Of seeds and sauces: What affluent India imported during 2 recessionary quarters

Data show imports of seeds perceived to have Covid-related health benefits shot up while imported sauces, from soya to mayo, saw a sharp decline. Branded ice cream imports crashed, as did those of fruit juices. That perennial favourite of wealthy ...

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NEW DELHI: Imports crashed during FY21's Q1 and Q2, thanks to the pandemic and lockdowns. Food imports fell, too. But not all foreign food became unpalatable for affluent Indians during the crisis.

Data show imports of seeds perceived to have covid-related health benefits shot up, while imported sauces, from soya to mayo, saw a sharp decline. Branded ice cream imports crashed, as did those of fruit juices.

That perennial favoirite of wealthy households...high quality imported bread...saw far fewer takers. Lockdowns, budget trimming by households and in some cases fear of made in China products contributed to the sharp declines

Supposed immunity boosters like melon seeds, niger seeds and sunflower seeds, as well as basil and sage saw a rise in imports in the first half of 2020-21 even as olives, confectioneries such as caramel and sprinkles, bakery products, ice creams, sauces and jams had a slow April-September.


Consider this: India imported $223.16 million worth soya beans, melon and niger seeds in the first six months of FY21 compared to $234.87 million in the entire 2010-20. On the other hand, ice cream imports were only $950,000 in the period compared to $6.15 million in FY20 as ice cream parlours remained shut due to the Covid-19 led lockdown.

“Ice creams need cold chains and distribution in retail outlets. However, low footfalls due to the lockdown disrupted both supply and demand. Similarly, olives which are used in bars and restaurants, did not find many takers as they were not considered essential,” said Arvind Singhal, chairman, Technopak Advisors.

India imported around $7 million of sauces such as soya sauce, tomato ketchup, mayonnaise, salad dressings and mixed seasonings in the April-September period compared to $20 million in the full FY20. Gourmet pastas, however, managed to retain the market with $11.17 million of imports vis-à-vis $18.53 million in 2019-20.

Processed fruits and juices saw a 40% on year decline in imports in April-September while those of cocoa products fell 23.7% on-year.

“Overall imports had declined as ports were closed and clearances were slow in the first half of the year. Moreover, certain items like processed juices come from China which did not find many takers due to health concerns and the government too was disengaging with Beijing then,” said Bipin Sapra, partner at advisory and consultancy firm EY.

India’s total imports fell 40% on year in April-September to $148.69 billion.

“The trends clearly show that there has been a careful and considered transition to healthier food during these past 7-8 months, due to ongoing pandemic. These trends will be sustained for another six month at least, as most of these foods which have shown rise in imports, boost immunity and are considered healthy,” said Mohit Singla, Founder Chairman TPCI.

Experts said a rise in soya bean imports can be attributed to a decline in domestic production during October 2019-September 2020.

“While the health benefits of various seeds like sunflower and melon can’t be denied, a lot of these are imported from Myanmar and Africa, get processed here and then re-exported to the US,” said another trade expert. Many people shifted to locally produced brands when it came to dairy and confectionery items due to the fear of the virus, he said.

Condiments like rosemary saw a growth in imports on the back of home baking while the lower imports of bread, pastry, cakes and biscuits at $22.57 million in the first six months of FY21 were due to disruptions in global supply cold chains.

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