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INTERVIEW

“MSG controversy that surfaced, was based on myths, not facts”
Monday, 03 August, 2020, 08 : 00 AM [IST]
Ajinomoto Group is the inventor of Aji-No-Moto (MSG), which is made from 100 per cent natural ingredients such as sugarcane, corn, wheat, rice, cassava or tapioca and sugar beet. Established in 1909 and now operating in 27 countries and regions, the Japan-based company is a global manufacturer of high-quality seasonings, processed foods, beverages, amino acids, pharmaceuticals and specialty chemicals. The company set base in India in 2003 at Chennai. “India is an important market for us and we are expanding extensively in the country,” said Atsushi Mishuku, managing director, Ajinomoto India, to Nandita Vijay, in an email interaction. He also touched upon other crucial areas such as the controversy over safety of MSG. Excerpts:

How is your company faring in the market?
The brand Aji-No-Moto (MSG) is doing well in the Indian market. The MSG market in India is growing at the healthy rate of 5%, which is very encouraging for us. Even though 90% of the Indian MSG market is dominated by unorganised Chinese imported MSG, but under the organised MSG market, Ajinomoto India enjoys a healthy market share.

Tell us how Ajinomoto is made.
Umami or savoury taste seasoning, Aji-No-Moto is made from sugarcane or Tapioca, through natural fermentation technique. It is a sodium salt of glutamic acid which is readily available in tomato, onion, mushroom, ridge gourd, cheese, yogurt etc. Surprisingly even mother’s breast milk also has glutamic acid. Therefore it is absolutely safe for the consumption. The safety of the product has been approved and certified by FSSAI. Apart from that MSG is recognised by the European Union under the ‘safe-for-use food additive’ and as ‘GRAS’ (generally recognised as safe) food ingredient by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The product ran into controversy. How did the company come out of it? What was your strategy to find a place in the Indian market?
As explained earlier, MSG has been accredited as safe by all the established global regulatory bodies like USFDA, JECFA, Food Safety Australia & New Zealand, Thai FDA & FSSAI. Moreover, Ajinomoto India is an ISO-22000-Food Safety Management certified company. We also have the ISO-9001-Quality Management certification for all our products. Therefore such standard quality ensures safety for the consumer.

As a result, even though there was some controversy that surfaced in the market, it was all based on myths and not on facts. The scientifically proven fact is that MSG is safe for consumption and it contributes to enhance the taste of any dish it added to.

We have been successful in overcoming the negative perception through our continuous communication of the scientific facts about MSG through the key opinion leaders like dieticians, nutritionists, chefs, community and the media. Apart from that we are also conducting MSG awareness seminar on quarterly basis, organise cooking competition for the home makers in order to educate them about the safety and usage of MSG. We also organise factory visit programmes for the media community to showcase the actual production process. These are some of the activities we are conducting to communicate true facts about MSG.

What are the usages of this product in the food and beverage industry?
In the food industry, MSG is used as a flavour enhancer for its widespread contribution of the umami taste. MSG is used to intensify the meatiness and savoury taste of some processed meats, soups, stews and many other foods. It is also used in the production of processed foods like noodles, soups, pasta, chips, frozen foods, seasonings and dressings. The food service-catering industry and the fast food joints also use MSG to prepare a variety of cuisines.

The use of MSG in sodium reduction may be effective as it contains about 12% sodium, which is 42 milligram of sodium per teaspoon, as compared to one teaspoon of table salt or sodium chloride, which contains about 40% sodium or 2,300 milligram of sodium per teaspoon.

When MSG is combined with a little bit of table salt, it may enhance flavour and decrease the need for salt to flavour foods. This may potentially decrease sodium intake in a manufactured food item because of the umami taste. Subsequently, the use of MSG has been found to be effective to help improve taste in ageing people.

What are the other products manufactured by the company?
Apart from selling Aji-No-Moto, in 2015, the company introduced Hapima a fried rice mix into the market. Currently, Hapima is ranked Number 1 in fried rice mix brand in terms of market share in Tamil Nadu and later we have launched Hapima: Crispy fry mix, which is now Number 3 in fry mix seasoning category.

The following year, the company entered into joint venture with Toyo Suisan Kaisha, for noodles manufacturing and launched A&M-Noodles into the market.

In 2017, the company launched –Blendy-3-in-1-Masala Chai & Coffee, which is doing well in the category.

Last year, the company has expanded its portfolio with the introduction of Hapima Veg Masala Mix-Varuval & Poriyal specifically for Tamil Nadu market.

Provide details of the manufacturing plant at Chennai.
Currently the manufacturing plant in Tamil Nadu is situated at -One Hub Chennai SEZ. This is a 5 acre facility which currently manufactures all the Hapima range of products.

What is the kind of investment that went into this facility?
We had made a huge investment into the production facility. We have newly established the production plant for Hapima Fried Rice Mix, Crispy Fry Mix & Veg Masala Mix. We have invested in new high quality machineries and implemented all global high quality manufacturing standards in order to ensure total quality and safety for all our products as well as for the employees. At present, we provide employment 176 employees in India.

What is the expansion plan for the company?
Japanese food processing and seasoning company Ajinomoto has been operating in the market for last 110 years and selling its products in more than 130 countries across the globe. We are in India for over 15 years, concentrating mainly in Tamil Nadu market with coverage over 70,000 outlets in this state. There are 11 company-owned depots and 120 distributors in Tamil Nadu.

Now the company is expanding its footprint across Telangana, Andhra and Karnataka and in the north-eastern states in India. In Andhra, the company has 30 distributors and 6,000 outlets coverage.

In Karnataka, the company has already appointed 11 distributors and has coverage of 10,000 outlets. At Telangana, there are seven distributors and 2,000 retailers.

Now, the company is continuing to expand its footprint through e-commerce platforms like Amazon and Bigbasket.com. The e-commerce platform will enable pan-India access of products to customers.

During this Covid-19 phase, how are the operations taking place?
At present, during the Covid-19 pandemic, as a responsible company we are maximising our focus on contactless distribution. We are taking orders over phone and emails from the regular customers and delivering the products to concerned retailers, wholesalers and industrial clients. Efforts are on to expand distribution through e-commerce.

How do you perceive the current food and beverage scene in India?
Revenue in the food & beverages segment is projected to reach US$5,880m in 2020. Revenue is expected to show a CAGR from 2020-2024 of 14.4%, resulting in a projected market volume of US$10,058 million by 2024. The user penetration will be 11.1% in 2020 and is expected to hit 21.5% by 2024. Now all these statistics indicate that the food and beverage market has promising growth potential in India. Even during this pandemic phase, the market has been impacted only temporarily and has high growth potential post-Covid era.
 
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