, who will control and monitor? I don’t know yet.
But let’s give Anna his due and thank him for bringing back the sourness and stirring up the pot. But he needs to be flexible to “listen” to other views from similar crusaders. Let not the situation get reverse engineered- let not public’s misconceived ideas of the Lokpal bill become a burden on Anna himself. Let not Anna be in the situation of Deva Anand in the film “Guide”. Let not his cause become his nemesis. Let us not turn Anna into a time bomb. 

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Pesticides Ok for Indian Consumers?

Recently I visited Nasik Area in Maharashtra. Not being an Agri professional, I have had to learn the fundamentals of products at the field itself, with the help of my colleagues. Nothing gives me more pleasure than a new thing to learn (and I hope like hell it will keep Alzheimer away!).

I have come to see that there is a big difference in being an expert in Grapes and being a Marketeer of Grapes. Let me illustrate.

      The grapes industry, as you might not know if you are not deep into its working, is surprisingly well organised, in parts. The part that is well organised is part that exports grapes to Europe and the part that is horrendously disorganized is the one that supplies grapes to the Indian consumer, that is you and me.

      Grape farmers have to make a decision at the beginning itself, whether are they going to make the field to cultivate grapes suitable for the European or the Indian market. If for Europe, then the soil maintenance, the kind of pesticides used, the dosage, the row distance, the leaves per stem, etc. gets well kept, as dictated by whom? The European Food laws.All grapes to Europe are "Pesticide Residue free". And grapes for Indian consumers? Well Chalta Hai! Pesticides residue is OK?
       The European grapes are 16mm in length, and the grapes supplied in India: 8mm to 10 mm, assorted. Do our Indian consumers not deserve pesticide residue free grapes, 16 mm and clean and crispy? 
      Why would they not be supplied to the Indian market? This is because the Indian Consumer is SAID to be price conscious. I decided to test this (what I thought was a Myth). 
       My company (Future Freshfoods, Mumbai) sourced grapes meant for Europe, redefined the sizes, put them in punnet boxes(plastic boxes), and sold them in the FoodBazaar outlets in Mumbai at prices which were Rs. 10 higher per kg than the market, but these are14 to16mm length grapes with pesticide zero residue, no infestation, no surface cracks - clean and neat. Everyone of the experts inside and outside told me that I was being foolish, that the punnet would add cost to the grapes, and that the cost would render the product a non-starter.
    I may not know the botanical name of grapes, but my wife is the consumer-silly, I hear it from her!  
It was sold out! 15,000 boxes in a day. Don't believe me see the pics. I believe the consumers in India have never eaten such delicious and top quality grapes consistently available. 
Don't Indian consumers, deserve to eat grapes of the standard that  European citizens eat? We need to get out of the mind-set that we Indians will make do with lower quality.It is not about being rich it is about being discerning. So help me God!  

Friday, November 5, 2010

Litter Moms !

I ask myself, is growth an indication of how well India is doing? I think we would be naive to think so. Why do I say that? I am not the only one who might be saying that, anyone who introspects will say that. We continue to be discourteous publically - have low thresholds of  sense of patience, forbearance, and sacrifice. We have a high degree of tolerance to inadequacies - litter on the street, dirt in the public bus, broken panes in a govt building, spit and sputum in building corners. Apathy from bureaucrats, corruption from politicians, and inefficiencies from private enterprise. We live happily with that without discomfort.

I was standing outside Crossroads mall near Haji Ali, Mumbai the other day when a very well to do mom, had her 10 year old son by his hand, while waiting for the car. The obese kid was sucking on a straw in a paper glass of something from MC Donald's. As the Benz arrived, she grabbed the paper cup and threw it onto the pavement. She wanted her car clean, but not the street. She is the one I cannot forgive, being educated, aware and expected to be responsible. She is a “Litter-Mom”. She symbolizes those educated people who don’t pay back to society with good conduct and good practice. And don’t pride in bringing up children who are law abiding citizens. I think charity must begin at home, where children are taught the meaning of the word - “patience, kindness, empathy, tolerance and respect”. How will they grow up to be worthy citizens, if they have a “Litter-Moms”?
I believe this is what causes rot in society when they grow up. For me the measure of success is more than growth.

In my years in Indian Retailing, I believe retailers have positively modified the behaviour of thousands of young boys and girls, who later go on have a family of their own, and I hope those service attitude good practices stick as a habit.
Retail stores intake youth at the age of 19 to 22 from a diverse set of backgrounds and teach them to be – hygienic, neat, courteous, punctual, systematic, team players, and teach them to take pride in what they do. I think I may have personally seen over 40,000 employees. But this is a constant endeavor that is lifelong effort. Most service industries inculcate this behaviour. I have seen this particularly in the hospitality industry.

I take courage that there may be more moms who are not litter moms, and India will in years to come build a society that is kind and orderly, and which believes that the “means is as important as the end”

If it is any consolation, to moms, I use the word Litter Mom, euphemistically (applies equally to the litter dads!) - so moms don’t get wild with me. 

Friday, August 27, 2010


The Immediate Community (TIC)
See the Table 2 Below- 
In Indian Cities there are as many poor (Q1), as there are Rich and Middle class (Q5 to Q2). 20 Mn HH poor and Q5 to Q2 are 20 Mn HH.
Surprisingly 91% of the Q5 rich are in rural. Only 9% of the Q5 rich are in the Cities! So the Rich cats in the cities, you are not so rich after all!
How can we help the Urban Poor?
We keep seeing NGOs struggle to do something, and great inspiring stories also come to the fore of admirable individual initiatives. At those times I have felt a sense of longing to be one of them to help those who are less fortunate than I. But we can all start here and now - to use a an old saying - let charity begin at home. 
So here is a plan.    
The concept is  one of The Immediate Community. TIC.
All HH Q5 to Q3 will surely have 2 to 3 people who provide some service or the other - Cooks, Top Workers, Drivers, Car Cleaners, Dhobi, Ironing man, Delivery boys, Plumbers, Watchmen, Electricians, etc
They constitute 90% of a city in India! They work for the Q5 to Q3. This I don’t mean in a derogatory way. I mean that there is an Eco-system of Need-Fulfillment-Payment-Survival.
But here is the difference. Can Q5 to Q3 do something more in a structured manner to help those who serve them? I have no doubt that every one gives a Diwali bonus and feels good about it. It is no favour we do them. It is but our means of explicitly thanking them for their service to help me live well. 

Q5 to Q3 must vow that they will help them not only  "live" by paying equal to the services they render, but will support them Additionally . This is what TIC programme. here are the steps:

  1. Recognize the presence of the Immediate Community around us.   They render valuable service for as low as Usd100 (Rs5000) per month full time work. They maintain their families with this.
  1. It is never good to dole out extra money as cash. It will not be well used. Instead give then material support, as shown in table 1
What it costs  Q5/3 HH is Rs. 400 per month. That is the cost of a  Pizza dinner. See the table below-

Kinds of Support

School Books

School Fees

School Vehicle

Medical Insurance

Long term Life Insurance



* some quick estimates

So to support a Family in this way it costs only Rs. 425. To support  2, it costs less than Rs. 900, (half the cost of any fine dining) 
So if all Q5 to Q3 support 2 families each, it will send out support worth Rs. 900 cr a month!
Every Family income will go up by 10%. This can compensate for the inflation.
So start Today. Make sure that no one who is in your TIC ever goes Hungry
The best feeling is when you have started it and not told anyone that you have. No fun posting a secret entry on face book !

Urban rural split

Population Quintile arranged by Income
% Households(mn)
% of all HH Income
% of all hh expenditure
Surplus Income as a % to total Income
Income Index
Urban rural split
Urban HH(mn)
Almost equal No of HH across Quintiles
51% of the income is in the hands of 22% of the HH
22% account for 40% of the expenditure. 18% of hhspend 9%
Lowest poor are in perpetual debt, but all others have surplus
Richest is 8 times the poorest

Only 9% of the rich are Urban. 4.14 Mn only are urban, 41 Mn are rural ! 20 Mn HH of the poor are Urban. The growing Urban poor is a real problem.