Snackers and their snacks: exploring an Indian love affair

In India, snacking is a national obsession: in few other countries do you find such a mind-boggling diversity of sensory experience. Analysing it would be a dream job for any semiotician, so we were thrilled when flavour leader Givaudan presented us with this very brief.

Our task was twofold. First, we set out to identify emerging snacking behaviours in a country where snacking is already enshrined as a way of life. Secondly, we zoomed in on masala, that catch-all term for a spicy mix that you see everywhere in India. Was it evolving, and if so, how?

In terms of wider snacking behaviours, we saw historic food institutions like the roadside dhaba (the rough-and-ready snack stop) making a comeback, offering authenticity in a cleaned-up, contemporary form. And codes like ‘Dude Food’ showed a taste for extreme flavour emerging amongst young Indians, eager to rev up their motorbikes and explore the wild side of their country’s snack heritage.

‘Mission Masala’ proved a different sort of challenge. How do you identify changes in a term that already has so many meanings and so many variations? But as we interviewed India-wide experts and immersed ourselves in fieldwork, we began to plot some patterns.

For instance, masala was starting to play a support role to other big flavours like chocolate or tamarind, rather than acting almost as a synonym for flavour itself. We also found there was scope for snacks to develop a more nuanced take on masala, exploiting the vast range of regional mixes India offers.

The insights we uncovered, across both parts of the brief, helped direct Givaudan to where meaning and emotion are concentrated in Indian snacking today.

The India Snacking study resulted in rethinking how we approach the snacking category and defining sensory experiences that are relevant for contemporary India. The use of Semiotics in the study allowed us to see the new meaning that was being created and provided a solid framework to view the category. It is a pleasure to partner with the team at Space Doctors who are sharp, committed and provide incisive analysis that makes a difference to the business.