Lunch At The BOP


I thought long and deep before starting this entry. Okay, not too long and deep, but deep enough to be able to start another category, with some more thoughts and observations. Having said that, I will string together a few random thoughts and exchanges that have taken place over the last few weeks, to start a thread of thought alonng this whole realm of marketing – The Bottom Of The Pyramid.

It all started, as a rage, some years ago by a book called, “The Fortune At The Bottom Of The Pyramid”. Now, for an Indian who has spent years selling stuff in the village markets, the real value of the book, to me, is that it opened the eyes of multi-national corporations to the possibility that this segment of the population is indeed a market. It also allowed many corporations to tie up with large NGOs and generally congratulate themselves on a very good job done. Yet, the question remains – how many people really know what it takes to market to these people? Corporations are there to make money, and have profitability targets. Many people below poverty lines cannot afford products made by large corporations, because they are saddled with large overhead costs and profit targets. The route is often through government schemes, which often are ineffective in their implementation.

Now, I am/ have been / am / have been with the corporate sector, and I have experienced all the challenges and contradictions that I mentioned.

I was also at a conference, last year, on sustainability, at a five star hotel. We were given tea to drink from manicured earthen cups, called kullars. Sorry, the “r’ here is a strong, Indian form of “r”, which cannot be written in English. When I have drunk from kullars, I am used to the taste of the mud in the tea, and this taste adds that little something extra to the taste. Then, when the tea is drunk, we toss the cup into the bushes, or give it back to the chai-wallah. Tossing the cup back into the bushes, is eco-friendly. Hmm… I may have another thing to write about this later. However, in the five star hotel, people where suitably impressed by the kullar, as they found it to be “such an authentic experience”. Interestingly, no one thought about having the tea on the streets, or having a conference in the streets.

And then, there is a little debate that is going on. The Bombay-Mumbai dabbawallahs, supposedly, collect the uneaten lunch from people, and redistribute it to the poor who have nothing to eat. Some of my friends say that this is terrible, and that this really demeans people. I beg to differ. This is a deep, deep issue. The first issue, as I see is, why on earth do we order and eat so much, that we throw it away? Why don’t intended schemes reach the poor, who are in desperate need of basic nutrition? What is the point of talking of vitamins and proteins and fiber to people whose calorific consumption is below starvation levels? Can they even digest good food?

So, when I sat on the street, and photographed this young gentleman eating scraps out of rubbish collected from the street, I ask myself time and time and time again – what do we really know about the Bottom of The Pyramid?

While we may talk about experiments, and corporations have performed these experiments, where they ask people to eat food for less than 1USD a day, to experience what these people do, I ask – while these are good experiments, will some of us actually survive Lunch at the Restaurant called BOP?

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