With India’s economy on course to be the world’s fourth fastest-growing in 2017, and under 25s making up almost half its population, the region’s burgeoning wellness industry is full of potential.
A report published in December 2016 by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) in association with consulting firm EY, predicted double industry-wide growth for the rest of the decade, with gyms and fitness centres set to see expansion of 18 percent.
“Attitudes to wellness have changed a lot in the last five years, partly due to Instagram, but also because India’s upper-middle class are highly mobile, and return from travelling abroad with an appetite for products they’ve discovered in the US and UK,” explains Rohini Bajekal, a former Brand Manager for both RAW Pressery –– India’s first cold-pressed juice brand, and the country’s first vegan and gluten-free snack startup Eighty20.
A staggering 47 percent of India’s 1.3bn population is under the age of 25, and the importance of social media in driving millennial interest in wellness is impossible to overstate. Bollywood stars like Amrita Arora regularly feature on the Instagram feed of luxury Mumbai health club I Think Fitness, while actress Gul Panag is the Co-Founder of MobieFit, a fitness coaching and motivation app.
And in a market where government support for new businesses is limited, stars even play a role in the funding space. In April 2017, RAW Pressery attracted a $559,000 investment from actress and model Jacqueline Fernandez.
For multinationals intent on cracking the Indian market, capitalising on the influence of the celebrity is key. Silvia Tallon, the Senior Marketing Director for Reebok India, which has more than 300 stores across the country, described the region as a “key growth market” in an interview with news site Livemint last year, following a successful rollout of a marketing campaign featuring another Bollywood star, Nargis Fakhri.
But, while the right marketing strategy looks like a no-brainer, the logistical complications of penetrating a market that covers three million square kilometres can pose too much of a challenge to all but the largest athleisure names, which may explain the notable absence of global leaders like Lululemon.
However, not to be deterred, Under Armour sidestepped this problem by launching in the market through an exclusive deal with Amazon India earlier this year. Amazon “has a strong retail presence in the country, and the [brand’s] 340 million smartphone users give us a young and vibrant customer base,” explained Under Armour’s Chief Marketing Director at the time.
When it comes to young health food businesses looking to scale across India’s top tier metropolitan areas, infrastructure poses a challenge too, according to Bajekal. She points to the country’s lack of high-quality cold storage and refrigerated transport as a key logistical challenge for health-food startups whose products can go off quickly in the country’s sweltering heat. Yet overcoming these hurdles is key for young food brands looking to make an impact on the market.
“Offering delivery is really important for new wellness brands, because there’s a real on-demand culture in Indian cities, with startups like Swiggy and Scootsy delivering almond milk or healthy salads to your door,” she explains, pointing to the growing number of healthy tiffin box companies that will send a home-cooked Indian lunch to workers’ desks.
Eateries in fashionable areas of the country’s big cities are also responding to increased demand for healthy eating –– a market growing at 10 percent a year according to Nielsen. “The almond and coconut milk trend has really caught on, quinoa and tofu have become a staple on many cafe menus, and there are also more interesting Indian millets and grains being used in salads and dishes,” explains Mira Manek. The author, journalist, and blogger –– who has previously helped London destination cafes like Raw Press bring healthy Gujarati flavours onto the menu –– is currently working with Pantry cafe in Mumbai’s artsy Kala Ghoda neighbourhood, which is innovating with dishes like a quinoa crepe filled with purple yam.
Priced on the menu at approximately $4.50, such dishes seem like a bargain to the tourists and expats who flock to such areas, but in a country where the median annual salary is under £500 a year, wellness is yet to develop mass-market appeal. And the sugar-laden diets which are still favoured by many older, poorer Indians mean over 50m people in the country suffer from type two diabetes.
With the country boasting smartphone penetration of over 33 percent, projected to rise to almost 40 percent by 2019, tech innovators are rising to the challenge of making fitness more accessible. Fitso, an app created in Delhi with a mission of making healthiness affordable, raised £150,000 of angel investment in March 2017 to expand the nutrition and fitness platform – including funding from the founder of Indian life insurance comparison tool PolicyBazaar, Yashish Dahiya.
Across the wellness industry, there seems to be a healthy appetite for mass-market offerings. To take just one example, entrepreneur Darshan Rawal founded his Zazen spa chain in 2011, with “affordability and accessibility” being key to the brand’s mission. By 2016 the chain was acquired for an undisclosed sum by established player O2 spa, following the parent company’s announcement of a £12m investment in organic growth across the country.
Elsewhere, in India’s rapidly growing wellness tourism sector –– expanding at 22 percent a year according to the Global Spa & Wellness Summit –– innovative travel companies like Rural Odyssey are capitalising on the appeal of the country’s ancient wellness traditions to help support poor rural villages, whilst attracting interest from wellness travellers. The company offers trips including a seven-day expedition to monasteries in the Himalayas, with food and accommodation bought from local people.
And with increased interest in yoga and meditation showing no signs of slowing down outside India, opportunities to build on the country’s spiritual reputation are only going to increase. For brands who can harness this history to provide Instagram-friendly wellness at competitive price points, the potential of this vast and growing market is huge.