Calls to boycott Chinese goods are intensifying every day in India after a gory border clash between the two countries. Chinese apps have been banned. Chinese businesses have been told they are not welcome.
In such an unforgiving environment, how would a brand named Ching’s Secret fare?
The name is as Chinese as it gets. And the packaged foods brand draws inspiration from Chinese flavours.
Hindi-Chini Tasty Tasty
To be sure, Ching’s Secret describes itself as a “desi Chinese brand”. It is owned by Capital Foods, which looked to cash in on the popularity of Chinese food in India. The company launched Chings’s Secret in 1996 and the brand’s USP was its mixture of Indian masalas with Chinese spices.
Navin Tewari, CEO, Capital Foods, is not worried by the potential impact of the growing anti-China sentiment on his company’s flagship brand. “Boycott Chinese will not have any impact on our products because the “Desi Chinese” cuisine under Ching’s Secret is 100 percent created by Indians, for Indians,” he said.
Ching’s Secret, whose brand ambassador is actor Ranveer Singh, is one of the many brands that benefitted from the demand uptick for convenience foods during the coronavirus lockdown. Sales grew in excess of 25 percent during the lockdown, according to the company.
The company focused on two aspects to capitalise on the demand for convenience food. One, it expanded production capacities. Two, it ensured seamless last-mile delivery.
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Tewari said the company, which also sells a band named Smith & Jones under product categories such as instant noodles, spices and sauces, is steadily growing across various segments.
As it happened with most FMCG players, Capital Foods too faced distribution challenges, but the spike in demand during the lockdown offset the logistics troubles.
“This was largely because people were experimenting with multiple food options while at home. Restaurant visits have stopped or substantially reduced since the lockdown,” said Tewari.
Capital Foods has three broad categories of noodles — Ching’s Secret’s Hakka Noodles (veg and egg), Ching’s Secret Instant flavoured noodles (Schezwan, Manchurian, Hot Garlic, Singapore Curry) and Smith & Jones masala noodles.
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Tewari said he expects home cooking and preference for branded alternatives to rise further. Large swathes of people are still working from home and brands like Capital Foods expect to make the most of this consumer behaviour.
During the lockdown, Capital Foods saw a greater demand for large pack sizes. This was because consumers want to reduce multiple purchases and contact especially for food articles.
In-home consumption and home-cooking rose as consumers preferred to stay indoors. “The demand for bringing excitement to their regular dishes by way of easy-to-cook meals and condiments has been steadily rising,” Tewari said.
Strong Anti-China Fervour
But all this happened before anti-China sentiment grew into a frenzy.
Tewari said products such as Schezwan ‘Chutney’ and Desi Chinese ‘masalas’ are specially curated keeping Indian cooking preferences in mind. “Ching’s Secret has been a favourite among Indian consumers for decades together now and continues to be so. In fact, over the years India has adopted numerous international dishes and incorporated them into local tastes to such an extent, that today we are not even aware of a food item’s true origin,” said Tewari.
To buttress his argument, Tewari pointed to samosas, biryani and halwa — food items that are originally from Persia but have become household dishes in India.
“Even within India, Poha is not just a Maharashtrian dish, but a breakfast favourite everywhere. Similarly, Dosas, Pav Bhaji and Rasgulla are eaten in all states with equal enthusiasm.”
Tewari’s optimism notwithstanding, there seems to be no letup in the fervour against Chinese goods.
The Confederation of All India Traders, which represents brick-and-mortar retailers, has said boycott imported Chinese goods despite the loss their businesses will suffer. On Twitter, a video of people throwing a “Chinese TV” from a high-storey building in Gujarat went viral.
Chandramouli, CEO of TRA Research, a consumer analytics and brand insights company, saidwith the height of emotions, there might be a temporary impact on let’s say Chinese restaurants may be shut for few days with political pressure but no body is going to stop making noodles or for that matter stop eating Chinese. “So Ching’s as a brand may not see any impact of the Chinese boycott.”
Tewari is sanguine. “Desi Chinese from the house of Ching's Secret is an Indian cuisine is loved by Indians. So, it will continue to be favoured by Indians.”
Check our coverage on India-China tensions here