The small-store owner is too important, nimble and innovative to be bumped off by big-box retailers in India.

Kirana RIP? Not Yet.

The arguments for and against FDI in retail are, at a generic level, valid on both sides. However, since the devil is usually in the detail, the facts about India’s small retailers and suppliers, the conditions stipulated for FDI, and recent experience with the effects of domestic modern retail need to be viewed together before the likely outcome pronounced. The big fight is about whether this new policy will kill small shops, massively destroy livelihoods and take away GenNext’s opportunities. Facts suggest otherwise. Consider the kirana, the one most feared to be at risk. About 5-6 million of the 8 million FMCG-stocking kiranas are in rural India, and are totally safe, as the new ones can only come into the top 53 cities.

R Sriram, founder of Crossword and retail expert, tables two insights. One, in many big cities, kiranas are already not participating in the growth offered by the newer settlements like Gurgaon or Powai, because without their advantage of historically-priced real estate, they are not viable. Two, increasingly, small shopkeepers’ children are getting better educated and want to exit ‘sitting in the shop’ as soon as possible, just as small farmers’ children are exiting farming. Sadly, the country’s retail density has been increasing in recent years, not driven by passion or profit, but because of lack of options — hopefully that will change. It is true that traditional income streams of small shops in the vicinity of a large supermarket plummet; but we have seen that they soon recast their business model, exploiting the inherent advantages they have that the supermarket cannot emulate: free, prompt and no-conditions home delivery, superior and customised customer relationship management, khaata- credit and willingness to stock small quantities of something used by only a few people in their catchment — a classic ‘long-tail’ strategy. Notice two more things: even in upper-class areas in large cities, despite large retail chains in the vicinity, the small vegetable vendor and kirana continue to find a place in the household’s shopping basket. The kirana also continuously morphs, and is already moving to a more specialised and selective portfolio. We will find them variously choosing to become more of a convenience store (7-Eleven-type), or fresh-food store, a home-delivery store, maybe even express-format franchisees of large retail, and so on.

Another reality check: how much consumption capacity do even the top 50 cities have? Seriously, how many more Ikea, Zara, Walmart, Tesco and Best Buy can a Surat, Kanpur or Indore absorb, in addition to more Big Bazaar, Megamart and Croma? Further, foreign specialty retailers targeting the rich consumer will create never-before custom, and not at the expense of existing shops. Two decades ago, we had the same hue and cry that Indian brands would be wiped out; but they got better and bigger than they would have had they been left unchallenged. Now for the suppliers. Large suppliers will lose the pricing power they had with small retailers and nobody on any side of the FDI debate is grieving for them. Small suppliers, even without FDI, are being mercilessly squeezed by middlemen. The hope is that large retail chains, unlike the broker middleman, have more incentive to pay more because they have customer loyalty and a brand to build; in exchange for steady, loyal, consistent quality supply, they will pay more, guarantee offtake, improve product and production efficiency. The FDI norm of at least 30% sourcing from small scale pushes this further. Walmart potentially could kill the small suppliers of anything by importing 70% from China cheaper; but loads of small traders are already doing the same, flooding our markets with Ganesh murtis, chappals, clothes, watches, etc.

The Achilles’ heel for a lot of skilled artisans, specialised producers, grass roots innovators, etc, is market orientation and marketing. Producer collectives have managed to organise themselves on the supply side using government assistance schemes, but they struggle to manage the demand side. That is the missing link that large retailers in vendor development mode can provide, just as the auto industry has done to ancillary suppliers. Both sides agree that customers will gain because large chain retailers can provide better for cheaper, given the discounts they get through buying large quantities and sourcing smartly. Customers will also get a wider range, more innovative products and more comfortable, truthful and informed shopping environment. Poor customers won’t get discriminated against, because the hypermarket is anonymous, transactional, classless and nonjudgemental. They may not get better service because the small Indian retailer is the champion of good service, from atta to electrical, the likes of which we haven’t yet seen any big retailer match, anywhere in the world. That’s another reason why he will always survive.

Before we fight further, consider this. This network of commercially-savvy supplychain linked small retailers is an invaluable asset: as one report said, they are not ‘unorganised’ by any stretch of imagination; we agree and have refrained from using this phrase in this article! It is unlikely that Indian jugaad will let this network disintegrate. Perhaps in rural India, where they would have been more hard hit had the big-box retailers been allowed, they would have been garnered by banks as new extension counters for financial inclusion.

economictimes.com: RAMA BIJAPURKAR INDEPENDENT MARKET STRATEGY CONSULTANT

India Paves Way for Wal-Mart, Tesco to Enter Market

India approved allowing overseas companies to own as much as 51 percent of retailers selling more than one brand, paving the way for global companies such as Wal- Mart Stores Inc. (WMT) and Tesco Plc to own stores.

Overseas companies must invest at least $100 million, half of which has to be spent on developing back-end infrastructure, Commerce Minister Anand Sharma said in a statement presented to parliament today. India’s cabinet yesterday eased retail ownership rules, including permitting 100 percent foreign holding in single brand stores.

India’s decision to allow overseas ownership in retail will create up to 10 million jobs and give farmers better prices, Sharma said. Wal-Mart,Carrefour SA (CA) and Tesco (TSCO) seek to step up their presence in the world’s second-most populous nation to tap a market estimated by Business Monitor International to double to $785 billion by 2015 from $396 billion this year.

“This is possibly the most exciting thing that has happened in retail in India,” said Hemant Kalbag, who heads the consumer and retail practice for Asia at A.T. Kearney in Mumbai. “This is probably the next big wave of change in organized retail in India.”

Overseas retailers will be required to purchase at least 30 percent of goods sold in the ventures from small industries, Sharma said. Stores will be permitted only in 53 cities with a population of 1 million or more, and the government will retain the first right to buy farm products, he said.

‘Important First Step’

The government’s move is “an important first step,” Wal- Mart Asia President Scott Price said in a statement. The retailer looks forward to “playing a key role” in India.

Asia’s third-biggest economy permitted foreign retailers to own wholesale stores in 1997. Policy makers have been debating ownership rules in retail for at least seven years.

Wal-Mart has set up 14 such stores through a joint venture with billionaire Sunil Bharti Mittal’s Bharti Enterprises to gain a foothold in India, while Metro AG operates six wholesale stores. Carrefour opened its first outlet in December.

“This legal evolution should contribute to modernize Indian food supply chain and to fight against food inflation for the benefit of Indian customers,” Carrefour said in an e-mailed statement. The Boulogne-Billancourt, France-based retailer will wait for final regulations, it said.

India’s decision may prompt expansion of existing joint ventures and trigger acquisitions, said Bryan Roberts, director of retail research at Kantar Retail in London. Still, the size of the opportunity may be “overstated,” he said.

“A lot of retailers have already expanded and found that there’s not enough middle-class shoppers around at the moment,” said Roberts.

‘Win for Consumers’

India’s retail industry will get $8 billion to $10 billion in fresh investments over the next five to 10 years, Kishore Biyani, managing director ofPantaloon Retail India Ltd. (PF), said in an e-mailed statement yesterday. Pantaloon, which operates more than 150 Big Bazaar supermarketsacross 90 cities and towns, also has apparel and consumer-electronics outlets.

“It is a big win for consumers as they will have more choices,” said Biyani. “It’s a win for small industries as they will have more retailers creating markets for their products” and farmers will benefit from better prices, he said.

Pantaloon climbed 16 percent, the biggest gain since May 2009, to 233.95 rupees at the close in Mumbai trading. Shoppers Stop Ltd. (SHOP)rose 6.2 percent, and Trent Ltd. (TRENT), Tesco’s India partner, advanced 8.6 percent, the most since August 2010.

The decision to permit foreign retailers came as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s parliamentary ally the Trinamool Congress opposed the proposal. The main federal opposition Bharatiya Janata Party was also against the move.

Political Opposition

“Small and medium retailers, which employ a large number of people, will be affected,” Arun Jaitley, a BJP leader, said in New Delhi yesterday. “We oppose it completely.”

Overseas investment in the retail industry may help slow the pace of price gains, Reserve Bank of India Governor Duvvuri Subbarao said in the northern city of Chandigarh today. “Its important not only for raising overall growth but also important for containing inflation,” said Subbarao.

India’s food inflation accelerated 9.01 percent in the week ended Nov. 12 from a year earlier, the commerce ministry said yesterday. The rate has stayed above 9 percent for 16 weeks.

‘Licking Their Lips’

Raj Jain, president of Wal-Mart India, said in April 2010 the company can help reduce prices by improving supply chain and infrastructure to cut waste. About 40 percent of fruit and vegetables in the country rot before they are sold because of a lack of cold-storage facilities and poor transport infrastructure, according to government estimates.

Bharti-Walmart, the local venture, buys fresh produce directly from about 1,200 farmers in Punjab, in northern India, Jain said in May.

“Foreign retailers must be licking their lips at this opportunity,” said Narayanan Ramaswamy, executive director at KPMG India, which advises retail companies. “It has to be one of the biggest opportunities in the world right now.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Bibhudatta Pradhan in New Delhi at bpradhan@bloomberg.net; Malavika Sharma in New Delhi atmsharma52@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Frank Longid at flongid@bloomberg.net

It’s No Longer Kirana Versus Modern Retail

While neighbourhood stores have been growing in single digits since 2006, modern trade has had double-digit growth, says a Nielsen study

Arrival of big retailers has had an impact on small grocers, but neighbourhood stores are still growing their sales, although at a much lower rate than modern trade, according to data from market research firm The Nielsen Company. 

Since 2006, when most big retailers either entered the retail space or began expanding their network, sales in local kiranas have grown in the low single digits even less than the GDP growth rate, while modern trade has grown in strong double digits, though at a much lower base.
For instance, sales at modern stores grew 34% in 2006 and 29.3% in 2010. Traditional stores could increase sales only 1.5% in 2006, but improved the growth rate to 6.2% last year (see graph).
The data comes at a time the government finally moves closer to allowing multinational retailers such as Wal-Mart and Carrefour open shops in the country after several years of debates, protests and lobbying. Critics, including the Left and the BJP, say such a move will impact the livelihood of small shopkeepers and traders, but the thinking in government circles is that this will help check rising food prices by removing several layers of middlemen between farmers and consumers.
Organised retail accounts for less than 10% of India’s retail market estimated at close to $400 million. The Boston Consulting Group estimates the size of organised retail market at $28 billion and expects it to grow nine times to $260 billion in 10 years.
Nielsen says Indians have embraced modern retail.  “The Indian Shopper has discovered modern retail and is increasingly shopping there,” says Nielsen’s Executive Director for Retail and Shopper Practice Dipita Chakraborty. This trend is fueled by the growth in number of modern stores, she adds.
The study shows that the frequency of consumers going to large stores has increased. More than 37% consumers visited modern trade stores every month this year, up from 30% last year.
Reliance Retail President Bijou Kurien attributes this to more options that big retailers offer to consumers. “In momand-pop stores, customer has to be very specific with what they want, but they can get more options in a modern store, and that’s where we are gaining,” he says.
MOVING TOWARDS FDI
The Indian government has been advocating that FDI in retail could help small farmers and other producers as well as generate employment for some time now.
In fact, an inter-ministerial group set up by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to suggest ways to tackle high inflation has said that organised retail will reduce the margin between the price farmers get and what consumers pay by eliminating traders, and this will bring down prices. The group also tried to allay fears of small shopkeepers by suggesting creation of several zones and restricting the number of large-format retail stores in each zone.
Multinationals like Wal-Mart and Carrefour, which are lobbying for entry into the big and fast-growing Indian retail market, also say big investments in cold storages will cut wastage of fruits and vegetable in the country, estimated at . 130 crore every day, or about half the total production.
And big retailers say they are no threat to small grocers.  “Both the formats can co-exist. In fact, when modern trade help create new categories, the spillover effect is helping generate more demand in kirana stores as well,” says Damodar Mall, director, integrated food strategy, Future Group, the country’s largest retailer. “Once more wholesale or cash and carry stores are opened, smaller stores too will have more bargaining power and source products at lower costs,” added Mall.
However small shopkeepers are not convinced. And they are holding their ground, more or less.  “It’s true that our business is down compared to what we did few years ago. But we are also observing that few consumers are coming back to our stores for want of better credit facility or home delivery which large format stores can’t offer,” says Chandrakant Gala, secretary, Bombay Suburban Grain Dealers Association.
Meanwhile, big consumer product companies, including the country’s largest consumer products firm Hindustan Unilever that has relied on millions of small shops to build its empire, are now aggressively tapping modern stores.
Modern retail now accounts for 10% of Hindustan Unilever’s sales, up from 5% in 2005. “Last year, 85% of our business has grown share in modern trade. In modern trade we want to be significantly overweight,” the company’s executive director for sales & customer development Hemand Bakshi had told ET in April.
One reason for this is premium products are sold more in modern retail. And the Indian consumers’ love for premium products, which offer higher margins to manufacturers, is increasing along with their rising incomes, exposure and aspirations.
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