The soaring temperatures this summer have provided cold comfort to manufacturers of refrigerators in India. The Indian refrigerator market, which has been growing at a sluggish rate of 5 percent per year since 1999, was expected to get a boost this year, with studies projecting a jump in sales from 3.65 million units to 4.2 million units in 2004-2005. The refrigerator segment had missed out on the impact of the economic rebound in 2003-2004 and was expected to hit double-digit growth during the current summer months. However, these hopes have been belied, as the segment recorded a negligible 1-percent growth during the April to June period against the predicted 14 percent. This has further repercussions for the industry, which is already going through difficult times due to a hike in costs of steel, copper, plastics, and other materials used to manufacture appliances. Further price cuts—aimed at increasing sales volumes—will put an even further squeeze on profit margins. Manufacturers are now hoping that the festive season, which begins at the end of the monsoons, will lead to an increase in refrigerator sales.
Sales of frost-free refrigerators, which have been growing at a faster rate than the direct-cool models, too have slowed down. The market share of the frost-free segment increased from 12.2 percent in 2001 to 15 percent in 2002. But at the end of first quarter 2003, the share of frost-free models was down to 13 percent. The direct-cool category constitutes nearly 75 percent of the refrigerator market in value terms, and frost-free refrigerators seem to be popular in only a few cities in India. This, along with the fact that many brands have more promotional offers for the direct-cool category, has contributed to slower frost-free growth.
The refrigerator market has seen a realignment among the top players. Whirlpool has lost its status as the number-one player in the refrigerator segment to LG, which now has a 24.5-percent market share of the refrigerator segment, according to a study by ORG-GFK. Whirlpool’s market share in this segment is currently 23 percent.
Another player that is hoping to carve a niche in the refrigerator segment is BSH Group, a joint venture between Bosch and Siemens. The company has made a foray into the mass market segment of refrigerators with a new local brand offering. The company’s Indian operations are being handled by RBS Home Appliances, a distributor of Siemens products.
Meanwhile, Electrolux Kelvinator Ltd. has launched a battery-operated, 170-L refrigerator in the northern and eastern Indian markets. Named Bijli, it is touted to be the world’s first refrigerator to work without electricity. Priced at Rs 10,990 (approx. U.S. $237), it has a 12-hr power backup facility with a built-in power pack that can be operated through an external connected battery.
The Indian Middle Class
According to a household income study by the National Council for Applied Economic Research, Delhi—not Mumbai—has the largest number of high-income households, earning more than Rs 10 million (approx. $216,000) a year. Delhi has 15-percent more high-income families than Mumbai. While one in 500 households in Delhi has an annual household income of more than Rs 10 million, the figure for Mumbai is one in 800. The number of millionaire families, however, has grown faster in Mumbai compared to Delhi during the 1995-1996 and 2001-2002 periods.
In the next income category—Rs 5 million to Rs 10 million (approx. $108,000 to $216,000)—Delhi has 9,174 such households, which is one-fourth higher than Mumbai, which has 7,428 such households. The report also points out that Delhi’s citizens spend more of their income on education and health, while Mumbai’s families spend more on clothes, entertainment, and food.