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Indian weddings: Costa lot

Monday 25 February 2013

Feb 22, 2013 2:38pm by Avantika Chilkoti

Multinationals are never slow to spot a branding opportunity. Everywhere from the local supermarket to the Olympic Games has become familiar territory. But India has managed to come up with a new possibility – the wedding reception.

Multinationals are rapidly setting up branded food and drink stalls at parties across a country famous for its extravagant nuptials. Everyone from Häagen-Dazs (icecream) to Costa Coffee is getting into the business.

“It’s mainly Domino’s (pizzas) we offer at weddings because the children like it”, said Satish Kapoor, who owns a catering company which counts Honda Motor and the Aditya Birla Group amongst its clients. “They put up a stall – like a small shop – at the event and we pay them for that.”

Kapoor pays Domino’s Rs40,000 ($736) to offer just two varieties of pizza to about 50 children, at an event where there might be 500 guests. A slice of greasy stuffed crust pizza may not be the elegant choice for the Western bride but foreign brands still carry a caché for much of the Indian public – and it is probably what guests really want when they’re tired and dishevelled after hours of bhangra dancing.

Multinationals are taking a very small slice of an exceedingly valuable market, valued at $25bn per year by some estimates. For a country with an annual GDP of $1.85tn, that looks like a lot. But just a little research into the extravagance of the Indian wedding and it looks a perfectly reasonable estimate.

At Rohit Bal, a leading womenswear designer, a shop assistant – smiling at the sight of a potential customer dressed in jeans and flip-flops – told beyondbrics: “At Rs35,000 or Rs40,000 you could get a bridal outfit but that won’t be something that great.”

The range goes up to Rs200,000 for an outfit and don’t forget, Indian weddings consist of multiple events – recycling outfits would count as social suicide. “People have about four heavy outfits, they just keep some spares sometimes”, the assistant added.

An assistant at the Taj Mahal Palace, one of Mumbai’s most glamorous hotels, said he’d seen people spend Rs8m on a single reception – and that’s just one part of a celebration that goes on for days.

The marriage this month of Paridhi, daughter of Cyril Shroff, the co-owner of one of India’s most influential law firms, and Karan, the son of shipping tycoon Gautam Adani week was dubbed the wedding of the season. Some 8,000 guests were invited to one of the several receptions. A description in the Indian Express could easily be mistaken for an announcement for an industry conference: The wedding was held on February 13 at a five-star hotel in Goa where the Ambani brothers and mother Kokilaben, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, and Union minister Sharad Pawar, MNS chief Raj Thackeray, former BJP president Nitin Gadkari and Union minister Praful Patel were present, among others. And it’s not just high-end customers that shell out on weddings. Dimpesh Jain, 30, owns a busy jewellery store on Mumbai’s Colaba Causeway. It isn’t a fancy or well-known shop but Jain told beyondbrics: “I have sold to one client 1.5kg of gold in one sitting. And that wasn’t even his daughter’s wedding, just a family member.”

Looking at India’s wedding industry, it’s difficult to believe that this is a country where only 21.8 per cent of households have toilets and 30 per cent of the population live under the national poverty line.

But this is definitely a pot of cash the multinationals want to dip their fingers into.

© The Financial Times Ltd 2013

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