The Curious Business of Concrete
The Curious Business of Concrete

The Curious Business of Concrete

If cement was not a global business but a regional business at best, then concrete (or ready mixed concrete, RMC, as one may call the concrete business in some parlances) business can at best be called local, in terms of geographical spread. Some have attempted to use glorified jargons such as "glocal" etc., in respect of cement, to signify its globalisation in the areas of technology and sustainability, but in case of RMC, even such coined adjectives are not applied. Even so, there is sense in looking at the global scenario of ready mixed concrete business, simply because the global trends, and the global learnings, particularly those from Europe and North America provide a window into what may happen in emerging markets like ours, as our construction markets mature, and as our construction practices advance.

But, before we do that, a small introduction of "concrete" itself will be in order. We have always tried to remind our readers that the value chain is cement - concrete- construction, and that if cement is a construction material, then concrete is a construction intermediate. To introduce concrete to the lay person, one may say that the grey powder-like product that we know as cement is but one ingredient, albeit an important one, for making concrete mix. To quote volubly from the report entitled 'Global Concrete Report 2018, published by Global Cement Magazine:

'Cement is the main 'active' ingredient in a concrete mix, which, when combined with water recrystallises into a hard matrix which solidifies around the other constituents, binding them together. Cement makes up around 15-20 per cent of the weight of the ingredients, which also include water, sand and aggregate. Other ingredients may include special chemicals that delay or accelerate setting, that impart higher early strength or reduced heat of hydration, or which increase the flowability of the unset concrete. Other ingredients may include inert fillers such as ground limestone, or cementitiously-active alternative materials such as ground-granulated blast furnace slag, silica fume, rice husk ash or flyash. Each cubic metre of concrete weighs around 2,400 kg, and includes 350 kg of cement (140 kg/t), 700 kg of sand (280 kg/t), 1,200 kg of aggregate (480 kg/t) and 150 kg of water (60 kg/t).' This gives us an idea that, clearly, concrete is not just cement, but many other things indeed!

Here are a few conclusions that one can draw from the same report:
Top 25 RMC companies in the world produced 388 million cubic metres of concrete in 2017, which was a mere 10 per cent of the global output. This tells us that the business is local in nature, and is fragmented, if we analyse market-by-market.

There are only two Indian Concrete Businesses figuring in this top 25, namely UltraTech Concrete at seventh, and ACC Concrete at 21st positions. This is an apparent anomaly, given that India is by far the second largest cement producing nation in the world, and this reflects the situation of the Indian construction market - the fact that it is unorganised, non-automated, retail and fragmented.

The list of top 25 has just a few concrete companies, which are not backed by cement manufacturing ventures, and the few that make the grade are in USA, and have aggregate supplies integrated into them. In fact, the top 10 concrete companies are all subsidiaries of bigger cement set-ups. This tells us some things about downstream integration strategies and evolution of cement delivery channels as markets mature.

In India, while the ready-mix concrete market has still a long way to go, we already find instances of cement companies integrating downstream into concrete delivery businesses, as also construction companies finding it useful to integrated upstream into RMC outfits. I am sure that many of these enterprises are discovering the truism that even if the overall value chain is profitable, individual components of that chain may be value- destroying.

Sumit Banerjee Chairman, Editorial Advisory Board

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