12 September 2012

From the Grocery List to the Dining Table: Uncovering tipping points to adoption of branded food practices by Mythili Chandrasekar (JWT Delhi)

“Healthy bhi ho, tasty bhi ho, change bhi ho, instant bhi ho, trendy bhi ho”… such are the pressures on the mother of today in the kitchen and on the dining table.

There’s more eating out - and more gourmet cooking at home; more convenience foods - yet more creativity in home food; more variety, experimentation and widening of our food repertoire - and simultaneously the hunt for more authenticity; more junk food –and  more health food. Greater media programming on food, and the emergence of men as cooks and connoisseurs adds to the melting pot 
as it were.

All this is leading to the building of five kinds of pressures.

The age old task of providing wholesome nourishment for the family continues, but with excessive and confusing media information on health and food, there is additional pressure to constantly think of what to add, delete, reduce. When it comes to children she has to nourish not only the body and mind but also the spirit – to cope with the big bad world of competition out there not to mention her own ambitions through her children.

On the other hand, while mother’s food may be healthier, outside food is tastier. Homemade pakoras and bajjis are giving way to street food and fast food. Not to mention other cuisines from other parts of India. Which brings us to the third pressure, same food is boring. There is continuous need for new recipes not only to bring more happiness to her family but also as a means of enhancing her stature in their eyes. ”Mummy all-rounder hai” is something that warms her heart.

Add to this her own conflict: while her self-worth depends on her ability to get compliments for her cooking, she doesn’t want to spend inordinate amounts of time in the kitchen. She resents that she is still in the kitchen when the others are relaxing and enjoying TV. Making new foods also means more items as most times the elders in the house prefer traditional foods that they are used to. And not to forget, while she is cook and provider, she also eats. She needs to manage her own struggles with temptations( the smell of melting cheese tempts her as much as it does her teenage children), the need to set an example, and even take care of herself.

Finally, social pressures. As if keeping family palate needs were not enough, she needs stories to tell her social circle  by making constant progress in her cooking journey. Which dishes can she put her own stamp on… a personal signature that makes it difficult for others to replicate?  And how can she get trendier in what she serves her guests?

What then are the propositions that branded foods can use to appeal and find their way into the changing grocery list? Juniper, Wheat and Tabasco, JWT’s study on foods identifies three fundamental drivers – Drive for Power, Need for Love and Care and Search for Pleasure – and 10 ensuing benefit spaces.

Drive for Power. While Body Power – the world of refreshment and thirst quenching, stamina and energy is widely in use, Mind Power is relatively unmined. The psychological effects of food that you love, favourite food as part of preparation for crucial moments,  food that can enhance optimism, soothe anger, comfort fear, build concentration, determination, and fuel the will to win are potential spaces. Brands can draw from Indian food psychology and theories of the effect that different foods can have on attitudes and behaviours. Social Power on the other hand - food and brands as show off, is driving new choices and upgradation as well. Even to consume health food or take a few healthy steps, is to be fashionable… “dahlia is desi, oats is videshi”. Power payoffs help her rationalize cost and benefit.

Need for love and care. Dressing up difficult foods, hidden nutrition foods, compensation foods, incentive foods, message foods… food of course, is never just food. Disease –free health for the elders, brisk and preventive health for the working, growing health for the children, beautiful health for herself… even health is never just health. Love and Care payoffs help her negotiate the most important role food plays – that of managing relationships.

Search for Pleasure. Brands need to cater to her overpowering need for creativity today. This takes many shapes. Creativity and health, creativity and taste, creativity and variety… Cornflakes becomes bhel puri, oats becomes uthappam, pasta becomes salad. With a bit of this and that, plain toast becomes an American sandwich. In this, the colourful aisles of supermarkets are her single biggest source of both knowledge and research and ideas. School tiffin boxes and parties follow, not to mention eateries of every kind, but while these build pressure, the supermarket aisle is her guide and solution provider. Creativity and pleasure payoffs help resolve her dilemmas between cost and convenience, health and taste.

But as the college girl in the focus group said: “Now he has to find a way to my heart through my stomach”. Will the next generation of housewives really be less dependent on the belan as a control symbol? Will the tide ever really turn, and will a day come when packaged foods start talking to men, going beyond Sunday foods and the occasional waking-up-the-mother-with-a-surprise tray?


  1. Very well written piece.I'd just like to add another role that the supermarket plays in her life. The truth is that she simply loves cooking and because of the fact that now her cooking is critically linked to her responsibility of being a good mother and her wish of being a good wife & daughter-in-law, it's hard for her to derive joy from cooking.
    She fancies some time for herself during which she could re-unite with her lost love i.e. cooking, where the sole motivation would be the sheer pleasure she gets out of it and nothing else.
    Given this Insight, the supermarket for her, with all sorts of familiar as well as exotic cooking ingredients, is what a candyshop is to a kid.

  2. Nice Post..i enjoyed reading..Thanks for sharing it