Aishwarya Ramesh
Points of View

Is the packaged 'instant cooking' segment replacing street food?

Ready-to-cook/eat products - kebabs, frankie, chaat - are fighting for space in our kitchen. Are they also filling the street food void created by the pandemic?

During the 2020 COVID-induced lockdowns, many people stepped into their kitchens for the first time. And for quite a few, it turned into an interest. Many even took this time to become content creators and shared some of their recipes with the world.

Many brands stepped in with the aim to make lives easier for home cooks. FMCG giants like Kelloggs and Nestle diversified to make ready-to-cook ‘poha’ and ‘upma’. If you felt like having ‘medu vada’, iD Fresh Food offers a ready-to-pour batter packaging that created the perfect hole every time.

Licious came up with ready-to-eat meat spreads to make the perfect sandwich, and Cornitos introduced a ready-to-eat ‘falafel’ kit for those who missed having rolls at home.

In October 2020, Paper Boat launched ready-to-cook ‘pani puri’ pellets, along with the two ‘pani’ beverages – spicy and sweet‘n’sour – that go with the ‘puri’. While the pellets are priced at Rs 200 for 400 gram, the drinks come in the Paper Boat sipper pouches (Rs 30 for 200 ml).

Also Read: Paper Boat out to solve COVID era pani puri, golgappa pangs with ready to cook version

Haldiram’s also offers a ‘pani puri’ kit, which contains sweet and spicy water and ready-made ‘puris’. The leading sweets and snacks company also offers mini ‘samosas’, ‘bhel puri’, lemon ‘bhel’, and ready-to-eat ‘mutter kachoris’ in vacuum-sealed packs.

Haldiram's samosas
Haldiram's samosas
Haldiram's Kachori
Haldiram's Kachori
Haldiram's peas kachori
Haldiram's peas kachori
Haldiram's ready to eat kebabs
Haldiram's ready to eat kebabs

We asked a few experts if the ready-to-cook/eat segment will replace street food. Here is what they have to say…

Edited excerpts:

Kalyan Karmakar, food writer and brand consultant

Coincidentally, I just bought a packet of Garden ‘bhel puri’ mix for our uncle, who is elderly and doesn’t go out much because of his health problems. I think such products, that are ready-to-eat/cook, have a lot of potential. There’s a certain level of trust that comes with a packaged product from a particular established brand – it could be a home cook, a restaurant, or a multinational company.

Is the packaged 'instant cooking' segment replacing street food?

It tends to give you a certain assurance on hygiene, taste, and overall safety – making sure that people can safely recreate the flavours at home. You have to remember that ‘chaat’ and street food can’t be easily recreated at home (especially in terms of spice levels, flavours, and so on). So, these products hold potential.

Kalyan Karmakar
Kalyan Karmakar
ITC Masterchef ready to cook tikki
ITC Masterchef ready to cook tikki

You can’t make a ‘kachori’, or a ‘samosa’, or even the ‘chutneys’ in the same way that street food vendors can. If companies can bring in formats where the products are sealed, toasted, and tested in a safe environment, then there is definitely scope for people to opt for these products.

McCain ready to cook samosa
McCain ready to cook samosa

Especially when there is a second Coronavirus wave. People may have to continue to work from home and will look forward to having a variety of food, even when they are eating from their own (home) kitchen. People are craving for their old life, and that’s why many home chefs have also started offering ‘chaat’ items in their menus. There is potential for this space to grow.

Akash Jain, chief media officer, Nilons Enterprises

In the urban markets, Indians are dependent on house helps. Hence, they are not used to cooking all their meals. During lockdowns, people took to cooking as there were no house helps. The ready-to-cook/eat segment brings flexibility to life (as apart from cooking, there are so many things to do at home, like office work). It helps us to manage our busy lives.

Till COVID is around, it will have a detrimental effect on street food… those that follow all hygiene protocols will do well. I don’t think the impact on street food will be very high. It is very different from home-cooked food and people like its ‘special’ taste.

Akash jain
Akash jain

This ready-to-cook DIY happened because the maids couldn’t come to our homes due to the lockdown restrictions. Earlier, you used to eat at home, but somebody else cooked for you. Now, you’re cooking for yourself.

And because you are at home, you are trying various kinds of food. So, the market has expanded: DIY ‘pani puri’, ‘upma’ and other breakfast mixes… Thus, food giants like Nestle and ITC are now competing with street food and restaurants, and taking their share. These brands, the delivery giants… everyone is trying to enter your home.

Hamsini Shivakumar, founder, LeapFrog Strategy Consulting

The lockdowns forced thousands of young people to start cooking and baking at their homes as they could not order food using apps, something that they had got used to in pre-COVID times. With eating joints shut, they have realised how healthy home-cooked food is.

Many have lost weight and become fitter. They have realised what regular food ordering as well as eating out has done to their weight, fitness levels and overall health.

Hamsini Shivakumar
Hamsini Shivakumar

Cooking more at home has also opened up the space for ready-to-cook/eat food. Especially since many people were forced to live without cooks and maids for many months. As the situation returns to normal, ordering food on Swiggy and Zomato is now possible, maids and cooks are back, and the restaurants have also opened up...

Street food has been badly hit by COVID. Due to increased hygiene consciousness, it may never go back to what it was earlier, unless the vendors also increase their levels of hygiene. Ready-to-eat/cook food will have its own place, alongside ordering food, street food, as well as restaurants.

N Chandramouli, CEO, TRA Research

Last year, the demand side was going through huge amounts of discomfort in daily cooking. Products were unavailable, children were at home and wanted snacks, and even adults were feeling hungry all the time. On the supply side, they (the brands and manufactures) had a huge problem concerning their existing products, because pick up was low.

N Chandramouli
N Chandramouli

The demand was going down so they (the brands) started to innovate… You can get ‘jalebi’ in a packet now... And add to this, the convenience of delivery, thanks to online delivery and e-commerce giants.

Gits' ready to cook jalebi mix
Gits' ready to cook jalebi mix

Distribution is a big pain for a new product due to lack of shelf space. But that’s not the case online, where you have unlimited space. Everybody was experimenting. It gave rise to many new product types. Today, if you want to eat a ‘kebab’, you take it out of a packet and put it into a microwave for five minutes and that is it...

ITC Master Chef's ready to cook Vada pops
ITC Master Chef's ready to cook Vada pops

It’s a temporary phase, where you can’t go out and eat street food. Many of them are now active on Swiggy and Zomato… But eating a ‘tikka’ at home doesn’t give you the same pleasure and taste as it does when you eat it outside. You remember the small changes in taste.It’s very rare to see something equal to street food. That’s why the ready-to-eat/cook segment won’t replace street food, which is facing a ‘dent’ only because people aren’t stepping out due to the virus. But they will return, say, in a year.