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“India’s ecosystem for food and beverage process holds ample promise”
Monday, 28 November, 2022, 08 : 00 AM [IST]
Indian food and beverage processing is focusing on innovation in product development and sustainability in process. The presence for home cooked meals opens up opportunities for companies like ours to offer solutions in shelf life improvement, softeners  for texture properties and reduce oil usage, said Krishna Mohan Puvvada, regional president and business director, consumer biosolutions, Novozymes India, in an interaction with Nandita Vijay. Excerpts:

What is the kind of market opportunity that you are looking at ?
In the  food industry, there are plenty of opportunities. Consumers are seeking more convenience, functionality, and nutrition. The two main drivers for this are the GenX and the millennial generation which the FMCG companies are capitalising in terms of offering  ready- to-eat and ready-to-cook products, besides bring in functionality and additional categories. There is innovation  across the entire food value chain with a  huge demand for functionality from the perspective of ingredients.  We are seeing considerable innovation happening in food processing.

How much of Covid has upped the demand for healthy ingredients?
Covid has definitely brought about a fundamental change in opting for healthy food. There is high awareness on what is being consumed and the ingredients which automatically drive the change in behaviour for the manufacturers who need to be far more responsible. Suddenly people have realised the importance of immunity and insist on natural sources of ingredients.

Your company has a slew of categories, which of these are indicating growth prospects that add to the company’s sales revenues?
From a global angle, there is a lot of  traction in the food and beverage space. This is driven by Covid which has increased the  preference for cooking meals at home. Even in the US and EU, the pressure of gasoline cost automatically increases the food prices and people are forced to prepare food at home.  

From an India perspective, there is a new category evolving where start-ups are focusing on functionality and able to launch products quicker by gauging the market opportunity. There are a lot of novel combinations in the beverage and dairy segment. There is a huge interest for traditional foods which are difficult to make and companies are working out ways to commercialise this range.  

When it comes to plant-based foods, what are your thoughts on this?
Plant-based food has caught on. In India, 70 per cent of the population are meat consumers. The remaining 30 per cent are vegetarians. Globally, there is considerable demand for plant-based meats from an environment-conscious and sustainability perspective. However, among Indians, there is a section of the population who desire to  experience a meat-based kind of a texture and if it is coming from a plant source they are happy to take that. Conventional meat eaters will follow the trend of the international market and go for plant-based versions. We are witnessing a big expansion on this front. There will be growth in the plant-based versions where health ingredients can be fortified and infused to be utilised for bone health, cardiac health, cognitive improvement formulations. Therefore this segment is very exciting and interesting for a lot of FMCG companies. We also see growth in the sector.

Globally, we have invested 2 million DKK in the US in a facility for the production of alternative protein.  The facility will be commissioned in 2024 to  manufacture alternate proteins from fermentation-based processes. For this, the market focus would be meat consuming countries of the US, Europe and China. However, India is also an attractive market. Once we understand the nuance of the Indian market where taste and flavour are critical components, we will begin to explore for partnerships with Indian companies. In this regard, all the emerging markets and the Asia-Pacific region are relevant for our business and technologies. We see a lot more work to be done in the spaces where we are conventionally operated. There is need for more focus in food and beverage in terms of market reach and building capacity and to bring in sustainable technologies..

In India, would you be able to throw some light on your manufacturing facilities?
Our manufacturing unit is a global site at Patalganga in Maharashtra. We make specific products at all the sites for the entire world. So we don’t make all the products at all the sites. In India we have a unique fermentation facility for juice and beverages which can be supplied to the rest of the world.

How easy is it to get the right workforce because it is a niche area?
Talent is always scarce and accessing the right skilled workforce is a challenge. But India is known for its qualified workforce. Hence we too are working to promote and attract talent. There are several partnerships inked with academia and industry associations. We organise guest lectures in colleges to promote  biotechnology and science. What we are seeing is a positive appetite for biotech and allied fields, so talent access will not be a big problem going forward.

Specific to India what are the investments and expansion plans envisaged by your parent company?
India is an important strategic asset for us. Close to about 13 to 14 per cent workforce is based out of India. From an emerging market perspective, India is an important player. We have also been a positive growth contributor in double digits which is over a  period of 15 years and maintaining this momentum. We have also invested in terms of capabilities. Of the total 6,500 workforce across global facilities, India accounts for about 850 people. Hiring is always there because there is considerable expansion envisaged here driven by the rapid growth. In early 2020, before Covid struck, we invested into future foods from an India perspective. This is because the food from India is quite different from the rest of the world. There is a team dedicated for this along with the infrastructure of labs and pilot facilities for working on food space, at Whitefield in Bengaluru. The team has brought in considerable insights and we are seeing some traction as customers are evincing interest on our research outcomes. We are working on enzymes for Indian flatbreads: rotis, chapatti and naans for which a lot of mechanisation is happening. Here we are looking at shelf life improvement, softeners to increase the texture properties and reduce oil usage.  

In the extraction space, India is an important source of spices and oleoresins where we can bring in sustainability and better technology. There are some yield losses. But using our enzyme technology as a supplementation, we can improve the yield properties. This is because India is competing with   countries like Thailand, Vietnam and China, among others. Therefore we can help many of these exporting companies in the country.

Specifically for the year of the millets in 2023, what is likely research contribution from your company?
Millets is an attractive space and we have invested here. Millets are difficult to process. We are working with manufacturers on how to bring millets into the regular food stream. This is a promising area and our India research lab in Bengaluru is engaged across food formats wherein millets are a base ingredient.

What are the visible trends that you sight from now till 2025?
Technology and talent are the key trends. This is India’s moment as there is no challenge for accessing capital and the spirit of entrepreneurship is high. Such a positive ecosystem will only make food and beverage processing sector bullish in this country.
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