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MedTech in APAC – Harmonizing Hazards and Rewards for Rapid Expansion

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Being the third largest medtech market in the world, Asia-Pacific (APAC) is becoming an investment hub for medical technology companies globally. Owing to the economic growth of the region and increasing income of the local population, healthcare affordability and quality are on the rise. These are the ground reasons that drive medtech companies to focus on APAC for growth and business expansion. But having access to many local markets in this vast and diverse region seems a hard nut to crack for the medical device businesses. Singapore, with its favorable business environment, which vigorously defends intellectual property rights, currently seems to be the geography being eyed by major medtech companies. Though Singapore is well-positioned as a gateway to region’s medtech sector, entering other markets in the region is still challenging. With differences in the regulatory frameworks bundled with lack of clear reimbursement strategies, medtech companies find it strenuous to meet the requirements of the regional markets. In order to witness growth, it is imperative for medtech companies to focus on the growing opportunities for industry-wide collaboration, intending to create strong platforms for growth in APAC.

In 2015, APAC was the third largest medtech market in the world, after the USA and EU, accounting for over 22% of the global revenue which stood at US$398 billion. The region’s medtech industry is expected to be one of the fastest growing globally and is forecast to surpass EU by 2020 to become the second largest market behind the USA.

The high potential of APAC is fueled by the highly populated south-east Asian countries (China and India, the world’s two most populous countries, have a combined population of 2.8 billion), aging population (by 2050, Asia population will constitute 25% of the world’s elderly aged 60+), strong economic growth, increased spending power of the middle class, and reduced costs by manufacturing medical devices in the region rather than importing. The medtech revenue generated in the region was US$88 billion in 2015, expected to reach US$133 billion by 2020, achieving a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 8.6% over the period of five years.

Companies want to seize APAC’s potential for rapid development of medical devices by investing in the right geography that would support their expansion plans. One such location that offers the right environment for medical device players to grow is Singapore. In Asia, Singapore is the innovation center for medtech players due to its business-friendly regulations.

Companies want to seize APAC’s potential for rapid development of medical devices by investing in the right geography that would support their expansion plans.

The country brags of presence of leading medtech companies such as Medtronic, Baxter International, AB Sciex, Becton Dickinson, Biotronik, Hoya Surgical Optics, and Life Technologies that set up their manufacturing plants and R&D units here due to strong patent laws and easy policies to set up and manage a business. For instance, in 2011, Medtronic, one of the world’s largest medical devices manufacturers, opened its first pacemaker and leads manufacturing facility in Singapore, which was the company’s first Asian site manufacturing cardiac devices. As the number of heart patients in APAC rapidly increases, Singapore is a perfect base to offer modern medical facilities to patients across emerging Asian markets.

Medtech in APAC

The medtech sector in Singapore is growing mainly due to government schemes that focus on investing in the sector. With initiatives such as Sector Specific Accelerator (SSA) Program that identifies and invests in high-potential medical technology start-ups (an amount of US$70 million has been committed for the formation and growth of such businesses) and EDBI, the corporate investment arm of the Singapore Economic Development Board that invests in innovative healthcare IT, services, devices, and therapeutics companies, the Singapore government supports the growth of medtech innovation in the country.

The medtech sector in Singapore is growing mainly due to government schemes that focus on investing in the sector.

Apart from setting up committed bodies, the Singapore government in 2015 announced that it would invest US$4 billion in biomedical sciences research for the period between 2015 and 2020 to strengthen the county’s position as Asia’s innovation center.

While Singapore is a favorable location for medtech manufacturing and R&D, it is still a young market that is witnessing problems similar to the ones seen in other APAC countries. Many countries in the region are also capable of contributing to the technological health innovation but face challenges in broadening their reach and lack assertiveness to develop innovative ways to reach a broader range of patients.

Medical device regulations are the key challenge faced by device manufacturers in the Asian region. Med tech industry is regulated by strict guidelines through each phase of product or service development. In several Asian markets, there are no clear guidelines for device manufacturers that classify medical devices as simple or complex, or even mention how to handle them. Irregularities in clearly laid guidelines for introducing and using such products often create problems for companies to come up with advanced solutions in new geographies of the APAC region. Each country has different regulations for quality control, product registration, and pricing, and these are frequently unclear and inconsistent. This is a considerable concern for medtech players planning to set up a shop in the APAC region.

Medical device regulations are the key challenge faced by device manufacturers in the Asian region.

Another hiccup that the manufacturers face is the lack of definitive reimbursement structure. With new innovations in the healthcare domain, expenditure on medical technology is expected to grow but lack of transparent compensation schemes is a major hindrance. Medical device firms, across APAC region, face the challenge of limited clarity on payment structure of technological products and services. For instance, for medical products such as pacemakers and heart valves that are readily available, the reimbursement cost is generally available, but for progressing techniques or products like LVAD (left ventricular assist device), no coverage guidelines have been established. With this lack of clarity on the structure and level of reimbursement on such advanced products, medtech companies find it difficult to place their products in the market at a competitive price.

With unclear regulations and reimbursement policy structure, the medtech companies face a hard time in the APAC region. Competition from local players also add concerns for these players to survive in these markets. Partnerships of local medtech companies with funding firms and other players are on the rise. Domestic companies often partner with private equity firms that invest in and support the local players to innovate and expand. For instance, Huami Corporation, a manufacturer of wearable fitness monitoring devices, attracted investment from American venture capital firm Sequoia Capital and Xiaomi, a Chinese smartphone player, to develop a device that monitors health (tracking the number of steps walked, number of sleep hours, calories consumed, etc.) selling at a sober price of US$15 as compared to the average price of more than US$150 of its competitive brands including Apple and Samsung.

With unclear regulations and reimbursement policy structure, the medtech companies face a hard time in the APAC region. Competition from local players also add concerns for these players to survive in these markets.

Challenges for entering such a diverse market will take time to overcome, but companies are on the lookout for growth platforms and seem to be willing to leave no stone unturned to capture new opportunities. One such opportunity that multinationals can use to their advantage is partnering with regional stakeholders to access the APAC market. These collaborations are not limited to medtech companies or players in the healthcare domain, but are extended to a broader range of players including regional governments, regulatory bodies, educational institutions, insurance companies, and other technology companies.

Med tech companies are partnering with pharmaceutical players to access local market and widen their network. For instance, in India, Roche, a Swiss healthcare company dealing with diagnostic devices, got into a marketing partnership with Indian drug manufacturer Mankind Pharma, to extend the availability and market penetration of its blood glucose monitors, Accu-Check Go, in tier 2 and tier 3 towns making use of Mankind’s extensive local distribution network. Partnerships are critical for multinational players to rapidly and efficiently increase their geographic presence in the APAC region.

Another opportunity that medtech companies can seize to grow is the appointment of local staff in the regional management. Local people have a better market understanding and know how the system works. The decision making capabilities, if lie in the hand of local leaders, can work in favor of the companies as these leaders better understand the way the market functions. Balancing the availability of local talent and brand’s global assets, medtech players can be successful in developing products as per market needs. A mix of local resources and international talent in crucial to oversee operations in unstructured and fragmented markets such as APAC.

EOS Perspective

Correct assessment of the market needs is critical for any business to be successful. For medtech companies, APAC has been a challenging landscape due to fragmented market, as well as unstructured and complex regulatory environments. But with the focus being shifted to the dynamic and fast growing economies of APAC, the medtech market is positive to grow as the region offers scope of development and growth mainly due to aging population and growing income of middle class.

With challenges unique to each geography in APAC, medtech companies are focusing on partnering and collaborating with local medtech players and other stakeholders in the region. With strategic partnerships, global medtech players can reduce the intensity of competition faced from local companies. Collaborating with the right partner in different aspects of product development ensures growth, right product placement, and speedy market expansion. Association with regional entities are expected to increase, witnessing strong growth of the players in the medtech space.

The regulatory landscape in the region is highly fragmented and needs restructuring. Independent organization such as Asia Pacific Medical Technology Association (APACMed), formed in 2014, assigns itself to strike a balance between medtech companies wishing to enter the APAC market and other regional agencies aiming to improve the standard of healthcare offered to patients. Efforts such as these may bring coordination in the regulatory landscape, but it will take long to come to general consensus on similar laws of conducting business in this field.

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Starbucks – Expanding in Asia

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With more than 25,000 outlets operating in 75 countries, Starbucks is rightly said to be the premier retailer of specialty coffee globally. With the mission to “establish Starbucks as the premier purveyor of the finest coffee in the world”, the brand continues to rapidly expand its retail operations by opening stores in new markets, particularly with focus on Asian countries. Starbucks has already captured a solid customer base in China and Japan, and it is aiming to expand in other parts of the region, especially in India. While partnerships with local players have been beneficial to the company’s expansion strategy, Starbucks uses an interesting mix of product localization ideas to suit consumer preferences and local tastes to make a mark in the land dominated by tea drinkers.

With plans to open 12,000 new outlets globally over a span of five years, out of which nearly half are to be opened in the USA and China, Starbucks is planning to take its chain to a total of about 37,000 outlets globally. Asia is increasingly important to Starbucks’ growth strategy. As of 2016, the company operated 6,443 stores in 15 countries in the China/Asia Pacific (CAP) region that includes Australia, Brunei, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam. Potential for growth in this region is great, not only measured in the number of stores, but also in per store revenue – the CAP region currently accounts for 25.7% of Starbucks stores count, but generates around 14% of the company’s revenue.

Starbucks follows a two-pronged approach to grow its business in the Asian markets (and other emerging regions). The first tactic of approaching these markets is to partner with regional players to have an easy access. For instance, the coffee maker entered the Japanese market in 1995 with a 50-50 joint venture with Sazaby League, a major Japanese retailer and restaurateur, and in 2014, Starbucks took over the full ownership of its Japanese operations. Similarly, the first Starbucks coffee store that opened in India in October 2012 was in alliance with Tata Global Beverages, Indian non-alcoholic beverages company and a subsidiary of Tata Group. These partnerships allowed to company to get a strong entrance to the local markets, navigate through diverse market environments, and to fulfill regulatory requirements imposed on foreign investors by local governments (which otherwise would leave Starbucks unable to tap these high-potential markets).

The second tactic that Starbucks has successfully implemented in most Asian markets was to tweak its menu to suit the tastes of the local population. Considering that since its inception, Starbucks has been synonym for coffee, adjusting the menus to suit tea-drinking consumer tastes without diluting the brand has surely been challenging. Although the Asian tastes evolve and more consumers start to drink coffee, basing the menu on coffee beverages alone would be a risky move. One of the moves Starbucks did to accommodate the local preferences was the 2016 launch of ‘Teavana’ line of tea beverages for Asian countries that includes matcha and espresso fusion, black tea with ruby grapefruit and honey, and iced shaken green tea with aloe and prickly pear, flavors not typically found in the company’s western stores.

Starbucks’ strategy in the region seems to be paying off. As of December 2016, in China, Starbucks store was said to be opened every 15 hours, making it the company’s fastest growing market, the highest revenue generator in the region, as well as the second largest market globally in terms of stores count. Overcoming challenges of reaching out to consumers with heterogeneous tastes in this vast country, partnering with local players, and creating a menu that suits the taste buds of local consumers have been a game changer for the coffee brewer in mainland China.

Japan is another key market for Starbucks in Asia. The company was able to successfully tackle the Japanese market, as it chose to focus on providing excellent customer experience to better resonate with Japanese culture that emphasizes traditional etiquettes and personal respect. Starbucks outlets in Japan do not ask for the customer name while placing order as privacy is highly valued in Japanese culture. To fit in the local culture, Starbucks in Japan has come up with the ‘concept stores’ that offer products based on local needs. Starbucks has the one of a kind ‘black apron-only’ store boosting of certified coffee experts in Japan.

India, a relatively new addition to the company’s Asian portfolio of markets, might turn to be a problem child for Starbucks. Since entering the Indian market, the company has been trying to take full advantage of the opportunities lying in the increasing income of the middle class population in India. Having opened more than 80 outlets in less than four years since inception, Starbucks in India (known as Tata Starbucks Private Limited) seems to be on an extension route in the Indian subcontinent. But with retail figures saying the opposite, with only 10 new stores in 2016 up against average of 25 stores in last three years and a few closed over infrastructure mishandling, the picture does not look very positive. India’s devotion to tea is a hard nut to crack for Starbucks, and while the company followed its standard move to include tea beverages in local stores, they do not always suit local tastes, as they differ greatly from chai that majority of Indians are used to and love. The scenario in south India might seem more favorable, as the locals have been accustomed to drinking coffee since long before Starbucks came to the country. But the local preference if for traditional filtered coffee, very different from anything on Starbucks’ menu, and bulk of it is consumed at home. With not much being said about the opening of new stores in the near future in any regions of the country, Starbucks in India needs to realign its strategic move to be able to see persistent growth.

EOS Perspective

While many enterprises fail to understand the impact of consumer behavior and preferences over the success or failure of a business, Starbucks offers a finely tailored customer experience to its consumers. For the most part, the company has managed to combine its exciting American flair with the underlying values of the Asian cultures to create a localized, unique experience.

With continuous and consistent expansion of its store base by adding stores to higher growth markets, Starbucks aims at standing as one of the most recognized coffee brands in China and Japan, and increasingly in other CAP countries. In those regional markets, where Starbucks has achieved the greatest success, China and Japan, the company’s efforts to offer consumers new coffee (and non-coffee) flavors in a variety of forms, across new categories have led to Starbucks’ continuous strong performance, and over time translated to acceptability of the American coffee-brewer in the lands of tea drinkers.

However, the coffee brand’s take off in India has been bumpy. The company has less than 100 stores in India, incomparably fewer than its competitor, Café Coffee Day, which has more than 1,500 outlets across the country. In terms of geographic spread in India, Starbucks has till now only concentrated on opening its stores in the largest metro cities, where to some extend it could justify its products’ high pricing (for local market standards). But in order to be successful, the chain needs to reach consumers in tier 2 and tier 3 cities, and appeal to them with more affordable products by marginally compromising on product prices (yet still remaining elitist, as it stands no chance to appeal to the clientele of traditional tea-corner stands which offer a cup of hot tea or coffee for virtually a fraction of Starbucks products price). If the company ensures expansion beyond tier 1 cities, continues to launch new stores offering localized products, it should be able to reap benefits of the rising income of the fast-expanding middle class largely interested in the foreign-feel-like experience and social statement that visiting Starbucks offers them along with their tall Frappuccino.

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A Dragon Unfurls its Wings – How China’s Economic Slowdown Is Rippling Through Emerging Markets

Almost 10 years ago, Goldman Sachs published a report, in which it predicted Chinese GDP to overtake the USA’s GDP by 2020. Today, this prognosis looks like a far-fetched dream as China has recently been riding a wild economic horse. When Chinese economy was growing, its demand for various products and services contributed to the economic growth of emerging markets across the world. The deteriorating performance of Chinese economy over the past few years appears to have started adversely affecting these markets. Will the emerging markets be able to successfully sustain in future?

China witnessed a spectacular and continued rise of its GDP during major part of last three decades. However, end of 2007 saw a turning point, and the country’s economic growth rate cooled off from 14.2% still in 2007 down to 9.6% in 2008, reaching mere 7.4% in the first quarter of 2014. This single digit growth would be more than satisfactory for a lot of economies. However, for China, which regularly recorded double digit rates, this extended period of slower growth is disappointing, with some calling it as ‘an end of an era’.

For years, China was enjoying relentless economic growth through massive investments, exemplary rise in exports, as well as abundance of labor force which was available at low wages. Due to these factors, economists started referring to China’s economic growth model as an investment-and-export driven model. This model has played a key role in driving exports also from emerging markets such as Latin America, Asia, and Middle East, as there was substantial demand for commodities from China’s end to support its domestic consumption as well as export requirements. With the weakening of foreign demand and internal consumption, China’s export demands have considerably weakened, leading to declining prices of export-related commodities and resulting in an adverse impact on emerging markets’ GDPs.

Is the Slowdown for Real?

China’s economic slowdown has not only been reflected in its modest GDP growth figures, but also in several other negative trends that have been observed. These include a continuous decline in the percentage of fixed-asset investments as a part of China’s GDP. Investments contracted from 24.8% in 2007 to 19.6% in 2013. Reduction of fixed-asset investments is likely to negatively contribute towards a country’s economic slowdown by adversely affecting sectors such as real estate, infrastructure, machinery, metals, and construction.GDP

Moreover, yuan has depreciated against US dollar (with average exchange rate of 7.9 in 2006 down to 6.26 in April 2014). In addition to this, Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI), which is a composite index of sub-indicators (production level, new orders, supplier deliveries, inventories, and employment level), has plunged from 52.9 in 2006 to 48.3 in April 2014, below the middle value (50), thus indicating some contraction of China’s manufacturing industry. This industry contributes significantly to China’s GDP, therefore, the industry’s deterioration has a direct adverse effect on China’s economy.

This negative twist in China’s economic growth story is believed to be a result of a synergetic effect of various internal and external factors, some of which include:

  • Over-reliance on abundant supply of low-cost labor. For decades, China has based its growth on production of goods requiring high amount of cheap manual labor. However, as the economy continued growing, the demand for higher wages has increased, pumping up the labor cost. This cost is contributing to the inflation of products’ export prices, which is ultimately translating to a lower demand of Chinese goods.

  • The focus of Chinese workforce has been shifting from rural agriculture to urban manufacturing. The government has been taking steps to propel this transition in order to boost economic growth, prosperity, and industrialization. As more and more Chinese moved to urban areas, gradually, the transition has started yielding diminishing returns mainly due to saturation in the manufacturing industry.

  • Europe has also played a villainous role in China’s story. It has been one of China’s largest export markets but has recently been extending a significantly low demand for commodities and products from China. In 2007, the European Union accounted for 20.1% of all the exports from China. This percentage has fallen to 16.3% in 2012.

Chinese Leaders React

The Chinese government is in a reactive mode and has been unveiling a plethora of actions to bolster growth. The overall approach looks conservative in nature with a targeted GDP growth of 7.5% for this year, after recording a growth of 7.7% in 2013.

In an attempt to improve the situation, some of the expected financial and fiscal reforms are in the pipeline. Liberalizing bank deposit rates and relaxing entry barriers for private investment are some of the moves to be implemented by 2020. Various property measures (such as relaxing home purchase rules, providing tax subsidies, or cutting down payments) are planned to be introduced (based on local demands and conditions prevailing in a particular city) in order to balance the property market as a whole. A target of creating 10 million new jobs in Beijing has also been set for 2014. The underlying motive of all the rescue measures is strengthening the Chinese economy’s reliance on domestic consumption and services.

Influence on Emerging Markets

Undoubtedly, swing of the Chinese economy towards consumption and services is expected to considerably affect all the connected economies, several of them being emerging markets economies (EMEs). Commodity producing emerging markets such as Latin America, Middle East, parts of Africa and Asia are likely to be affected. Within this group, metal producers will probably suffer the most, as China had a significant demand for iron ore, steel, and copper during its investment boom phase. Within this subgroup, economies which are running current account deficits are forecast to be more susceptible to the ill-effects of China’s economic slowdown.

As China tilts towards domestic consumption, Latin America has started to witness a dawdling growth as the region’s growth rate dropped from an average of 4.3% in the period of 2004-2011 to 2.6% currently. For instance, as Chile depends heavily on copper exports to sustain its economic expansion, the country has been regularly reporting sluggish growth rates (5.8%, 5.9%, and 5.6% in 2010, 2011, and 2012, respectively) due to the decline in the price of copper, largely fueled by a lower demand from China. In addition to this, Brazil and Mexico are struggling to survive through falling benchmark stock indexes. The fall is mainly due to declining prices of commodities, as exports to China from Brazil and Mexico have weakened.

Middle East will probably register both positive and negative effects of China’s economic slowdown. One of the ill-effects could be reduction in oil prices, from US$140 per barrel in 2008 to approximately US$80 per barrel by the end of 2014, due to China’s lower demand of oil. On the positive side, Middle East is strengthening its position as an attractive region with long-term growth since China is being considered as a slightly less attractive option for investment by a majority of investors. This is mainly due to Middle East’s good infrastructure and accelerated development of industries such as defense, chemical, and automotive, and not only traditionally developed energy and petrochemicals.

The impact on African countries is expected to be negative primarily due to declining commodity prices. As Africa’s growth substantially depends on its exports to China, some African commodity exporters, such as Zambia, Sudan, and Angola, have started to feel the strain as China’s demand for commodities is weakening. This weakened demand has led to lower prices of commodities such as aluminum, copper, and oil, which registered a y-o-y decline by 4%, 9.5%, and 5.4%, respectively in January 2013. Zambia is likely to receive the strongest hit as copper constitutes almost 80% of the country’s total exports and reduction in copper prices could make its current account deficit to account for almost 4% of GDP in 2014.

Effect of China’s economic slowdown will vary from country to country in case of Asia. Countries such as Indonesia and Philippines, which have significant domestic demand, would be less adversely affected as they are less dependent on commodities exports to China. China’s unstable economy has spurred new investments in other growing Asian economies such as Cambodia. India is also likely to benefit from the ability to import oil at lower prices, which are pushed down by China’s weakened demand for oil. At the same time, however, export of cotton and metals such as copper and iron ore from India to China is dampened, adversely affecting India’s economy.

While EMEs have already been witnessing a lower demand from their traditional trading partners such as European Union and the USA, China’s slowdown will be an added burden to their economies.
China's Impact


It’s Touch and Go

It is rather evident that Chinese economic slowdown is having an adverse impact on emerging countries across Africa, Asia, and Latin America. One can hope that the measures taken by the Chinese leadership to curtail the slowdown will soon start taking effect and gradually lift up the economy, and in doing so, control the extent of damage spilling over many emerging countries and their economies.

In the event that the Chinese economy is unable to recover from this period of slowdown soon, it will continue to be a terrible blow to the economic ambitions of several emerging markets, especially those in Africa and parts of Asia-Pacific, which are heavily reliant on Chinese investment and trade relations.

Simultaneously to absorbing fewer production inputs imported from emerging countries, it is worth noting that China’s role in world economics might start to alter as it transforms to a consumption-led economy. This transformation is likely to slowly increase China’s appetite for imports of products and services, apart from traditional commodities-focused imports. It will be interesting to observe whether and how some of the emerging economies will attempt to satisfy this new Chinese hunger for goods extending beyond simple commodities.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Future of Global Solar Power Industry – Tense, But There’s Still Hope.

The global solar power industry was always viewed as one based on flawed business principle of artificial sustenance. With prolonged low economic growth, the artificial support base disintegrated, resulting in shutdown of multi-million dollar business across the globe.

Several leading players, such as Siemens, Solar Millennium, First Solar Inc, and SunPower Corp and Suntech Power, have either filed for bankruptcy or pulled out of their loss-making solar power businesses. Others, such as Germany-based Bosch, have decided to wrap-up solar operations at the end of 2013 after having “tried unsuccessfully to achieve a competitive position”.

A 60% fall in solar panel prices between 2010 and early 2013, as well as the rapid expansion of natural gas production in the USA and curtailment of subsidies in the EU were some of the key reasons for growing losses. What is also worth noting is the overcapacity in the market – global production capacity for photovoltaic panels reached about 60 GW in 2012, while expected demand was only 30 GW. Driven by such unsustainable market conditions, no wonder solar power companies went out of business.

Industry experts, however, view the above factors as simply the result of China’s growing dominance in the global solar power industry. Driven by government subsidies, China became the largest solar panel supplier, accounting for 60% of global solar power production capacity. This domination of the industry has, however, come at a price. Amidst growing unhappiness with China-made products leading to local companies becoming uncompetitive, USA imposed a 40% anti-dumping duty in 2012 while in May 2013 the EU imposed provisional duties of 12% (likely to increase to 47% in August) on imports of Chinese-made solar panels. Whether this will deter China or encourage local growth is unknown; this might however have a negative effect of pushing the industry further into crisis.

Beneficiary of the present situation are likely to be manufacturers in countries like Taiwan which are not yet subject to US/EU import tariffs. About 90% of solar cells manufactured in Taiwan are exported to the USA, Europe, and China. Taiwan might also benefit from the EU’s imposition of duties on China made products, driving Chinese investment into Taiwan for setting up manufacturing plants to then directly export to the EU from Taiwan without having to pay the duties. Recent activities of some Chinese companies have indicated Turkey and South Africa being possible destinations for setting up manufacturing units.

The Chinese will find ways to get their products into the US and EU markets, even if it means moving their operations to Taiwan or other countries which are not subject to the high duties. The real issue, however, is the state of the global solar industry – with some of the major players shutting down operations and funding of solar power depleting, is the end of the road? We doubt it.

There is still hope for the solar power industry, largely driven by favorable policy measures in emerging Asian and Latin American countries. The first half of 2013 witnessed solar power investments in several countries, including Kuwait, South Africa and Chile. The industry received a major boost from Middle-East when Saudi Arabia announced a US$100 billion investment plan in 2012, to generate one-third of the country’s electricity demand through solar energy. Although current demand in these emerging markets is relatively low and may take about 10-15 years to develop into a sizeable market, the scope for growth is immense.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence 1 Comment

Africa is Ready For You. Are You Ready For Africa?

For decades, Africa was associated with poverty and helplessness rather than business opportunities and thriving markets. But the reality is evolving, and companies from across industries are increasingly including the African continent in their investment plans. Global FMCG players too have started to set their eyes on this untapped goldmine of opportunities. However, the market is much more complex than its thriving counterparts in Asia and companies must get hold of the market dynamics before entering or they stand the risk of getting their hands burnt.

Some two decades ago, it became apparent to the leading international FMCG companies that many of their core developed markets in the USA and Europe were no longer able to provide sustainable growth, which made them extend their business focus to include developing markets in Asia. While these economies will continue to still generate significant returns for quite some time, many global FMCG giants are already exploring new growth avenues and are turning their eyes towards the African continent. Growing middle class (already accounting for more than one-third of the continent’s total population, it is expected to hit 1 billion people by 2060), paired with accelerating economic growth, large youth population, overall poverty decline, and urbanization trends are the key factors underpinning Africa’s position as the next frontier in the global FMCG arena.

This has already spurred investment activity amongst leading FMCG players. By 2016, Unilever and P&G plan to invest US$113 million and US$175 million, respectively, to expand their manufacturing facilities in the continent. While these facilities are to be developed mostly in South Africa, they are expected to cater to developing markets across eastern and southern regions. Godrej, a relatively smaller India-based company, has taken up the inorganic route to tap this market, by acquiring Darling group, a pan-African hair care company.

Despite luring growth potential offered by the continent, the African markets are much thornier to penetrate than it seems. A shaky political and regulatory environment acts as one of the largest roadblocks. The continent has witnessed 10 coup d’états since 2000 and has been subject to countless changes in business policies resulting from unstable governments. Further, inefficient distribution networks, inadequate business infrastructure, as well as complex and inhomogeneous marketplace housing 53 countries, 2,000 dialects, and countless cultural groups, all cause African consumer markets difficult to navigate through.

Notwithstanding the challenges, the potential offered by the African continent overweighs. Companies, however, must mould their strategies and offerings to the realities of African markets in order to succeed. Here are a few pointers to consider:

  • Bring affordability and quality to the same side of the coin: Contrary to popular perception, the middle-class African consumer attaches much importance to quality and brands. Companies that have long followed the strategy of selling poor-quality products in this market cannot sustain for long. Having said that, affordability still stays as an important factor for the middle-class Africans. To deal with this, companies can look at offering good quality products in smaller packaging, to ensure low unit price. For several years, African consumers have gotten used to buying smaller quantities that could fit their limited budgets.

  • Discard the one-size-fits-all approach: On a continent with 53 nations, companies looking to enter African markets with blanket approach are likely to fail. While South Africa is relatively more developed and has slower growth, markets such as Nigeria and Kenya are developing at a rapid pace, and thus their dynamics differ. Consumer shopping behaviors and patterns also vary. Sub-Saharan nations, in comparison to North African consumers, tend to exhibit more brand loyalty and are more conservative in trying new things. North African countries also present stronger desire for international brands. Thus, it is most critical for international players to identify the characteristics of a particular market that they plan to enter.

  • Locate the right partners: Informal trade dominates African markets making distribution a daunting task. However, this challenge can be turned into an opportunity for companies to improve their competitive edge and bypass the lack of sufficient distribution and retail facilities. In rural areas of Nigeria and Kenya, Unilever has replicated its Indian direct-to-consumer distribution scheme, wherein a host of individuals undertake direct selling to consumers in their communities. Similarly, other companies have posted sales executives with each sub-distributor to manage inventory and brand image. Distribution costs are high in Africa but bearing them is not optional.

  • Move beyond traditional media: TV and print remain a popular and trusted media for advertising to urban consumers. However, owing to their low penetration in rural regions, they have limited impact on rural consumers. This brings forth the need to reach mass consumers through in-store marketing. Over the coming years, companies can also look into mobile advertising as surveys reveal that the number of Africans having access to mobile phones is already higher than those with access to electricity. Mobile penetration in the Sub-Saharan Africa stood at 57.1% in 2012 and is expected to reach 75.4% in 2016. This promises a gamut of mobile marketing opportunities for consumer companies.

  • Deal with infrastructural woes and innovate to compensate: Power outages, poor transportation, and limited access to cold storage facilities make public infrastructure undependable for businesses. Thus, companies must be open to invest in own power generators and water tanks. Innovations at the product end may also help overcome infrastructural limitations. For instance, Promasidor, an African food company, uses vegetable fat instead of animal fat to extend its milk powder’s shelf life when stored without refrigeration. While spending on infrastructure heavily increases costs, it can provide companies with a competitive advantage in the longer run.

  • Invest in personnel management and grow new talent: The fear for personal safety among foreign nationals and lack of skilled professionals within Africa makes recruitment a challenging task, especially for mid- and top-level management. Tapping into African diaspora located throughout the world comes across as a win-win solution. Moreover, providing training and management courses to local graduates allows addressing personnel needs over long term.


The African market can be a goldmine for FMCG players, if entered cautiously. However, the same can become a landmine, if proper investments and planning are not undertaken. Despite the present challenges, increasing number of companies will be looking into Africa, however only few will have the skill set to translate this opportunity into a great success.

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Will Shale Gas Solve Our Fuel Needs for the Future?

At first glance, shale gas might look too good to be true: large untapped natural gas resources present on virtually every continent. Abundant supplies of relatively clean energy allowing for lower overall energy prices and reduced dependence on non-renewable resources such as coal and crude oil. However, despite this huge potential, the shale gas revolution has remained largely limited to the USA till now. Concerns over the extraction technology and its potentially negative impact on the environment have hampered shale gas development in Europe and Asia on a commercial scale. However, increasing energy import bills, need for energy security, potential profits and political uncertainty in the Middle East are causing many countries to rethink their stand on shale gas extraction development.

How Large Are Shale Gas Reserves And Where Are They Being Developed?

An estimation of shale gas potential conducted by the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) in 2009 pegs the total technically recoverable shale gas reserves in 32 countries (for which data has been established) to 6,622 Trillion Cubic Feet (Tcf). This increases the world’s total recoverable gas reserves, both conventional and unconventional, by 40% to 22,622 Tcf.


Technically Recoverable Shale Gas Reserves

Continent
Shale Gas Reserves and Development
North America Technically Recoverable Reserves: 1,931 Tcf
Till now, almost whole commercial shale gas development has taken place in the USA. In 2010, shale gas accounted for 20% of the total US natural gas supply, up from 1% in 2000. In Canada, several large scale shale projects are in various stages of assessment and development. Despite potential reserves, little or no shale gas exploration activity has been reported Mexico primarily due to regulatory delays and lack of government support.
South America Technically Recoverable Reserves: 1,225 Tcf
Several gas shale basins are located in South America, with Argentina having the largest resource base, followed by Brazil. Chile, Paraguay and Bolivia have sizeable shale gas reserves and natural gas production infrastructure, making these countries potential areas of development. Despite promising reserves, shale gas exploration and development in the region is almost negligible due to lack of government support, nationalization threats and absence of incentives for large scale exploration.
Europe Technically Recoverable Reserves: 639 Tcf
Europe has many shale gas basins with development potential in countries including France, Poland, the UK, Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands and Sweden. However, concerns over the environmental impact of fracturing and oil producers lobbying against shale gas extraction are holding back development in the region with some countries such as France going as far as banning drilling till further research on the matter. Some European governments, including Germany, are planning to bring stringent regulations to discourage shale gas development. Despite this, countries such as Poland show promising levels of shale gas leasing and exploration activity. Several companies are exploring shale gas prospects in the Netherlands and the UK.
Asia Technically Recoverable Reserves: 1,389 Tcf
China is expected to have the largest potential of shale gas (1,275 Tcf). State run energy companies like Sinopec are currently evaluating the country’s shale gas reserves and developing technological expertise through international tie-ups. However, no commercial development of shale gas has yet happened. Though both India and Pakistan have potential reserves, lack of government support, unclear natural gas policy and political uncertainty in the region are holding back the extraction development. Both Central Asia and Middle East are also expected to have significant recoverable shale gas reserves.
Africa Technically Recoverable Reserves: 1,042 Tcf
South Africa is the only country in African continent actively pursuing shale gas exploration and production. Other countries have not actively explored or shown interest in their shale gas reserves due to the presence of large untapped conventional resources of energy (crude oil, coal). Most potential shale gas fields are located in North and West African countries including Libya, Algeria and Tunisia.
Australia Technically Recoverable Reserves: 396 Tcf
Despite Australia’s experience with unconventional gas resource development (coal bed methane), shale gas development has not kicked off in a big way in Australia. However, recent finds of shale gas and oil coupled with large recoverable reserves has buoyed investor interest in the Australian shale gas.

What Are The Potential Negative Impacts Of Shale Gas Production?

Despite the large scale exploration and production of shale gas in the USA, countries around the world, especially in Europe, remain sceptical about it. Concerns over the environmental impact of hydraulic fracturing, lack of regulations and concerns raised by environmental groups have slowed shale gas development. Though there is no direct government or agency report on pitfalls of hydraulic fracturing, independent research and studies drawn from the US shale gas experience have brought forward the following concerns:


Shale Gas Challenges

Will Shale Gas Solve Our Future Energy Needs?

Rarely does an energy resource polarize world opinion like this. Shale gas has divided the world into supporters and detractors. However, despite its potential negative environmental impact, shale gas extraction is associated with a range of unquestionably positive aspects, which will continue to support shale gas development:

  • Shale gas production will continue to increase in the USA and is expected to increase to 46% of the country’s total natural gas supply by 2035. USA is expected to transform from a net importer to a net exporter of natural gas by 2020.

  • Despite initial opposition, countries in Europe are opening up to shale gas exploration. With the EU being keen to reduce its dependence on imported Russian piped gas and nuclear energy, shale gas remains one of its only bankable long-term options. Replicating the US model, countries like Poland, the Netherlands and the UK are expected to commence shale production over the next two-five years and other countries are likely to follow suit.

  • Australian government’s keenness to reduce energy imports in addition to the recent shale gas finds has spurred shale gas development the country. Many companies are lining up to lease land and start shale gas exploration.

  • More stringent regulations from environment agencies are expected to limit the potential negative environmental impact of shale gas exploration.

  • Smaller energy companies that pioneered the shale gas revolution in the USA are witnessing billions of dollars worth of investments from multinational oil giants such as Exxon Mobil, Shell, BHP Billiton etc. are keen on developing an expertise in the shale gas extraction technology. These companies plan to leverage this technology across the world to explore and produce shale gas.The table below highlights major acquisitions and joint venture agreements between large multinational energy giants and US-based shale gas specialists over the last three years.

Major Deals in Shale Gas Exploration

Company

Acquisition/Partnership

Year

Investment
Sinopec Devon Energy January 2012 USD 2.2 billion
Total Chesapeake Energy January 2012 USD 2.3 billion
Statoil Brigham Exploration October 2011 USD 4.4 billion
BHP Billiton Petrohawk July 2011 USD 12.1 billion
BHP Billiton Chesapeake Energy February 2011 USD 4.75 billion
Shell East Resources May 2010 USD 4.7 billion
Exxon Mobil XTO Energy December 2009 USD 41.0 billion
Source: EOS Intelligence Research


Shale gas production is expected to spike in the coming three-five years. Extensive recoverable reserves, new discoveries, large scale exploration and development and technological improvement in the extraction process could lead to an abundant supply of cheap and relatively clean natural gas and reduce dependence on other conventional sources such as crude oil and coal For several countries including China, Poland, Libya, Mexico, Brazil, Algeria and Argentina, where the reserves are particularly large, shale gas might bring energy stability.

The need for energy security and desire to reduce dependence on energy imports from the Middle East and Russia (and hence to increase political independence), are likely to outweigh potential environmental shortfalls of shale gas production, and some compromise with environment protection activist groups will have to be worked out. Though the road to achieving an ‘energy el dorado’ appears to be long and rocky, it seems that with the right governments’ support, shale gas could become fuel that could significantly contribute to solving the world energy crisis over long term.

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Ultimate Convenience Indian Style – Why Do Ready-to-eat Meal Producers Have a Difficult Job in India?

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After a long day at work, a tasty meal is every hard working man and woman’s dream. But, cooking such a meal late in the evening – more of a nightmare. Enter ready-to-eat meals. Throw a packet in the microwave and your main meal of the day is steaming hot in under five minutes. What could be faster, tastier, more convenient and cheaper than that? Many options, Indians respond.

The healthy growth of ready-to-eat (RTE) consumer meals (i.e. microwavable pouches containing ready dishes) has become a success story across many countries, where lifestyles are getting busier, disposable incomes are increasing and women are becoming an integral part of the workforce. The RTE industry is taking several emerging economies in Asia by storm, as dynamic demographic and economic transformations occurring in many of these economies drive increased interest in convenience sought in matters of food by the region’s inhabitants. The trend, though, is of uneven magnitude, with rural communities largely remaining deeply traditional about home-cooked food, besides having very limited financial capacity to afford RTE products or a microwave oven. However, the growing preference for such meals is so strong amongst middle class groups, that, overall, the RTE segment across Asian markets has become an attractive area of opportunity for food companies.

Ready To EatRTE foods sector is one of the most dynamic growth sectors in the packaged foods markets across Asia, and on a global scale, Asian consumers exhibit the highest interest in RTE meals. A 2007 AC Nielsen study revealed that seven out of top ten markets with the highest propensity to purchase RTE meals are Asian countries, with Thai consumers emerging as the world’s biggest fans of RTE products.

Surprisingly though, India does not feature in the list of top 10 RTE markets. Unquestionably, the country does enjoy most of the RTE foods market growth prerequisites – fast developing economy, expanding modern retail channels, dynamically growing middle and upper class, rising nuclear family format, soaring participation of women in workforce, rapidly rising incomes and the growing reality of hectic lifestyles driving the demand for convenience.

So where is India in this picture? Why does its name not appear in the list of attractive RTE meals markets? Why do India-made RTE food products have a bigger market internationally than domestically? What are the challenges that RTE producers such MTR Foods, ITC Foods, Heinz India or Haldiram’s face in their home territory?

The fact is that although there is a market for RTE products in India, its size is modest and its growth is slowing down. AC Nielsen estimates the Indian RTE market growth slowed from 44.9% in 2010 to 28.1% in 2011 (reaching INR 506 crore, or about USD 110 million). In comparison, the Thai RTE market grew by 105% during 2005-2010, with a strong, upwards trend that is set to persist.

The reasons for such differing dynamics are many, largely due to cultural background and the Indian consumer’s mindset. Here are six key reasons why RTE foods producers have a difficult job in the Indian market, reasons, that might make them reconsider RTE expansion plans:

  • Traditionally, Indians are accustomed to hot fresh food served straight from sizzling pots, mainly because of easy and cheap access to domestic help and primary cooking ingredients easily available for purchase. RTE meals, despite their convenience, have a hard job competing with home cooked food.

  • Busy Indian consumers look for speed and convenience, and there’s plenty of options in the food services sector – countless cheap order-in and take-out options, that also offer great advantages over RTE meals, especially as these are freshly cooked, a factor of great importance to Indian consumers.

  • Unlike in many other countries, RTE foods in India are more expensive than most order-in and take-out options. This, paired with the preference for freshness, tends to put RTE products at a disadvantageous position.

  • Despite growth in modern retail format, majority of Indians still do their food shopping in traditional stores, which have limited space and interest in carrying novelties such as RTE foods (organised food retail is estimated to still account for only about 3-5% of the total retail market).

  • Considering the hot climate, Indian consumers tend to be reluctant to trust the safety of a ready meal that has been stored and transported out of temperature-controlled supply chain, especially given the largely inefficient supply chain management.

  • Some RTE meals, which do require cold storage, also fall prey to inefficient supply chain management and frequent power cuts, which lead to rise in production costs, in turn translating into higher RTE product prices resulting in lower demand for such products.

In spite of the many challenges, the Indian RTE market is growing, though at much slower rate than once anticipated. Indian attitude towards meal from a pouch is changing, with growing social acceptability to consume such foods and to prepare meals in the microwave.

Producers are optimistic, as the mere size of the potential customer base offer vast opportunities, even with slower y-o-y growth. But they also remain cautious, citing improvements in supply chain and distribution management, growth in modern retail format, continuous growth in consumers’ disposable incomes as the main changes needed to occur for the Indian RTE market to actually take off. However, given that many of these transformations have been occurring over the past years, perhaps these form just a secondary problem. Perhaps the key prerequisite for RTE market growth is the change in the Indian consumer’s mindset – change that is the slowest to occur and hardest to influence by producers.

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It’s Good the Crisis Happened – How Private Labels Benefit from Global Economic Turmoil

Stagnating or declining consumption, falling sales, lower financial stability – the economic crisis is in full swing in many geographies. But it is not a bad thing for everyone. Across markets, private labels have witnessed strong growth over the past five years, the upward trend coinciding with the onset of the economic turmoil in 2008. Cash-strapped consumers, worried about their financial security, turn to cheaper options during their everyday shopping, providing the retailers’ own labels with unprecedented opportunity to win consumers’ hearts.

Since the very beginning of the private labels story, retailer-owned products have been typically associated with low quality (to some extent quite rightly as the first private label products were clearly inferior). These concerns over quality made it difficult for the private label market to take off, making it cater predominantly to the least demanding or poor group of consumers. Several retailers started to realize that while many consumers are indeed price-driven, what most of them actually look for is value for money – so value matters to most of them. While changing the private-labelled product quality was relatively easy to do, changing the consumer bias and conviction of these products’ low quality was a more difficult task.

Quality improved, but it was the onset of the economic crisis in 2008 that made many consumers develop a ‘crisis mindset’ that led them to actually try out private labels for the first time. It appears that the crisis gave private labels a unique chance to enter homes of a group of consumers who were very unlikely to try them out before, mainly due to the consumers’ loyalty to branded products, strong unverified perception of poor quality of private labels and lack of financial pressure to even consider cheaper options. With search for cost savings and brand loyalty in decline, many consumers have found private label products quality to be on a par with market leading brands across segments, but at considerably lower price (even up to 40% cheaper than branded equivalents, depending on product category).

Private Label Market Share in Europe - 2012Private labels market has been growing across several countries (most of Asia still has a relatively low penetration of modern retail formats thus presence of own labels is largely limited there), but the increased acceptance of private labels is particularly visible in Europe. According to a AC Nielsen report “The Power of Private Label in Europe”, already in 2010, a considerable group of consumers associated private labels with good value – between 82% and 87% of consumers across Spain, France, Belgium, Ireland, the Netherlands, UK and Germany believed that supermarket own brands offer extremely good value for money. This is a significant change of mindset, considering the long period of inferior quality associations. Such opinions have played an integral role in boosting the growth of the European private label segment, and in 2012, the average value share of private label across European markets was estimated at 30%.

Clearly, private labels will continue to benefit from the overall deterioration of the economic climate, not only now (even though private labels are gaining higher share of retailer sales, the overall consumption expenditures are all in all lower), but also after the crisis, when consumption will start to grow again. This will be possible provided that retailers use the current situation to build some sort of loyalty amongst customers. This is the time for retailers to prove to their customers that private label products are not half as bad as generally regarded, and to convince the consumers to stick to private label products even after the crisis.
It is not all nice and easy for private labels yet, as they are faced with a range of challenges, which might question their ability to win customers’ loyalty that would last even in the post-crisis era. Obviously, producers of branded products have also reacted to the deteriorated financial capabilities of their customers, and introduced a range of offers or launched product lines in cheaper segments.

Additionally, we have already seen an increase in private-labelled product prices, resulting in lower cost benefit over reduced-price branded products. Growth in the private label segment is linked to improved product quality and the retailers’ attempts to offset the decline in overall sales as consumption stagnates. This increase might eventually lead the consumers to realizing that they can get an old, beloved brand, that reminds them of pre-crisis security, at just marginally higher cost, especially with branded products now available at discounted rates and in promotional offers.

So, the question really is, whether the private label growth story is just a temporary affair, and most consumers will hop back to the branded cart the minute crisis is over?

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