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Here's What Indians Have Been Spending Their Cash on During the Pandemic

(Bloomberg) — Months of lockdown have altered the habits of Indian consumers: Their spending patterns reveal just how deeply concerned they are with protecting their health and fortifying their store-cupboards, warding off boredom and keeping their homes (and themselves) neat and tidy. And where new routines look likely to stick, some companies stand to gain a lot.

Here are a few of the products shoppers in the world’s biggest open consumer market have been stocking up on.

Immunity Boosters

Consumers around the world are showing an increased interest in safeguarding their health and boosting their immunity. In India, that often means ayurveda, the country’s ancient system of medicine.

Companies such as Dabur India Ltd. and The Himalaya Drug Co. are witnessing high demand for traditional products like chyawanprash (a cooked mixture containing Indian gooseberry or amla, honey, sugar, ghee, herbs and spices) and proprietary supplements like Septilin, which combines ayurvedic ingredients including licorice and guduchi.


Chyawanprash sales across the industry grew 283% in June and branded honey rose 39%, according to Nielsen Holdings Plc. Dabur, one of India’s largest ayurvedic products suppliers, said its chyawanprash sales surged 700% from April to June. The surge in spending is likely to last well beyond the next few months, according to Sameer Shukla, west market leader at Nielsen South Asia. “We saw very clear trends in terms of consumer ask — people would like to spend more on immunity boosters, health hygiene and stuff like that,” Shukla said. “This kind of ask is not a short-term one.”

Shiny Bhowmik, a working mother of two daughters, has been using chyawanprash for years. Since the onset of the pandemic, the 49-year-old’s family have begun to use the product too. “I like to include immunity boosters like chyawanprash, honey and cloves in my family’s diet,” she said. “I often end up taking spoons of the brown herbal product throughout the day.”

Patanjali Ayurved Ltd., the company associated with celebrity yoga guru Baba Ramdev, also reported high net sales between April and June, according to Brickwork Ratings. In June, the Indian government ordered the company to stop claiming that its “Corona Kit,” consisting of three herbal medicines, can cure Covid-19.

Comfort Foods

Sales of packaged foods have surged since March, as home-bound consumers stockpile familiar products that won’t go stale quickly. Breakfast cereals, instant noodles, rice and cooking fats are among the products experiencing the strongest growth but missed out on sales due to stock outages, according to Euromonitor.

Nestle India Ltd. — whose instant Maggi noodles are popular — saw revenue grow an “impressive” 10.7% in in the quarter ended March, driven by sales surges for Maggi, KitKat and Munch, according to Haitong Securities Co. analysts Gaurang Kakkad and Premal Kamdar.

Another iconic product for Indian families, Parle Products Pvt.’s Parle-G biscuits, logged record sales during April-May. Snackers in search of a familiar comfort food contributed to sales as well as government agencies and NGOs, who have distributed large quantities of the biscuits — which cost just a few rupees a packet — to needy households during the ongoing pandemic.

Listed rival Britannia Industries Ltd. “is emerging as the biggest beneficiary from the disruption, as packaged foods consumption is growing strongly, led by higher in-home consumption,” according to Emkay Global Financial Services Ltd. “The shift from unorganized/street food to packaged foods may sustain even post lockdown given higher preference for hygiene and trusted brands.”

The brokerage on July 17 raised its target share price on Britannia to 4,500 rupees compared with 3,857.65 rupees on Aug. 6.


Digital Services

With much face-to-face interaction off the table for now, it’s not surprising that Indians’ reliance on screens — for both work and recreation — has surged.


The number of new students using online education startup Byju’s grew at three times the usual pace between April and June, parent company Think and Learn Pvt. says. Plans for retaining new users include launching courses in vernacular languages and launching more subjects.

Online retailer Flipkart says overall laptop searches have more than doubled since March, with high-performance laptops the most popular search. ZEE5 — the homegrown rival to Netflix Inc. — reported a 33% jump in daily active users and 45% in app downloads in May, and, despite the lockdown being eased in several parts of India, there hasn’t been a significant drop, said Rahul Maroli, senior vice president and head SVOD at ZEE5 India, in an interview on July 20.

Homebound Indians are also turning to streaming platforms to mourn their favorite stars who died in recent months. “Consumers have really missed some of our actors who are no longer with us — Rishi Kapoor, Irrfan Khan, Sushant Singh Rajput — so we’ve seen a very sharp increase in consumption of shows where these actors have acted,” said Maroli.

Gold Loans

It isn’t all rosy. With the economy set for a rare contraction and millions of people losing their jobs, poorer Indians are pawning their gold jewelry. Some small business owners, either ineligible for government handouts or daunted by the paperwork involved, are also borrowing more against the precious metal.The shift in behavior has been a bonanza for some firms. Shares of Muthoot Finance Ltd., India’s largest cash-for-gold lender, have surged about 57% this year and some analysts say it’s now big enough to be added to the MSCI India Index. Manappuram Finance Ltd. has experienced a 4.5% growth in its gold-loans portfolio during the lockdown-affected first quarter as existing customers borrow more.


For Indians who can still afford it, their new-found spare time is being put to good use at home. Searches for white goods including juicers, mixers, microwaves and toasters quadrupled in July, according to Flipkart. Demand for hygiene appliances such as vacuum cleaners reached four times the pre-pandemic level in July. Companies such as IFB Industries Ltd. have suspended new orders for dishwashers because they can’t keep up with demand.

With barbers and salons shut for much of 2020, trimmers including men’s grooming kits have driven sales for Havells India Ltd. The electrical equipment company says monthly sales of trimmers were close to five times as high in this quarter compared to pre-Covid times.

“People are experimenting with tools to do activities earlier not done at home — be it beard styling, or a haircut or epilation,” said Gulbahar Taurani, vice president, personal health, Philips Indian subcontinent. Philips India Ltd. recorded a 60%-70% jump in sales of its male and female grooming products from May-June.

A quarter of Indians are planning to spend on home care products, driven largely by people aged 18 to 34 as they get more involved in their household and want to spend money to improve their living, according to Mintel Research. This millennial cohort is the largest in the world and, if spending patterns hold, companies all over the globe would do well to pay attention.


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