In my previous column in this newspaper (“Shopping in London”, 24th October 2014), I had highlighted some key observations from my walk through the streets of London. In particular, I had spoken about how Japanese food appears to be gaining hugely in popularity in that large metropolis. Japanese restaurants with exotic names such as Yo Sushi, Wasabi Bento and Sushi, and Wagamama seem to be mushrooming all over London, and draw very good footfalls most of the time. I had also spoken about stalls selling tender coconuts – which are shrinkwrapped, and punched open on the spot for consumers - have come up on Oxford Street, arguably one of the most fashionable shopping streets of the city.

Several readers of this column, some of whom have lived in London, have written to me thereafter, describing very positively and passionately their own experiences with Japanese food. One of them says – “The concept in Yo Sushi is simply marvellous and unique. A conveyor belt moves individual portions of sushi in multi-coloured bowls. You can pick up whatever you like and eat it, as many portions as you like.” Perhaps people eat many, many portions of such Japanese sushi not just because each portion is small, but also because they are reassured that this food, based on raw fish, seaweed and steamed rice, is very healthy, and does not contain too many calories either. But in the first place, they also choose this cuisine because Japanese food is also perceived as being trendy, exotic and hip – and not merely healthy.

This combination of “hip and healthy” products is perhaps the same driver that attracts people walking down Oxford Street to stop and sip tender coconut water from its original shells, even if they have to dish out a relatively very high price (Four UK pounds or approximately Four Hundred Rupees) for each coconut. Closer home, it is the same lure of “hip and healthy” that makes Indian consumers drink Tetley or Lipton green tea, instead of their regular cup of tea with milk and sugar. This has made green tea one of the fastest growing beverage categories in our country today. It is now increasingly available in offices, in small and large restaurants, and in many of our homes – which is a suprising new trend in a country that has always been in love with its traditional masala chai.

The underlying driver for Hip & Healthy

What is the underlying driver for the success of these products and brands which combine trendiness and healthfulness ? As always, the answer lies in a simple human insight. A large segment of modern consumers want to be trendy, and in keeping with fashion. Being hip is important for their own self-esteem, their youthfulness (everyone wants to look young these days), and for their status in society. They are therefore always on the lookout for products, ranging from apparel to food to beauty products to sports shoes, which keep them in step with trends, or, in some cases, even a little ahead.

Simultaneously, an increasingly large segment of modern consumers are also becoming conscious of the need to keep healthy and fit, in the midst of their stressful and fast paced lives. This is driven by superfit role models from the world of movies and sports, as well as increasing media attention to the subject of lifestyle diseases, health and fitness.

It is my hypothesis that there is a large overlap between these two consumer segments, particularly amongst urban upper-middle class and affluent Indians. These urban uppers and affluents are therefore strongly attracted by products which offer them a combination of both benefits, hipness and health (in short, “H&H”).

Two-way H&H migration

Many products and brands have take note of this “H&H” movement, and some categories are sensing that this may well become a defining trend for the future. As a result, there is an interesting brand and product migration that has been happening, both ways. Healthy products have been trying to become hip, whereas hip products have been trying equally hard to become healthy. Here are a few examples, which illustrate this trend very well.

Waters and cold beverages

Bottled waters such as Bisleri and Aquafina have always been perceived to be healthy and safe, particularly in a country like India where tap water is not safe to drink. But premium bottled waters which have recently made their appearance across India have also attempted to add huge hipness quotient to this health-focused category. It is now trendy to be drinking a Perrier or Danone Blue or Himalayan source bottled water from their designer bottles. And interestingly, some of these hip premium waters are also pushing the health benefit even further, through the unique combination of minerals that they contain.

On the other end of the cold beverages spectrum, carbonated soft drinks, such as Coke and Pepsi, have always been seen as trendy and youthful. They have carefully and consciously cultivated this image for decades, through their marketing campaigns and rockstar brand ambassadors. Now, they clearly sense the need to add a big dash of health to such hipness. Coke’s recent launch of Fruit Water is a step in this “H&H” direction. A carbonated, fruit-flavoured water, Coke’s Fruit Water is perceived as significantly healthier than many mainstream carbonated soft drinks whose recipes are based on non-natural ingredients and lots of sugar.

Cosmetics and beauty products

Most brands of cosmetics and beauty products have typically been trendy and glamorous at their core, and this has been the single largest driver of their appeal. The images of trendy beauty associated with famous names such as Lakme, Revlon, Chanel and Maybelline are well entrenched in our minds. However, this entire category now appears to be rapidly migrating towards the centre of “H&H”, incorporating strong doses of health in its products. Witness the success in India of brands such as Himalaya and Forest Essentials, which are trendy in their own right, but claim to bring the age-old healthful recipes of Ayurveda to the business of beauty. Or the example of Lakme’s Fruit Moisture, which brings the modern science of healthy nutritive moisture technology to beauty and skincare, while firmly protecting the hipness quotient of this brand and product.

Fast food

Fast food, typically considered trendy and affordable, has also been lurching strongly towards health. Leading fastfood brands such as McDonalds have made concerted (though admittedly not entirely successful) efforts in this direction, by introducing healthier offerings such as premium salads, healthy gourmet wraps and low cholesterol optons. In the recent past, the incredible growth of fast and relatively healthy casual restaurants in the United States further emphasizes this trend. These include relatively new restaurant brands such as Chipotle Mexican Grill, Panera Bread, Qdoba Mexican Grill and Baja Fresh - many of which offer fresh food (rather than the processed food associated with fastfood joints) prepared using healthy cooking techniques such as grilling, at affordable price points. They are hip because of their choice of exotic cuisines and categories, whereas the higher nutritional content of their fresh offerings ensures that they are healthy.

Other categories

Think about this trend a little more deeply, and you will discover that in a number of other diverse categories – such as shoes, clothing, home and office furniture – there is a clear move towards brands that are both hip and healthy. Leading brands in these categories, such as Nike, New Balance and Ikea, are all migrating from their respective starting positions to the “H&H” space. We are, slowly but surely, moving towards a hip and healthy world.

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(The author acknowledges valuable inputs from Chitra Chatterjee and Anjuli Pandit, Tata Sons, in the writing of this article.)

(Harish Bhat is Member, Group Executive Council, Tata Sons. He is also author of the bestseller book “Tata Log : Eight modern stories from a timeless Institution”. These are his personal views. He can be reached at >bhatharish@hotmail.com )

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