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INTERVIEW

“Out of 20 million tonnes of onions produced annually, 25% is wasted”
Monday, 05 June, 2017, 08 : 00 AM [IST]
Onions are commodities that are always in demand in India. The growing demand is propelled by the changing lifestyles of consumers, rising income levels, employment opportunities and expanding retail formats and the demand for processed foods, ready-to-eat (RTE) and ready-to-cook (RTC) food products.

Analysing this surging growth, Everyday Gourmet Kitchen (EGK) Foods Pvt Ltd, is totally focused on the manufacturing of crispy fried onions.

The company has a network of 4,000 farmers who work directly to provide them with the stability and the technology to sustain healthy lifestyles, while implementing eco-friendly and sustainable methods to increase yield and reduce wastage.

With the final product offered by the company, it takes away the process of cutting, chopping and frying the onions.

Satyajit Roy
, managing director and chief executive officer, Everyday Gourmet Kitchen (EGK) Foods Pvt Ltd, talks about the growing demand of the product, the company’s expansion plans and pricing in an e-mail interaction with Harcha Bhaskar. Excerpts:

From where do you procure onions? What are the various quality checks that take place while procuring it?
When we started, we used to procure onions from Lasalgaon, the biggest market for onion trade in Maharashtra, but over the last couple of years, along with the regulation changes of the government (allowing farmers to sell directly to end consumers), we have developed a network of about 4,000 farmers, from whom we source our onions directly. We work with various organisations like World Bank and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to reach out to self-help groups (SHGs).

Tell us about the machinery installed in your plant. What is the capacity? Is it imported? What is the production capacity, and how much is currently manufactured?
We have a current manufacturing capacity of 30 million tonne (MT) per month of fresh fried onions (150MT per month of raw onions). This is upgradable to a manufacturing capacity of 100MT per month of fresh fried onions (500 MT per month of raw onions), which we plan to reach in the next 12-18 months.

What is process for manufacturing these fried onions? How long is the shelf life?

Over the last 24 months, after extensive experimentation and perfecting our product according to our clients’ needs, we have come to a perfect operational system, which allows us to maintain the same quality of product every single time. The shelf life of our product is six months in the packet.

How is the taste and freshness of product maintained?

As per our proprietary process, we maintain the freshness of our product in our packets by nitrogen packing all our produce, so that there is no oxidisation, which will lead to loss of crispness.

How do you tackle the fluctuation in the onion prices? Does it affect the demand for your products?
At the back end, we integrate with farmers to offer them fair prices for their produce and hence help them to avoid the volatility of the market. This helps them to do what they do best, which is concentrate on the quality of their produce and make sure that their crops come out healthy.

With the onion prices rising every year, is the total production of onion enough for consumption and is the surplus enough for processing?
India produces 20 million tonne of onions annually. Of this, 25 per cent (five million MT annually) is wasted every year.

We hope to make a serious dent in the 25 per cent wastage of onions produced by building the necessary infrastructure, as well as reaching out to the farmers directly to buy back their produce to affect the yield wastage.

What are your expansion plans for the company?

Currently, we are heavily focused on the hotel, restaurant and cafe (HoReCa) segment. We have found that larger establishments are quicker and keener to sign up with EGK for fresh fried onions, especially in establishments where the cuisine is predominantly Indian or South-east Asian. We employ traditional marketing strategies, as well as doing extensive on-ground door-to-door marketing.

Although our retail presence is very small [currently about 20 shops in Mumbai (Including Godrej Nature’s Basket)], leveraging the power of the Internet and the continued adoption of e-commerce and modern retail, we hope we will be able to reach many consumers directly in the next 12 months.

Currently what research and development (R&D) is taking place in the company? Is there any new variant you are going to introduce?
Within the next 12 months, we intend to explore all onion products, along with growing the sales of our flagship product, EGK Fresh Fried Onions, for which we have witnessed a tremendous increase in demand.

How has the demand for fried onions in the food processing industry grown over the years? Which are the key manufacturers you supply your products to as raw material?
Initially, there was a reluctance from the market to accept the product, as the response we got from commercial kitchens was that they peel, cut and fry their own onions (as they have been doing for many years). After a great deal of persistence from our side, we got some of the bigger kitchens to try our products. They realised the multi-pronged benefits of EGK fresh fried onions - reduction in time and labour and resources at competitive rates. These allowed many kitchens to make their operations more efficient. After the initial reluctance, our growth has been exponential.

In what way is the demand for your product proportionate to the demand for the ready-to-eat and ready-to-cook sectors in India?

As we see in any household, time is the most important commodity. With our product not only do you see a value-add in terms of the time spent, but also a major value-add in terms of the amount of effort exerted. We see a great opportunity for growth in the ready-to-cook as well as the ready-to-eat sectors.

Is your product available for retail shelf for household use?
Currently, we are available in all Godrej Nature’s Basket outlets in Mumbai and Thane, along with a few select standalone shops in South Bombay. Within the next 12 months, we hope to have a more significant retail presence across the country by getting into modern retail stores like Big Bazaar, D-Mart, Reliance Fresh, etc.

Is your company into exports? If yes, to which countries?

We recently did our first international exhibition in Hong Kong, the Hong Kong Food Exhibition 2017 (HOFEX 2017), at which we had a lot of enquiries from South-east Asian countries as well as the Middle-East. We hope to close one of our first orders from Malaysia shortly.

What are the expectation from the government in regards to onion production, pricing and quality?

The only expectation we have from the government is to let EGK register in the Make In India and Start-up India programmes. We have the knowledge and the wherewithal to make positive changes on the onion trade if we are offered the correct opportunities.
 
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