New Delhi: Despite stiff competition from attractively packed imported chocolates, fancy cookies, cakes, and muffins on every Diwali, branded traditional Indian sweets—a market estimated at Rs.49,000 crore ($8 billion)—have not only managed to hold on to their own but have witnessed a steady rise in sales due to an expanding market, rising incomes and most importantly, the emotional value associated with them, outlet owners say.
Sweets like kaju katli (sweet cake made of cashew nut powder and sugar), patisa (sweet flaky cakes of gram flour), mysore pak (sweet small cakes made from butter, sugar and gram flour), badam halwa (fried flour cooked with sugar syrup and ghee and topped with almonds) and gulab jamun (fried dough balls soaked in sugar syrup) are high on the preference list of Indians this festive season.
The fact that these sweets have a long shelf life is the key point as during Diwali, sweets are often bought in bulk and then distributed among friends and families over a period of several days.
"All types of barfis, especially kaju barfi along with patisa and gulab jamun, are selling in good numbers as they are premium sweets and also have a long shelf life of around 15 days," Deepta Gupta, executive vice president of sweets and savouries maker Bikanerwala Foods, told IANS.
Gupta acknowledged the rising market share of sweets like cookies, cakes, dougnuts, and the latest rage—macaroons—that are being sold by several upscale bakeries all over the city and have particularly caught the fancy of youngsters who may find the traditional Indian sweets boring.
"But the market is expanding and there is space for everyone. Moreover, the branded sweets market has increased by around 30 per cent this Diwali season as compared to last year," Gupta added.
Bipin Sareen of Mumbai-based Mithaivala.in too agreed that sales were headed north but unlike Bikanervala, which is a renowned brand, he has to walk the extra mile to ensure that the cash registers keep ringing.
"Apart from the traditional branded sweets that remain a favourite all year round, especially during Diwali, we also deliver other sweet items like baklava (sweet pastry of filo filled with chopped nuts) and fruit katli," Sareen who handles the operation and marketing of the two-year-old web portal, told IANS on the phone from Mumbai.
"We are always trying to rope in small vendors who can provide us with unique offerings to give us an extra edge but it's a tough task to make consumers buy unbranded stuff," said Sareen admitting that traditional sweets continued to drive the sales helping his site to register a whopping 200 per cent rise in sales this season.
"Moreover, laddoos will always have an emotional bond with Indians as compared to chocolates, as mithais (sweets) are a part of our culture," he said.
Mithaivala.in offers over 400 different types of branded sweets, chocolates and other savouries and delivers all over India.
Sareen's inability to convince people to buy unbranded sweets is reasonable as India's traditional sweets market remains largely unorganized and constantly faces threats from rising prices of key raw materials like milk, butter, sugar and dry fruits.
Therefore, many resort to making sweets from contaminated and adulterated ingredients and in some cases, even chemicals are used to keep the costs down.
This is a major deal-breaker that is forcing consumers to opt for other alternatives, said D.S. Rawat, secretary general of the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (Assocham).
"Adulteration in traditional sweets is eroding consumers' confidence that is fuelling chocolate demand during Diwali," Rawat told IANS.
Rawat further said that growing acceptance of chocolates amid varied Indian palates and with people getting more health conscious amid growing lifestyle diseases has further added to the woes of the Indian sweets industry.
According to Assocham, India's sweet and snack industry is estimated at about Rs 49,000 crore and has been growing at a compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of 10 percent.
However, growing at a CAGR of about 25 percent, India's chocolate industry size is currently worth about Rs 5,000 crore and is likely to cross Rs 7,500 crore mark in the next couple of years.
Besides, India's per-capita chocolate consumption is hovering at about 100 grams and urban centres account for 35 percent of the chocolate consumption in the country.
Cadbury is leading the pack with about 70 percent market share followed by Nestle, Amul, Ferrero Rocher, Toblerone.