Not just the likes of Zomato, even eateries like KFC mention 'ghar ka khana' in their marketing messages.
Ever since the lockdown began, people remained locked down (inside their homes), in isolation, to stop the Coronavirus from spreading. This means groceries were sanitised, vitamins were consumed and food was painstakingly cooked from scratch in a bid to remain healthy.
However, with India entering phase 5 of 'unlock', many of these behaviours are returning to normal. People are going out, restaurants have reopened, movies are releasing in theatres again and people are now ordering food at pre-COVID levels.
A Zomato blog post mentions that as of September 2020, food ordering has returned slowly, but steadily to what it was in pre-COVID times.
“Delhi and Mumbai are nearing full recovery (95 per cent of pre-COVID levels). Metros such as Bengaluru, Hyderabad and Chennai are still behind the curve (80 per cent of pre-COVID levels). Some cities such as Kolkata, Patna, Jamshedpur, Ranchi and Siliguri have recovered completely and have exceeded pre-COVID levels,” says the report.
The blog post, which was published in late September, mentions that a trend Zomato observed is that customers rely on food delivery even more than usual – especially when a city goes under a lockdown. “Some cities such as Kolkata see more customers ordering online when the city is (more or less) shut, but restaurants are open.”
It also mentions that spends on premium restaurants (where a meal may cost more than Rs 1,500) have grown by over 25 per cent, as compared to pre-COVID times.
Another trend observed was that with lockdown restrictions, celebrations have moved back home. On festive days and occasions such as Raksha Bandhan, Janmashtami, Teacher’s Day and Independence Day, there was a massive spike in orders.
“Customers, who had not ordered since the first day of lockdown, are 20 per cent more likely to order for the first time during such festivals and occasions,” said the report. An interesting trend highlighted in the report is that as customers spend more time with their families, group ordering became more prevalent.
“Order sizes, i.e., items per order, have increased by 20 per cent over pre-COVID levels. Recovery on single person meals, which constituted nearly 60 per cent of all orders pre-COVID, lingers at 50-70 per cent level for most regions. On the other hand, orders with meals for three or more persons have recovered well and are higher than even pre-COVID levels currently,” the blog states.
This seems to be the narrative reflected in advertising too. We (afaqs!) recently spotted a KFC ad in which a man (husband) drives off to the nearest outlet to pick up some food when he learns that his wife is making 'khichdi' for dinner. The ad was created by Ogilvy.
Ritu Sharda, chief creative officer at Ogilvy India (North) explains that the objective of the KFC ad was to bring the chicken bucket to the dining table of an average Indian household.
“The intent was to widen the consumer base from a primarily young audience to larger families, making the brand accessible and relevant to more people. Today as families, more often than ever, we find ourselves trapped in the monotony of everyday life. When there's great food on the table, even an ordinary day starts to feel like a special occasion. This was the simple starting point for our KFC 'Aaj Ka Special' campaign,” she says.
Sharda adds that the company isn’t promoting one channel over the other. She explains that there is a film each on delivery, dine-in and take-away.
“The idea was to give people the choice, so they can enjoy KFC whichever way they feel safe and comfortable. From KFC's end, the company is taking all safety precautions as mandated by the government, across the channels of delivery, dine-in and take-away.”
She says that KFC has been consistently communicating its safety protocols and measures across platforms. “The objective of the 'Aaj Ka Special' campaign however, was not to talk about food and service safety, but rather to offer special food as a break from the humdrum-ness of life.”
Sharda emphasises that KFC’s campaign does not in any way seek to promote KFC as a replacement to home-cooked food. “It just shows how food has the power to transform a regular, mundane day into a special one. This love for good food has always existed and will continue to exist, even in a post-pandemic world,” she says.
There is also a similar Zomato ad in which a man (father) is initially angry at his son for ordering food from outside, but then he gives in and asks him (the son) to order more dishes for them to enjoy.
It’s interesting to note that when the son tells him it’s safe to eat out, the father asks why he has to endure eating home-cooked food when he could’ve had items like biryani, butter chicken, etc.
In this ad, McDonald's also acknowledges the new normal, but tries to assure customers that the taste of their food remains the same.
Domino's Pizza also came up with an ad a few months ago on similar lines. The ad shows family members bonding over a pizza order, in a bid to convince customers that it is safe to order in.
QSR outlets seem to be attempting to convince users of their food standards, focus on the safety aspect, etc. Whereas the ads and marketing messages by food delivery apps focus on the convenience aspect - giving users a break from the cycle of cooking food and cleaning vessels.
Zomato also sent out mailers focusing on giving users a break from cooking in the kitchen and cleaning vessels. How effective is it as a strategy to turn 'ghar ka khana' into the metaphorical enemy? Will it work in a post-COVID world, now that the vaccine seems to be looming on the horizon?
Ruchira Jain, a consumer insights expert, claims that the focus on daily occasions made special vs just ordering in for special occasions is important from a long term growth strategy for the food delivery industry.
" In my view the advertising is aimed at the fence sitters still worried about safety while ordering-in! People are however bored of eating home food and looking for a change of taste by ordering in special dishes which they can't replicate at home. With limited avenues of entertainment and enjoyment, the focus on food as enjoyment while reassuring on safety makes a lot of sense to get the fence sitters in," she says.
Jain opines that this kind of advertising is aimed at the fence sitters still worried about safety while ordering-in. People are however bored of eating home food and looking for a change of taste by ordering in special dishes which they can't replicate at home.
“With limited avenues of entertainment and enjoyment, the focus on food as enjoyment while reassuring on safety makes a lot of sense to get the fence sitters in,” she says.
She also adds that eating-out on the other hand is as much more about the overall experience; the ambience and presentation of food, music etc add to it beyond the food itself. That's harder to replicate in home delivery.
Brand trust (restaurant's) around quality and reliability of food and value for money is more important when ordering-in. QSRs and value for money restaurants famous for their specific dishes are hence likely to have benefited post the pandemic vs the top end premium or the bottom end only value focused offerings,” she says.
R Chandramouli, CEO, TRA Research, mentions that the insight that the food industry is capitalising on is a very real one. He adds that in most households, it’s the woman who does the cooking and the man of the house might cook on Sundays, but that’s about it. Normally, when the woman makes food, she has a sense of accomplishment when her family enjoys it, but when she does it, day in and day out, she gets tired of it.
"You have to understand that the pandemic has affected us in more ways than one. Our bodies are consuming more food, we’re not getting enough exercise and so on. The pandemic has also brought about a strong sense of anxiety. Even if restaurants are open, people might not go out. They’re not going to go out without masks for a long time."
Chandramouli adds that any brand that promotes this behaviour may not be perceived well in the consumers minds. This paranoid mindset is not going to go away for the next two years. So, any brand that promotes going out, or life as normal, might not go down well with the consumers, he concludes.