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Going the modular way

Vatsal Parikh, Soumyadeep Bhattacharyya, Prof Srini R Srinivasan and Dr RK Srivastava explore how modular kitchens are carving a niche in the Indian kitchenware retail segment

Posted On Wednesday, January 14, 2009
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Until some decades ago, women cooked their food on a simple stove, more commonly known as choolahs, where the ensuing soot generated from the stoves stained the walls of the kitchen and engulfed the kitchen in suffocating fumes, thereby making the kitchen space virtually unfit to breathe in. However, the Indian kitchen has transformed drastically over the years, where conventional methods are replaced by contemporary mechanisms.

A number of women have moved from their homes to establish an identity in the corporate world and the kitchen was the first space to reflect this mindset change in the society. The Indian kitchen has evolved, and with the advent of LPG, women were gradually getting used to non-smoky and non-greasy kitchens.

An Indian woman spends substantial amount of her time in the kitchen. Nowadays, having designer kitchens is equivalent to making a fashion statement and is a clear indicator of a woman’s lifestyle and status in the society.

In the present era, as the retail sector tends towards better organisation, many retailers have realised that the kitchen segment holds immense potential.

The innovation of kitchen utensils and cooking appliances, its introduction into the market and its appropriate pricing, promotion and distribution–in order to make it easily available to target customers–in the kitchenware retailing sector are attracting new entrants to make the mark.

Kitchens are the core activity area for any household. Nowadays, a major portion of the urban population leads a highly migratory lifestyle. They change their residences for education or career purposes and this trend continues well into the initial marital period. This gave rise to the need for evolving kitchenware, which are reconfigurable or in simple terms modular–which  can move along with them. Thus, a paradigm shift can be observed in the pattern of kitchens and kitchenware.

The entry of the modular kitchen

With the passage of time, kitchens have transformed immensely to evolve into the most expressive space in Indian homes. It has been very rightly perceived that one who has an organised kitchen leads an organised lifestyle. Modular kitchens are the latest forms of organised kitchens that have ushered a revolution in the industry of kitchenware retailing. As the name suggests, modular kitchens comprise of reconfigurable kitchen cabinets that are designed to effectively suit the dimensions of any kitchen. In addition to these aspects, important kitchen accessories such as sinks, chimneys, ventilators, etc., come as inbuilt facilities along with the cabinet structures.

Modular kitchens have some striking edges, which clearly make them the hot choice for a majority of households. Since the constituent parts are reconfigurable, problems that crop up as a result of continual shifting of residence considerably lessen. Kitchen parts of a modular kitchen can be dismantled, packed in boxes, shifted and reorganised in the new house. In addition to this, modular kitchens are available in a wide variety of designs and customers are offered the best designs as per their choice. Moreover, maintaining, cleaning and repairing of defective kitchen parts become very easy, owing to the modular design concept.

During its inception in India, most of the early market players imported modular kitchen parts. Keeping this fact in mind, many of the earlier players pulled out of this segment primarily due to three reasons; firstly, importing the modular parts was a time consuming process; secondly, they failed to fit the requirements of space; and thirdly, around ten to fifteen years ago, this concept was very much ahead of time, and consumers wished to stick to conventional designs and conventional methods of cooking. However, the market has matured today; consumers are more aware of the benefits of modular designs and architects and interior designers are increasingly venturing into specialising this domain.

To gain a competitive advantage, most of the interior designers are coming up with innovative designs in a way to give a perfect blend of style and functional efficiency by optimum utilisation of space, thereby making ‘cooking’ a wonderful experience.



Advantages of Modular Kitchens


Modular kitchens are the latest innovation in kitchen interior designing; these kitchens are furnished with a classic style and glossy finish. It enhances the experience of cooking, making the process fast and effective. These types of kitchens are custom made and are assembled in the customer’s home. Empty places can be used more efficiently with modern day modular kitchens. Designs of racks and cabinets can be changed as per consumer convenience, since these parts can be easily dismantled.

Major Players

The principal market for modular kitchens lies in the unorganised sector as the organised market is worth only Rs 5 billion, but is surely growing at a 50% rate. The Indian kitchen has witnessed a complete 180 degree shift in every aspect, be it the basic look of the kitchen, the cooking habits of the consumers or the kind of utensils used. The kitchen retail giant, TTK Prestige, too joined the bandwagon and added modular kitchens to its portfolio in the year 2004.

Another major player, Timbor Home Pvt Ltd, a Ahmedabad-based manufacturer and marketer of modular kitchens, is launching woodless, eco-friendly cabinets for the kitchen space in markets such as Gujarat, Maharashtra and Karnataka. The Indian market has recently witnessed innovative product lines by players such as Faber, Godrej, Kaff, Hacker, Carysil, Nilkamal, etc.
Factors determining the growth of
modular kitchen. 

Modular kitchen retailing is being driven by changing lifestyles and strong disposable income growth, which in turn is supported by favourable demographic patterns. Nuclearisation of families is also leading to an increase in the number of people shifting to urban areas, which has a direct positive bearing on the kitchen business, as urban residents seek to gain a more convenient lifestyle. The number of working women is also on the rise. These factors, along with an increased exposure to international lifestyle patterns and a strong media influence, are jointly increasing the demand for home improvement retailing.

Behavioural Changes

The kitchens in India undergo change with altering food habits and culture. Each Indian kitchen is designed to facilitate the preparation of local food preparations. The style of cooking depends on regional food type, community taste preferences, weather, geography, etc.

Moreover, Indian foods require quite an amount of pre-processing since Indians believe that spices enhance the taste of the delicacy being cooked. With modern pre-processing appliances, the task of preparing food has become much easier for many of the urban women. The change in perception to cook food using convenient pre-processing appliances is another factor that has heavily influenced the way kitchens are reshaping today.

In the past, the dining area was included within the kitchen. The typical joint family structure consisted of women preparing different items in large quantities for the whole family. These women would rely on electronic cooking appliances to take care of most of their pre-processing tasks that preceded the actual cooking process. However, in the current scenario, urbanisation and migration for better opportunities have given rise to nuclear families. They now prefer a separate dinning space and use packaged foods. This explains the entry of the microwave as a default accessory in most modular kitchen designs.

Increase in the Number of Working Women

The fact that a large number of women have joined the corporate world has redefined the rules of social behaviour. Family incomes have increased, as has the exposure to the ‘modern’ way of life. As a result, women with disposable incomes will also feel the strong desire to possess a fashionable modern home that is in tandem with their lifestyle. Hence, they will seek to build a home that is modern and stylish, and thus will surely opt for modular kitchens.

Easy Bank Credit boosts retail

Easy availability of finance has facilitated the retail scene, thereby giving an unprecedented advantage to both retailers and consumers. Renovating or buying a new house or even purchasing consumer durables has become relatively easier for consumers. Modular kitchen retailers have tied up with many banks to offer their customers complete convenience in financial matters. As such, customers have become receptive to change and are willing to opt for a loan to revamp the look of their kitchens, which was an unknown phenomenona few years ago.

Social Indicator

Contemporary India boasts of a 550 million population that is below the age of 25 years. Furthermore, the market size at Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) is estimated to be above $1.5 trillion. It produces a large pool of educated professionals such as scientific and technical manpower, graduate engineers, managers and computer professionals. This has provided a large number of customers, who are willing to spend on modern kitchenware and modular kitchens to add a touch of class to their sophisticated lifestyles.

Buying Power and Consumption

It was estimated that the consuming class and the climbers are expected to grow from a level of 120.8 million households (in 2001-02) to a level of 157.2 million households (in 2006-07), thus registering a growth of 5.5% pa. The Marketing Whitebook has estimated that out of the total consumer class, almost 56% (46 million) is expected to be concentrated in urban India. The proportion of the consumer class in the urban markets are likely to drive the demand significantly, especially for lifestyle products.

Kitchen Ergonomics

The word ergonomics is derived from a Greek word ‘ergo’, which means work and ‘nomos’ means law. Ergonomics is the science of designing any system to suit the convenience of the end-user as well as aid the process of completing the task related to the system use. Ergonomic planning in the kitchen is based around three main activity points–user, kitchen appliances and environment.

The introduction of modern cooking appliances in kitchens aids the speedy completion of the task at hand. Ease-of-use and efficiency are the prime factors that consumers look for when opting for a modular kitchen design. Retailers have begun to implement ergonomics in the kitchen design as well. Effective and convenient positioning of the main kitchen activities would involve appropriate depth of the kitchen sink and proper height countertops.

Fast and efficient work is the prime call for all urban households in India. Hence, innovative technology is the prime factor that can help women in the cities to cook without much hassle, and simultaneously be able to pay attention to other aspects of their households. The introduction of kitchen appliances such as microwave, electronic ovens, refrigerators, electric chimneys and other electrical appliances used for cooking along with other aspects such as organised kitchen cabinets in the modular design serves the purpose of convenience in the kitchen area.

Today, steel and glassware has been replaced by plasticware. Nowadays, plastic utensils play an important role in the designing of modular kitchens. Plasticware is unbreakable, easy-to-wash, lightweight, extremely durable, visually appealing and cost effective. Some major players believe that an effective supply chain is very much necessary for incorporating them into modular kitchens. Plasticware retailing, however, has a bulk market share in the unorganised sector.

Forces Influencing Modular Kitchens

Lack of retail space

The biggest challenge that Indian retailers from the organised retailing segment face is the lack of adequate retail space. With organised retail players scrambling to find retail space, demand has increased and realty rates have soared–this has added to the woes of the retailers, thereby becoming an obstacle in the growth of the retail industry. Moreover, as retailers have to make do with the available retail place, the location of their store may hamper customer influx into their outlets.

The aforementioned challenges stand true even for the kitchen retailing segment as it is only beginning to make its presence felt in the Indian retail scenario. Although the concept of modular kitchens isn’t a new concept to many Indians, it takes some time before kitchen market players retailing in the modular kitchen segment start getting the kind of consumer base they would like to form.

Poor Infrastructure

The traditional realty players do not have adequate retail property development experience as it is reflected in their exterior focused design and improper tenant mix. The shortage is mostly visible in the larger metros due to the mall revolution and lack of town planning. Owing to space scarcity in major metros, many retailers are entering tier 2 and tier 3 cities. Unless real estate costs lower, retailers would take a long time to break even. Existing and aspirant modular kitchen retail formats have a long way to go before they are able to grab a substantial chunk of the retail pie in India.

Product mix

With an increase in the marketshare, homebuyers have simultaneously become more sophisticated. Hence, designers and architects have to constantly revise their plans to fulfill customer demands.

Pricing

The determinants of retailer pricing strategy and tactics are likely to be influenced by manufacturer/brand, category and customer factors as well as by market, chain and store factors. Different markets or cities may witness different pricing practices for the modular kitchens. In particular, market type, in terms of whether the market is a metropolitan city or a small city, may be associated with a particular pricing environment, and thus may be related to pricing practice.

Engineering

The designs for modular kitchens are made on CAD software, which further creates a problem for
the manufacturer or carpenter to meet the required specifications.

Promotions

The communication channels are very limited in this segment. Hence, consumers hardly have any awareness about brands. This is a major challenge for competitiors in the modular kitchen market. Television advertising is almost nil in this segment; rather they are more focusing on home decor magazines for their promotions. Unless modular kitchen retailers or even kitchen retailers from other kitchen segments begin exploring better avenues of reaching their target audience, the growth of their consumer base will remain stagnant.

Future of Kitchens

India is steadily moving towards the path of globalisation. Indians are looking at accomplishing a means of livelihood that is efficient, economic and fast. Based on these factors, the demand for modular kitchens will constantly be on the rise in the coming years. Retailers believe that with greater availability of designs and increased number of retailers offering modular kitchens solutions, people will be offered products at affordable prices. If this development ensues, these products will have good resale value and retailers will be able to throw up better offers for promotional purposes. Modern marketing managers claim that India is surely walking on the ‘modular path’. 

Technological advancement

With the advent of newer technologies in the Indian market, people are looking towards facilities that would be more time saving and easier to operate. Hence, in the coming years, one will see the fruition of advanced technology in the field of kitchen appliances. A new format of ‘interactive kitchens’ will be developed wherein a man-machine interface shall be incorporated in future Indian kitchens. Thus, one can expect another paradigm shift from ‘modular’ to ‘interactive-modular’ kitchens. Future designs will have reconfigurable kitchen modules with fully integrated and networked facilities that will take care of a number of practical daily requirements. Such new designs will focus on aspects such as refrigeration, storage and cooking and cleaning works, synergistically in a new light.

Smart kitchen facilities

Nowadays, consumers have imbibed an eco-friendly sense among themselves, which we term as the ‘Green Attitude’. Engineers have already incorporated efficient facilities such as water saving techniques and improved washing and waste management techniques in modern kitchens that will make the kitchen space more eco-friendly. Companies in India are now looking forward to get these facilities in the Indian market at affordable prices. Retailers are getting environment friendly and seeking options to offer energy efficient kitchen appliances to minimise environmental losses to a great extent. For instance, an efficient dishwasher uses lesser water as compared to the amount of water used when washing dishes manually. However, dishwashers are very rarely found in Indian households.

Hence, in order to achieve eco-friendly kitchens, Indian customers should be made aware of the utility of such appliances. The usage of wood is an environmental hazard. Builders and developers, who are conscious of this fact, are looking forward to the usage of alternative eco-friendly materials for the construction of kitchen cabinets.

Conclusion

As discussed before, consumer demand in the modular kitchen segment has increased, over the past few years, as consumers look to invest in a kitchen, which is both convenient and stylish. Today’s employed youth are much more mobile than the elderly and will, therefore, always have a higher preference for the modular imported units. Overall, the consumer would now prefer to shop for these items at a place where they are confident about the product quality–be it in the premium range or the value range. There is good potential here for the organised players. Modular kitchens have just begun to catch the interest of the Indian consumer and are surely here to stay.

About the authors

  • Vatsal Parikh and Soumyadeep Bhattacharya are PGDM (RM) students of KJ Somaiya Institute of Management Studies and Research
  • Prof Srini R Srinivasan is the Coordinator, Retail Program at KJ Somaiya Institute of Management Studies and Research Dr RK Srivastava is Emeritus Professor at KJ Somaiya Institute of Management Studies and Research

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