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FOOD PROCESSING

Major reason to criticise RTE foods is insufficient proteins & nutrients
Saturday, 24 August, 2019, 16 : 00 PM [IST]
Dr Jagadish Pai
Globally ready-to-eat (RTE) foods market is growing rapidly. The global market was over US$90 billion in 2015 and is rising at the rate of over 7%. It is expected to reach about US$ 200 billion by 2026. Although Indian market is small and a small fraction of global market at over US$260 million, it is growing much more rapidly at over 16% and is expected to reach about US$650 million by 2023. When we consider, these figures are mostly the organised sector estimates, which is smaller than unorganised sector in India. Thus the market is much larger.
A few decades ago, RTE foods included only snacks, cakes, sandwiches, soft beverages and biscuits which may either be consumed by children and less frequently by adults mostly at special occasions such as parties and receptions. Today the varieties have grown tremendously and also these are consumed at all times and places because of their conveniences. There are RTE products which are meal replacements and then there are products which are meant for special dietary or medical purposes.
Earlier there were RTE products available but not very popular as they were either not very tasty and appealing, or they may be too expensive. However, over the years both the taste and affordability have improved tremendously and this has made them more popular.
A large segment of this market in India is street foods. These foods are prepared and offered for sale on roads and public places. Sometimes very little preparation is involved before offering. Many savoury items like chaat and fried items are still quite popular. However, this segment although still growing, has not grown to its real potential since there were safety issues involved. The water and ingredients used as well as lack of hygiene were the main concerns of customers.
Because of safety concerns many manufacturers have now been packing some of these products in packages and branding them to infuse the confidence among consumers. This would not only offer convenience but also safety.

Why is Market for RTE Growing Rapidly?
RTE market is growing because these products are filling the needs of people for good filling food products easily available at any place at any time. Vending machines are filled with such products and are placed at all kinds of vantage points such as train stations, airport terminals in departure lounge, offices, malls and many such places where people may be spending a lot of time and may need to eat for sustenance or just for fun.
The more important reason is for people who have to work at odd hours and at odd places where there may not be easy access to eating places. BPOs work around the clock and people working there may have to eat as and when they can. They are probably a very large segment of market for such products.
There are many new businesses opening in urban places where younger employees are relocating away from homes and families. They may not have time or skills for preparing meals. A large number of ready meals are now available which need only heating and eating. Earlier these were not of great acceptability but with market growing many manufacturers have entered and are making good tasty products.
There is also a large population of NRIs and foreign students abroad which may be craving for Indian foods for whom these ready-to-eat products are ideally suited.
Thus the markets are growing rapidly and newer foods are becoming available. People are also becoming aware that if they do not worry about their nutrition and health, it may create problems in the long run. Demand for nutritious and healthy Ready-to-Eat foods is increasing so manufacturers are now trying to make healthier products.

Functional Ingredients in Innovative RTE Foods
There has been a lot of criticism of RTE foods by health professionals stating that these are not nutritious and not contributing to health because they do not have sufficient amounts of nutrients including proteins and micronutrients - vitamins and minerals. Also many are prepared from refined flours so they lack dietary fibre and other natural components which normally contribute to health.
A new string of RTE foods has started appearing in which many functional ingredients have been included such as whey and soya proteins, dietary fibres which are prebiotics that support the growth of good microbes namely probiotics.
Still more desirable products are meal replacement, protein bars, low GI snacks, and similar ones which are now being made with a lot of healthy ingredients with dietary fibre, Omega- 3 fats, phytosterols, carotenoids and other nutraceuticals which not only serve to make a healthy meal but also reduce the risks of certain diseases like heart diseases, diabetes and age-related macular degeneration. Omega-3 has also shown benefits against cognitive degeneration.
Spices are becoming universally popular not just because people are enjoying the pungent taste but also because of health benefits. Many foods are now getting spicy flavours with such ingredients like curcumin, capsaicin and many other active ingredients from the spices being used in these foods besides spices themselves either whole or in extract or oleoresin forms.
Earlier RTE meals, especially TV dinners, provided just convenience and satisfied hunger. Now the foods are not only tasty but also contain spices, many legumes and green leafy vegetables as well as whole grains to make the foods wholesome, tasty and balanced. Earlier due to lack of strong flavours, eating green vegetables was difficult but spices made them  more acceptable as well as healthier. Many old and new grains including millets, oats and quinoa are being added in multigrain products.
Many beverages are now being formulated with spices which also make them functional. People are also ready to try something new and innovative. This has caused rapid growth in this category which has bright future.

(The author is executive director, Protein Foods & Nutrition Development Association of India [PFNDAI]. He can be contacted at executivedirector@pfndai.org)
 
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