When many executives think about manufacturing, China is the first country that comes to mind. But there are other players grabbing a bit of that spotlight — like India. Despite the conventional wisdom that says India’s place in the global economy revolves around digital bits and services rather than material atoms, the country is starting to attract more attention for its manufacturing potential for a number of reasons: India is the third-largest economy in purchasing power parity after the U.S. and China, it has a large population of engineers and factory workers, its intellectual property is widely respected, and it is easy to find English-speaking managers there.
While Narendra Modi’s “Make In India ” initiative to promote manufacturing in India was mocked by some, North American executives are increasingly looking to expand their manufacturing supply chains beyond China. To decide if India is a good candidate for your operations, it’s important to understand the opportunities of doing business in the country — as well as the challenges.
American success stories in India
While American companies are only starting to explore India’s potential for manufacturing, we’re already seeing a few examples of how these efforts can be successful. For example, Chicago-based Abbott, which operates in 150 countries and owns top brands such as Similac infant formula, recently built a manufacturing facility in Jhagadia, Gujarat, in order to compete in India’s large growing nutrition market. In 2014, its 14,000 employees in India generated $1.09 billion in sales. This is largely because it manufactures products that reflect the local environment (to deal with spicy Indian food, it sells the antacid Digene), and are widely used there (to manage aches and pains, most Indians are prescribed Abbott’s Brufen when they want ibuprofen). It also adapts some its products to meet local expectations — for example, the plant caters to Indian mothers by manufacturing a version of the popular kids’ nutritional supplement PediaSure that is flavored with saffron and almonds.
India was one of the first expansion markets for Abbott, after Canada and the U.K, and today it’s the company’s third largest market globally — all six of the company’s business units have a presence in the country. “Last year, we signaled that India is a key manufacturing destination for us with a $75 million investment,” Abbott Vice President Bhasker Iyer told us. “It is one of the fastest growing markets globally — with a young population, strong macroeconomic indicators, a huge consumption story, and a politically stable government working to accelerate reforms. For a healthcare company, the reasons to be part of this vibrant country are even more compelling — it’s an opportunity to serve the unmet healthcare needs of a 1.2 billion population.”