16 July 2021


Cooking up a storm in the Cloud Kitchen

A Digitised Green Revolution: Ways India can create one

Covid-19 and enhanced technology are acting as catalysts for start-ups and Ayurvedic foods in the sector. An insightful conversion between Dr Prabodh Halde, Chairman, AIFPA-western region/Ex-President, AFST Indiaand Yogesh Mudras, Managing Director, Informa Markets in India

1. Physical & mental well-being and natural foods are being prioritized these days. How do you position processed and packaged food within this context? How does this trend shape the market for India?

The penetration of processed or packaged food sector in India is less than 10%. When you open your refrigerator, do check how many foods are packed and processed and how many are in the loose form. In India, we still consume 90% of the food in loose form whereas in the western countries 80% of the food that is consumed are in the packed form. Packed means processed and processed means less of nutrition.

However, during the pandemic, the packed and processed food sector grew as it was considered safer. People in urban and rural places increased their consumption of healthy food but shifted from purchasing them from road-side vendors to stores and super-markets for hygiene reasons. Though packaged food is considered less in nutritional value, with technological advancement we can overcome this -- a tetra pack of milk, for instance, can give you the same quality and with the added positive of extended shelf life.

During the pandemic, Influencers especially Youtubers played an important role in increasing the demand in the food sector by inspiring everyone to became chefs at home during the lockdown. This would have included the segment of males in the household who earlier preferred a ready-to-cook meal. This boosted the intermediary industry. Take the example of the trend of mayonnaise consumption. Earlier, we used to stock a 200 gm bottle that would last for months. Today, thanks to the lockdown, we have started cooking restaurant type foods such as pastas, burgers, noodles etc. at home, which has, in turn increased the demand from home consumers for intermediate products like mayonnaise, which are packed and processed. This also gave birth to a lot of start-ups in the food sector.

Increased demand leads to innovations as can be seen from a variety of flavoured mayonnaise and sauces that have flooded the stores as compared to the earlier days. Because the demand in India was less than 10% we have seen this jump whereas, the west reached a stage of saturation in packed and processed food.

2. What approaches are being undertaken to educate the public relating to the myths in food Safety in the broader context of the virus?

I have been a part of the panel for key industry bodies like FSSAI, that had come up with guidelines for food handling during the pandemic. One of the primary aspects we want to bring to notice is that food is not a carrier of the Corona virus and eating food will not increase the infection rate. In India, we consumeless raw food. We tend to boil and cook most food. As per our information, the virus gets de-activated at a temperature of 65 degree C and our traditional cooking methods involve heating at a temperature of over 80 degree C. There was, therefore, relatively less worry about eating out (when permitted) or ordering in cooked food. Correspondingly, there was an impact on the cold food category like ice cream, and cold drink and the sector did have some stagnation.

A particularly beneficial trend has been the re-focus on Ayurvedic foods. The consumption of turmeric, for instance, has increased three times while garlic and ginger are also beingconsumed in greater quantities along with healing herbs. Ayurvedic foods and herbs is a category that India can target to market.

Through the duration of the pandemic, health awareness programs through different mediums have been a priority for the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Aayush, and associated organisations.

3. New technology is taking over traditional food in India with the advent of cloud kitchen and automation. What are the regulatory and policy practices that can help the sector rise to the next level? How do Indian MSMEs in the sector compare to other regions?

India, with a population of 140 crores, and counting, has to feed them. Farmers and small businesses producing and delivering food form the backbone to the ecosystem. Their survival is naturally very important.

Within this framework, Covid-19 has compelled us towards yoga, natural, organic products and the like. With an increase in ordering food at home, we are taking a step forward of blending tradition and nature with modern technology, we are using imported machinery, thereby embracing science as well as nature. This gives a lot of impetus to MSMEs as Rs 3 lakh crores had been apportioned by the government towards enabling small industries as part of the Covid-19 Economic Package.

Through these incentives, the government creates a balance of demand and supply that encourages the economy. For instance, food delivery start-ups didn’t get direct help from the government and yet they proliferated. This is because the government enables the start-ups to get loans easily and get started within 3-4 days. What is of importance is the speed to market and the encouragement it gives to other potential entrepreneurs. Consequently, we have been seeing investments in the food and pharma related MSMEs.For a revenue of every Rs 100 being invested, we see at least Rs 2 being spent on R&D these days, and start-ups coming up five times higher than previous years. While real success comes to a few enterprises, it still encourage MSMEs: be it as vendor, partner, supplier, further fueled by the R&D going into the sector. After all, the motto for today’s times is really ‘Innovate or Evaporate’.

4. Food wastage is perhaps one of the most neglected and downplayed urban issues. How can we help reduce the enormous quantity of food wastage?

In the Indian context, if you observe from the earlier eras, there was no concept of food wastage. ‘AnnayePurna Brahma’ as the saying goes, indicated that food was something to be venerated and passed on. The ‘thali’ had to be khali! When we imbibed the western lifestyle, we embraced alien concepts like the buffet system – eat all you want. This was scientifically, nutritionally and health-wise far from optimal, it was like you got a right to waste. So with liberalization, today India produces 67 million metric tonne of food waste. Wastage, according to ancient Indian wisdom amounted not just to food wastage but food insult – to the farmers, to green resources, and it enabled carbon footprint.

You may employ all kinds of technology but the ultimate solution is really public education and awareness, and of course, an efficient food distribution, transportation and storage system. We can have campaigns like ‘Eat Right’ where the family and schools discourage children from wasting food; directives impose fine on people wasting food, and industry seminars focus on social responsibility and education of consumers in compelling ways.

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