EXCLUSIVE | Murtaza Bakir, Mintel: We are in the Next Normal

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Murtaza Bakir, Country Manager for Mintel in India and Sri Lanka, has more than ten years of experience in various sales and marketing roles across consumer industries. At Mintel, Murtaza is responsible for its overall growth in India and Sri Lanka. Over the past seven years, he has had opportunities to work with leading brand manufacturers, ingredient suppliers and flavour and fragrance houses to develop new consumer packaged products by leveraging Mintel insights and working with functions such as R&D, marketing, consumer insights and innovation. 

In this exclusive interaction with MediaBrief.com, Murtaza shares how COVID-19 has “changed the way people communicate and do business”, how Mintel has helped its clients navigate through the pandemic, about the notable changes in consumer behaviour in the post-COVID world and about the key trends that will drive consumer spending decision in the future. Read on.


Tell us about Mintel India, its offering, and how has your journey at Mintel been so far?

Mintel is the expert in what consumers want and why. Our analysis of consumers, markets, new products and competitive landscapes provides a unique perspective on developed & emerging economies.

Mintel’s journey in India started nearly a decade ago. Each year since then we have been growing by working with more clients and helping them launch new products. Mintel’s product intelligence platform, Mintel Global New Products Database (GNPD) adds micro-level relevance to the macro context of our market analysis, bringing our clients real-world examples of the products that are driving the FMCG sector.

Furthermore, adapting to the fast-growing needs of India’s FMCG segment, in 2018 Mintel invested in launching Mintel Reports India which is one of a kind consumer intelligence platform to cater to India’s challenging, dynamic and highly innovative marketplace. 

I’ve been with Mintel for a little over seven years now and have been lucky to have been given more responsibility with each passing year. 

As the current Country Manager for Mintel for India and Sri Lanka, I’m responsible for the overall growth of Mintel in this region. In my stint with Mintel, I’ve had opportunities to work with leading brand manufacturers, ingredient suppliers and flavour and fragrance houses to develop new consumer packaged products by leveraging Mintel insights and working with functions such as R&D, Marketing, Consumer Insights and Innovation. It’s been a great journey and I continue to learn each day from our team and clients. 

How did the pandemic affect Mintel India’s operations, did the lockdown hinder the on-ground research activities?

In India, each of our consumer reports across Food & Drink, Lifestyles and Beauty and Personal Care, includes an exhaustive sample size of 3,000 consumers across Metro and Tier 1 to 3 cities throughout the 4 main regions. We used to conduct face-to-face research in 6 local languages to ensure data that brands can rely on. 

I the current scenario, COVID-19 has changed the way people communicate and do business, and Mintel is no exception. Due to this, we have reviewed our consumer research process globally, including India, where we were primarily using a face-to-face research methodology. We decided to adopt an online methodology, which removes the need for close interaction between interviewers and the consumers. This allows all involved to comply with social distancing measures.

During 2020 brands faced many challenges, and with no precedence or case studies to fall back to, how did Mintel help its clients navigate through the COVID crisis?

Mintel started tracking the COVID-19 impact on consumer behaviours and market shifts as early as February, starting from China, when the country was in a serious situation amidst the pandemic.

We realised that COVID-19 will have a long-lasting impact on businesses over brands and we quickly started conducting research and sharing insights via our blog, exclusive insight reports and running COVID-19 sessions for our clients both in India and globally to help provide insights or guidance for their brand repositioning, product innovation or market opportunities.

Our quick response and deep local expertise have and will help our clients to overcome the present uncertain situation. Today, each of our consumer reports includes a section on the impact of COVID-19, which provides an in-depth analysis of the category that is being discussed in each report.  

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In 2020 consumer behaviour, trends and habits have undergone many changes; What were some of the biggest changes that Mintel has observed during the pandemic?

COVID-19, and the ensuing economic impact it has caused, is set to bring about a multitude of changes in consumer behaviour. At Mintel, we are tracking these changes through consumer research to help our clients plan.

Few of the notable changes that we will see include:

  • Decreased discretionary spend by Indians on niche products.
  • Permissible indulgences will be important.
  • People will seek products and services that will help them to spend more quality time with loved ones.
  • Increased focus on health, which will translate into increased demand for added health claims.
  • Heightened demand for food safety and hygiene.

Now with the world returning to normalcy, what are some trends in 2021 that brands need to look out for?

Our new 2021 forecasts remain embedded within our system of Mintel’s 7 Trend Drivers and their supporting pillars. They also take into account the changes that have been accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic—the subtle yet profound shifts in consumer thinking and responses from brands—and attempt to encapsulate the better future that consumers, globally, aspire to, and towards which brands can build their strategic visions.

Below are the seven trends set to impact global consumer markets in 2021:

  • Health Undefined: An awareness of wellbeing is at the forefront of consumers’ minds, but a playbook doesn’t exist. Brands have a responsibility and opportunity to set new rules.
  • Collective Empowerment: Consumers around the world are making their voices heard loud and clear in the push for equity, agency, and rights.
  • Priority Shift: Consumers are seeking a return to the essentials, with a focus on flexible possessions and a reframing of what ownership actually means.
  • Coming Together: Consumers are coming together in like-minded communities in order to connect with and support each other, driven by the impact of the global pandemic.
  • Virtual Lives: Physical separation due to the pandemic, increased need for escapism, and improved technology are driving consumers towards digital experiences.
  • Sustainable Spaces: COVID-19 has subtly but significantly shifted consumer awareness of our relationship with the spaces in which we live, accelerating demand for sustainability.
  • Digital Dilemmas: While there are many benefits to a more digitally-connected life, concerns about its negative impacts are putting consumers in a predicament.

Do you think that the pandemic’s impact on the radically changed consumer behaviour is long-lasting?

The events of 2020 have resulted in a shift in Indian consumers’ ambitions, including a desire for a better, more balanced quality of life, with a focus on health, safety and more family time – all within a more sustainable environment.

Our research highlights that these seemingly modest ambitions and slight shifts in consumer behaviour are easy to overlook, but collectively, and cumulatively, they can have profound repercussions on brand strategies well into 2021.

These small changes in consumers are being reflected in similarly small steps that promote profoundly significant ideas, coming from local Indian and international brands. These shifts are a response to changes in how Indian consumers are demanding brands to help them. They want brands to offer affordable, quality products and services to help balance budgets towards achieving their ambitions.

They want brands to deliver products and services that help create occasions for quality time with loved ones and improve efficiency at work and home to create more quality family time. They want brands to offer value, safety and health benefits to meet their health concerns. All things consumers want for themselves.

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How would the importance of knowing consumers in a post-COVID-19 era help brands?

Compared to all the crisis the world has seen till now, the COVID-19 pandemic is a different situation – and it is still a moving target, waiting for resolution in the form of some sort of remediation, either a vaccine or a medicine that will control the virus’s effect on humans.

Given COVID-19’s ferocity and its speed and its potential to return – the situation we find ourselves in now demands a different descriptor coined by Mintel: We are in the ‘next normal’.

Brands need to keep a close track of consumer sentiments in the current situation and use “empathetic innovation” to help consumers focus on overall physical and mental wellbeing as consumers face tough times ahead. Innovation is critical in a crisis and hand in hand with that comes good smart and agile research to make sure you understand your market and consumer which has changed dramatically.

Hence understanding what consumers want and why is the key to success. In this way, the right consumer trends can be used as a critical guide for brands through the uncertainty of crisis.

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Are independent Indian SME’s and startups keen to invest in research and market intelligence, how can research act as an anchor for them?

In today’s day and age SMEs and startups have a high degree of appreciation for research and insights. In many ways, their learning curve is much steeper compared to incumbents and hence they rely on research even more, to help them get smart quickly and make sure they create differentiated products to compete in the market space that tap into unmet consumer needs. Mintel is a great partner to help them with this and we have a number of such clients in our portfolio.

A lot can change in a year; one only needs to look at 2020, yet what are going to be the key consumer drivers ten years down the line? (2030 Global Consumer Trends)

Last year, we released our 2030 Global Consumer Trends, developed as a living, growing prediction model that will adapt to the unforeseen. The model supports the fluid acceleration or deceleration of the trends according to the reality of individual markets, allowing us to not only be more adaptive and reactive to change but to continue to allow us and our clients to focus on the futures we (humanity) want to invent—or avoid.

Mintel took a bold approach with its predictions about the future of global consumer markets by incorporating seven key factors that drive consumer spending decisions:

  • Wellbeing: Seeking physical and mental wellness.
  • Surroundings: Feeling connected to the external environment.
  • Technology: Finding solutions through technology in the physical and digital worlds.
  • Rights: Feeling respected, protected, and supported.
  • Identity: Understanding and expressing oneself and one’s place in society.
  • Value: Finding tangible, measurable benefits from investments.
  • Experiences: Seeking and discovering stimulation.

What are Mintel India’s plans for growth in 2021?

We are excited about the year ahead, consumer behaviour over the past year has shifted considerably across different FMCG categories and that has presented several opportunities for brands to innovate.

At Mintel, we believe this is vital to success and with the help of our ongoing consumer and product innovation research we are working closely with our clients to help them identify opportunities that can drive category growth.

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