Companies here showing growing interest in India

After an unsuccessful attempt in 2006, BreadTalk made a second foray into India last year, focusing on New Delhi and its satellite cities. It partnered India-based conglomerate Som Datt Group. It spent more than a year researching the market and has
After an unsuccessful attempt in 2006, BreadTalk made a second foray into India last year, focusing on New Delhi and its satellite cities. It partnered India-based conglomerate Som Datt Group. It spent more than a year researching the market and has also customised its offerings to suit local tastes. PHOTO: BREADTALK

Amid slowing in many economies, more Singapore companies are showing interest in the Indian market, as it takes on greater prominence in the global arena.

Enterprise Singapore, a government agency championing enterprise development, for one, has been supporting more local businesses who want in on the world's fastest growing economy.

Last year, it worked with over 180 companies, helping them in areas such as business-matching, partner facilitation and market support. This was a seven-fold increase from the number it helped in 2015.

But the uptick remains relatively modest, noted Mr Tay Lian Chew, Enterprise Singapore's global markets director for South Asia.

Despite a growing retail scene and the rising affluence of Indian consumers, many here are still unwilling to take the leap, in part due to misconceptions, he added.

These include the sense that consumers may not be "sophisticated" enough for certain products, or may not be willing to pay a premium for their goods and services, said Delhi-based Mr Tay.

For others, India is simply "not on their radar", he said, noting that Singapore companies tend to be more familiar with South-east Asia and China, due to proximity and language respectively.

Yet, a growing number of international companies such as Ikea have flocked to India, in a nod to its growth potential.


Mr Tay Lian Chew urges Singaporeans to seize the "window of opportunity" to enter the India market early.

In the past two or so years, Singapore companies have shown more interest too, said Mr Tay, adding that China's slowing down may be leading some to look at alternative markets. He urged Singaporeans to seize the "window of opportunity" to enter the India market early.

With half of India's population of 1.3 billion under the age of 25, he said: "These demographics, coupled with strong economic growth, represent the potential for the formation of a very large middle class, which forms the basis for consumerism."

Organised retail such as in shopping malls, he said, is growing quickly at about 20 per cent per annum and taking root in cities like Mumbai, while online retail is expanding by about 30 per cent a year.

These channels present most opportunities for Singapore, he said.

On the policy front, the replacement of India's many federal and state taxes with a Goods and Services Tax in 2017 has also proved helpful, allowing goods to be distributed more efficiently. Levvying taxes at checkpoints could take hours in the past.

Digital adoption is also rising, he said, adding: "With rising affluence, Indian consumers do not just demand better quality goods, but also services and experience. This has given rise recently to opportunities for lifestyle concepts."

He points to lifestyle concepts and food as promising sectors.

Food companies here have shown interest in expanding to India, and a recent tie-up with Indian supermarket chain Foodhall aims to allow 12 Singapore brands to have a shot at selling their products in some of Foodhall stores this year.

Among local food businesses that set up shop in India are bakery chain BreadTalk, which made a second foray last year after an unsuccessful attempt in 2006.

 

This time, it partnered India-based conglomerate Som Datt Group and is focusing on New Delhi and its satellite cities, after spending over a year researching the market and customising its offerings for local tastes. Following good feedback, it plans to expand its localised flavours to about 10 per cent of the full product range to be launched later this year.

E-commerce can also be an entry point. In 2016 and 2017, Enterprise Singapore supported over 10 electronics brands in selling their products online in India. But Mr Tay stresses the need for research and suggests an asset-light approach. Companies can partner a local distributor but should exercise due diligence to select a suitable party.

"We have seen cases where companies appoint the wrong distributors... only to see their brand value being eroded through sloppy display... eventually exiting the market," he said. "Having a good distributor or franchisee... (is) half the battle won."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 18, 2019, with the headline 'Companies here showing growing interest in India'. Print Edition | Subscribe