July 5, 2023

Evolving income distribution and its impact on Consumption

Nikhil Ojha

Excerpts from a Panel discussion on “The Rise of India’s Middle Class”

My association with Rajesh is more recent, spanning about 8 years. It has been an absolute pleasure collaborating with him and PRICE. I must admit that my previous involvement with this report, including its prior version, was more focused on assisting my clients in preparing for upcoming changes. The chart Rajesh presented carries significant weight, not only for businesses but also on a personal level. Many individuals in today's C-Suite grew up in an India transitioning from destitution to aspiration. When I entered the workforce in 1994, consumption primarily revolved around basic, affordably priced products or services.

My clients often think about refining current offerings to achieve incremental progress, rather than considering a more future-oriented, transformative approach. This shift is evident due to the substantial changes that are unfolding. Our decisions are often influenced by our personal experiences more than global realities. Over the past six years, I've worked with Rajesh to emphasize to my clients that high-quality household data is a public good. As corporations, we have a responsibility to support organizations like PRICE to ensure the broader availability of such data. While PRICE has made commendable efforts, the corporate sector should further contribute to making this data accessible on a larger scale, surpassing what non-profits alone can achieve.

Moving on, my clients tend to be data-driven, and some aspects have been touched upon. It's essential to recognize that the expansion isn't merely the addition of 100 million households to the middle class and the affluent; it's also about the percentage penetration. Basic goods, as discussed by Croft, are just one aspect. Even items like refrigerators and air conditioners reflect this trend.

As people ascend the income distribution ladder, percentage penetration notably escalates. In economies transitioning towards predominantly middle-class and aspiring segments, this penetration surges from around 40% to 70%. Within the 100 million expansion, a significant multiplier effect emerges due to increased penetration across various consumption categories.

Furthermore, our focus has extended beyond consumption quantity to its quality, a key facet we've engaged with our clients. Around half of the augmented consumption expenditure arises from more frequent spending. This accounts for growth within existing categories, although not as frequent as in the West. However, the other half involves new categories, with approximately one in five reflecting premiumization – individuals investing more per unit.

This transformation is largely concentrated in the middle class. In addition, a shift is evident in various sectors of the economy, with the notion holding true until about a decade or so ago.

With our industrial clients, a significant transformation has unfolded. Traditionally, these entities ranged from enterprise-led to unorganized setups. Presently, they are evolving into more organized, consumer-focused entities. This transition has shifted the channel's role from mere demand fulfillment to encompassing demand generation and creation—an impactful shift.

These shifts encompass a substantial increase in quantity, the quality shift in consumption, and the conversion of enterprise and unorganized sectors into consumer-centric entities. It's crucial to note that these insights aren't groundbreaking; investors have already begun recognizing these dynamics. The chart pertains not to established entities like Hindustan Unilever, but the top 15 conglomerates in India. Historically, these conglomerates derived about a third of their revenues from business-to-consumer operations. However, their investments for the future substantially exceed this one-third benchmark.

Consider the dynamic investments, such as Reliance's ventures in Jio and retail, what Tatas are doing with digital and Air India, and Aditya Birla's $2 billion investment in the paints sector. These actions highlight the strategic focus on seizing opportunities, and our belief is that robust data like that from PRICE serves as a valuable guide for navigating these directions.

Expanding on the corporate sector, a chart I frequently share with multinational clients underscores India's transformative potential. When evaluating India solely based on delivered revenues as a portion of global business, the true impact is underestimated. The graph depicts the parent company's shareholder returns (blue dots) versus those of the Indian affiliate (red dots) over a decade. The India affiliates demonstrate a 2.5X to 3X return, significantly outperforming. A well-managed Indian affiliate of a multinational can contribute 20% to 40% of the global market capitalization. So while everyone talks about a Hindustan Lever or Nestle, there is also Maruti Suzuki, pharmaceutical companies, and those in the service sector.

From a corporate perspective, accessing data like PRICE's data is to really be able to place your bets on where the chips are going to be rather than how the game is today or how the picture is today.

Regarding the e-commerce and digital realm, as Amitabh mentioned, it's a significant narrative of the current government. The noteworthy aspect is that while the majority of shoppers are in the digital funnel, unlike China, they haven't fully transitioned to transactions yet, partly due to various factors. However, this landscape is poised for change. Currently, around 250 million online shoppers exist, and this number is projected to more than double in the next four years due to increased income, accessibility to physical goods, and information behind them. Comparing China's e-commerce growth, four out of the five crucial factors for exponential growth are already in play, with one partially fulfilled. For instance, the drop in data prices has been led by us. As our GDP surpasses around $4,500 per capita, discretionary spending is expected to significantly surge, triggering a substantial uptick in e-commerce, akin to China's growth trajectory.

The next decade will significantly differ from what we're accustomed to. It's vital to emphasize not only quantity but also the quality of demand. Notably, those who recognize this are making substantial investments, including Indian firms and select successful multinationals here. The e-commerce revolution, which has always looked more promising than delivering, is now poised for transformation. Factors such as lower delivery costs, and a robust digital ecosystem will be important, although social and alternate models still need attention. My engagement with Rajesh and PRICE has revolved around advising numerous clients, urging them to prepare for this shifting landscape. So that's what I wanted to share and look forward to this discussion together.