Residents of Gurgaon would certainly have noticed the dramatic rise of a brand-new format in food retail, which can justifiably be called the Micro-Mandi. Essentially, the farm-to-shelf outlets previously operating in an unorganised fashion now wearing the smart new colours of branded retail with catchy names and cosy identities. What excites me enormously is the diligent reverse-engineering of the modern trade experience, applying exactly what is necessary while retaining the core of the original formats.
For those not in the know, let me explain how the Micro-Mandi has been designed, a format which is scalable all over India. Blessed with abundant land mass, spontaneous fruit and vegetable markets were quite common in this geography, claiming to sell produce that was both authentic and low-cost, earning the custom of well-heeled patrons as well. However, recently, they were systematically revamped, imbibing some best practices of modern formats. For starters, there is an all-weather covering and adequate parking, what greets you immediately is an array of mint-fresh trolleys to aid shopping. The ware is laid out like a supermarket, pick-and-choose with assistance available if required, to be weighed in toto, not individually, prior to the efficient check-out process with multiple lanes.
Thus, borrowing the transactional efficiencies of the current age without investing a rupee extra in the frills. So, no fancy flooring or semblance of décor, dirt tracks made navigable and no need for air-conditioning of any kind, relying entirely on the natural environment. Most importantly, what you buy is much fresher than the hypermarket, the supply chain far more real-time unlike the storage-based approach of the corporate players. In terms of service personnel, they are as knowledgeable as the traditional seller with sufficient smartness to help you buy, without the better-schooled but less-educated approach of the suited salesman. New-age conveniences like credit card machines and home delivery are sufficiently available, thus completing the transaction convenience. Due to such optimisation, the prices can continue to be low, without the unreasonable mark-ups we encounter elsewhere, certainly benefitting the producer in a truly democratic and inclusive selling format.
Which brings me now to the larger story of reverse engineering in the context of branded experiences flowing back to traditional formats, combatting the fundamental reasons for customer migration while reinforcing the basic goodness. In terms of fruits and vegetables, customers are frightened of industrially-produced content, epitomised by the supermarket, while the organic sector does not yet command credibility or value. So, a comeback to the age-old local seller is much desirable, aided splendidly by the Micro-Mandi, a perfect equilibrium of relevant need-states. Culminating in a superior value proposition to the supermarket produce section, applicable to both the cycled masses and the motorised classes. With a minor infusion of imagination, it is possible to imagine an extension to many other categories as well.
The fish markets, as messy as ever, have a similar set of challenges, freshness highly desirable at the best price. So, a Micro-Mandi format by a consortium of sellers is highly imaginable, emulating the service infrastructure to ensure hygiene and efficiency. As would be the case for a consolidated meat market format (including chicken, mutton and pork) where the battle between free-range and injected meats is sterner than ever before, applicable for spices as well. Imagine now an UrbanClap equivalent in this avatar, for every conceivable odd-job merchant like cobblers, locksmiths, bag repairers and their ilk, consolidating under a similar common infrastructure with a single-window checkout. As would be the case for reprographic establishments (photo-copy, printing, scanning, typing) unifying under similar optimal environments where the customer can benefit from the advantages of modern retail.
Quite conceivably, such formats are scalable globally, especially in Asian countries, where customers have recently moved on to modern retail and usually ‘Kirana’ equivalents still operate successfully. In every case, there must be a learned assessment of consumer behaviour from an experiential perspective, understanding clearly what must be imported from modern formats while retaining the core desirables of ‘original trade’, usually to do with authenticity of produce or input. This leads distinctively to a ‘better’ value proposition for modern customers, currently threatened by rampant impurities and dangerous elements in even the most-trusted staples. The world of organic content can never become sufficiently scalable due to limitations in production and high cost, so the Micro-Mandi can be that sustainable bridge for large audiences.
Quite apart from all else, this can become India’s pioneering contribution to transcultural retail formats, catering efficiently to a changing global mindset clamouring for a happy blend of life-enhancing authenticity and comforting value. Over time, technology can become an additional secret sauce, leading to the tracking of source and date through a simple mobile app, adding further layers of assuring credibility. If handled sensitively, the Micro-Mandi is a Virat Kohli in the making an opportunity we cannot squander.
(Shivaji Dasgupta is the Founder of INEXGRO Brand Advisory and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org)
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