The LuLu Mall and Hypermarket in Kochi — a packager’s dreamland

Processed and packaged food is the new normal here

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The Lulu Hypermarket in Kochi. Photo PSA

Hypermarkets and supermarkets are commonplace in all modern cities. But this is one hypermarket that beats them all – at least on the face of it. The LuLu Hypermarket in Kochi. Located in a mega mall that goes by the same name, the LuLu hypermarket, with more than three dozen checkout counters – all of them were busy when we visited it – is a shop, dine, and hangout zone. Not to mention the surrounding branded shops, department stores, restaurants, a movie zone, entertainment zones, and a five-star hotel housed in the five-floor mall and its sprawling 17-acre campus.

Coming to the hypermarket, it is a shopper’s hub and packagers’ dreamland – replete with day-to-day items ranging from processed food and beverages, groceries, fresh fruit and vegetables, hot cooked food for take-out to home or in the food court, a delicatessen spices both packed and fresh for individual preferences and weighing, a sweets corner, a meat and fish hub, packaged snacks, household items, appliances, gadgets, lifestyle, personal care, cosmetics, home and living – all arranged in neat self-service shelves in different sections with clearly visible signage to guide the visitors and ample well-illuminated and air-conditioned space to walk around without banging into one another.

To say the range is wide would be an understatement. The processed foods section, for example, runs for more than half of the hypermarket. We spotted a couple of six to seven-storeyed racks that ran for a few meters in length, exclusively for cheese – feta, mozzarella, gouda, ricotta, cheddar, you name it – all packed in flexible, poly and paper packs and tubs with lids. And it was not limited to the usual Amul or Britannia brands – half the stuff was imported and niche names. The same goes for milk, butter, and yogurts. Here Nandini, Milma, and other local brands reigned supreme.

It was well past 10 p.m. on a weekday when we visited the mall, but the place was buzzing as if it were a lazy weekend evening. The hypermarket was equally packed. A salesperson told me weekends would be crazy, or rather frenzied to be more precise. The hypermarket draws crowds not only from Ernakulam and Kochi but from the adjoining suburbs and towns as well.

Crawford Market and Khari Baoli under one air-conditioned roof

To say the range is wide would be an understatement. The processed foods section, for example, runs for more than half of the hypermarket

The spice and dry fruits section is a major draw. As you look for it, you don’t need to look for the signage as the aroma of the whole, fresh-looking spices – cardamon, cinnamon, cloves, pepper, nutmeg, star anise, mace – guide you to that centerpiece section.

You get ready-packaged powdered spices from well-known pan-Indian names such as MDH, local brands available in southern India as well as Lulu’s in-house brand. Sambhar masala, rasam masala, garam masala, fish masala. Buy as much as you want, which is packed, weighed, and sealed in a transparent poly bag. The branded spices come in flexible pouches, bag-in-box format, and even in glass bottles in the case of pepper grinder or western herbs.

The range of cashews, dates, raisins, and almonds is mind-boggling and would give Delhi’s own spice market Khari Baoli tough competition. And it is not an exaggeration. I counted at least 10-15 varieties of local and imported dates and roasted and masala cashews – both open-sold and packaged in flexible pouches and even in tin cans. Then there are these rows and rows of shelves containing condiments such as Asian, Indian, and continental sauces, pickles, chutneys, and ready-packaged pastes in lamitubes, glass bottles, flexi pouches, and even barrier paper packaging.

Not to forget the chocolates. I picked a couple of Cadbury dark chocolates and found that those were imported varieties from the UK and Dubai, which were displayed with the India-made counterparts. The noodles shelves had most of the known brands. Maggi Noodles has at least eight varieties and it is very rare that one gets to see them all in one place. The LuLu hypermarket had them all, including spinach and the no-onion-no-garlic for the most fastidious sections of the demographic.

There are breakfast and spreads, frozen food, canned foods, baking items, a staggering variety of rice – not surprising since Kerala is a rice-loving state, lentils, wheat, biscuits and confectionery, chips and snacks, both south and north Indian, ready-to-cook marinated fish and meat items. The list goes on.

Shopping done, time for some sustenance. You get some fresh sweets or pastries neatly packed in transparent food-grade boxes with lids to take back home, make your own salad, have some chicken roast in the hot food section, and head home or upstairs to the food court. All in all, the LuLu Mall, the LuLu Hypermarket (perhaps megamarket is a more fitting term) and the surrounding buzz not only speak volumes of the urge and preference of people to have safe, hygienic and packaged food but also vividly portray the economic prosperity of this part of southern India.

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