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Delhi's deli boom: India's growing gourmet food market

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Media captionShilpa Kannan reports on how expats are helping grow India's gourmet food market

What do you do when you are unhappy with the quality of meat on your dinner plate?

How about starting your own farm? Well, that's what one Frenchman did - in India.

Breeding animals for food is a pretty extreme way to make sure that what ends up on your dinner plate is up to the standard you want.

But when Roger Langbour struggled to find the perfect meat in Delhi to make a duck à l'orange or roasted quail stuffed with foie gras - he set up an animal farm.

Importing Peking ducks, guinea fowl and turkeys, he began by supplying food to five-star hotels in the city and a few specialist restaurants.

That was almost two decades ago. Now the French farm has become one of the top sources of gourmet food for expatriates in the Indian capital.

'The market has grown'

Located a few kilometres outside of Delhi off the highway leading to Jaipur, the farm has hundreds of ducks, poultry and pigs.

Walking around his lush green farm, you are likely to cross paths with a stray chicken or a curious rabbit that's managed to escape its enclosure.

There are turkeys, piglets and ducklings running around.

There are also fields growing Florence fennel bulbs, rocket leaves, iceberg lettuce, thyme and mint - exotic herbs and organic vegetables that are generally hard to find in India.

Roger Langbour organises a delivery from his farm that goes into the city every day, dropping off meat and vegetables.

"The market has grown a lot because now there are lot of foreigners living in the city," he says.

"People understand that they have to pay a price to get the real vegetables with real taste. The market has grown so much that I alone cannot supply - it's too big."

Image caption Roger Langbour grows organic herbs and vegetables and supplies them to Delhi and surrounding areas

Whether it is the perfect turkey for a roast or trout for dinner - it is small businesses like this one that are increasingly catering to the top-end gourmet market.

But it does not come cheap.

Truffles and smoked salmon

For example a regular chicken in Delhi costs less than $2 (£1.19) a kg, whereas a free-range chicken can cost three or four times that price.

Even local markets like the INA market in central Delhi has separate sections that stock the relatively more expensive meat and sauces.

And there is a real appetite for it. The Indian gourmet food industry is worth $1.3bn and is growing at 20% annually according to consultancy Technopak.

Though small, the good news is that it could double by 2015.

You can find everything at the INA market - from Swiss truffles and smoked salmon to pure olive oil and Yorkshire pudding.

But you have to wade through narrow alleyways and step on a lot of slushy waste to get there, and it is crowded and smelly.

Image caption Delhi's INA market stocks relatively more expensive sauces, vegetables and meats to cater to the expat community

So are Delhi's expat customers happy at the range of produce on offer?

Isaac is from Nigeria and is buying salmon, he says not really.

"It's very expensive to get our kind of food here. It's not always easy. You have to manage by eating what people here are eating."

South African Gavin is missing fresh local produce.

"Comforts, our local comforts, fresh milk, fresh meat is all missing - this is all quite different."

Triona from Indonesia is disappointed that a big city like Delhi has so few options when it comes to international cuisine.

"I'm looking for shrimp, fish - any sea food - and it's so hard to get," she says.

All of them agree on one thing - that the market is hugely underserved.

Indian shoppers

Sensing an opportunity in this market, local mom-and-pop stores are also opening up.

Like Le Marche, which launched as a small gourmet deli, it is now a business worth nearly $150m with seven stores just around the capital.

It specialises in world foods and has gleaming counters filled with sauces, noodles, pasta and spices from across the globe.

Here, customers can fill up trolleys with both basic Indian food like rice and lentils while also finding imported toiletries, detergents and even toilet rolls.

Initially popular with expats for its range of cold cuts, cheese, pasta, oils and sauces - it is now seeing a large number of urban Indian shoppers.

Unlike previous generations- this generation of Indians are more aspirational and are willing to experiment with their food choices.

Image caption Small stores in Delhi have now set up to target expat customers

Le Marche's owner, Mini Yadav, says they have equal number of wealthy Indians and expats shopping in their stores.

"As Indians travel more and try out new cuisines, the moment they return home, they want to try out those new dishes they have seen or eaten. "

Import challenges

But selling imported food is not easy. Finding ways to keep it cold and fresh used to be the biggest constraint.

Now it is getting multiple licences or port clearances for imported food that takes time and money.

Yadav says they face a lot of challenges because of the restrictive laws.

"Importers are very scared about what they can import. As a result most of our cheese counters and meat counters are running dry. It's always a challenge to source these."

So retailers like her are demanding that the government ease import rules to allow more varieties of food to enter the country.

Her demand is supported by customers too.

Whether it is expats or Indians, specialist farms and businesses are benefiting from customers with a global palate and a wallet to match.

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