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INTERVIEW

“Our product portfolio now comprises 100+ SKUs”
Monday, 18 November, 2019, 08 : 00 AM [IST]

Sumeru is India’s leading exclusive frozen food brand, owned by Innovative Foods Ltd (IFL), a major player in the Indian food processing industry since 1989. IFL manufactures and markets various types of ready-to-eat vegetarian and non-vegetarian frozen food products. The brand also supplies its products to leading foodservice companies in India. It retails its multi-category product portfolio across the country with presence in all major general trade,  modern trade counters, with a pan-India presence which covers all tiers of cities and towns. The company also exports its products to Indian ethnic export market viz USA, the UAE, Middle-East and Australia while the manufacturing units are located at Chittoor, AP, and Kochi, Kerala. In an interaction with Ashwani Maindola, Mithun Appaiah, CEO, Innovative Food Ltd - Brand – Sumeru, talks about the company's current achievements and future plans and the outlook for the frozen food market in the country. Excerpts:

Share the idea behind the company. How is it different from other frozen food brands?
Innovative Foods Limited is a major player in the Indian food industry since 1989. Under the brand name Sumeru, we manufacture and market various types of ready-to-eat vegetarian, non-vegetarian which includes seafood. The core business is in retailing the range of FMCG products into modern trade, e-commerce, and general trade kirana stores. Customised products are also supplied to various leading QSR chains in India. Our core business lies in the area of distribution, innovations, export, and manufacturing of processed and frozen food. We have retailed the multi-category product portfolio across the country with a presence on all major modern trade and key general retail counters with a pan-India presence that covers more than 120+ towns and cities.  We have embarked our presence in the Indian ethnic export market viz USA, Australia, Singapore and many more.

We started with the brand named ‘Snowboy’ and then switched to Sumeru, which means a mythological mountain standing at the centre of four continents.

Under the brand name Sumeru, we use the latest technology - IQF – Individual Quick Freezing, to keep the food fresh and nutritious until the time it reaches the consumer’s table.

We are quite different from many frozen food brands. One of the key differentiators is the range of products that we have. We have the deepest range of snacking, meals, proteins, kids range, prawn, pork, mutton, paratha, fusion food, chef curated range, veggies, kebabs, momos  and now filter coffee.

Our range is also a complete solution to cloud kitchens, restaurants, caterers, and everyone who loves food. We are rather a one shop stop for all kinds of food solutions and we don’t shy away from trying new and innovative ideas.

What kind of technological interventions (IQF technology and advanced flash freezing methods), the company applies for in ensuring and adhering to the food safety norms? Explain.
The company applies IQF technology which is the most sought-after freezing technology. As the term suggests, it stands for the quick freezing of individual pieces of product, as opposed to bulk or block freezing. IQF deactivates enzymes and prevents the formation of large ice crystals in cells of the produce thereby preserving the taste, texture, and nutrients in them. And what is the icing on the cake, is that the consumer doesn’t have to contend with one single block of frozen food, but can actually see and use each piece individually. IQF is suitable for all types of food products – be it vegetables or meat or seafood or even a simple snack.

How do you see the frozen food market opportunity in India, its growth and your brand’s contribution to the growing frozen market in India and abroad?
The frozen snacks category is expected to grow at 17% CAGR led by disruptive innovations and with increased consumer choice and awareness. The frozen foods category is buoyant and likely to see big growth, driven by more infrastructure for frozen food and consumers who are now well informed about the goodness of frozen food.

With the addition of innovative product range, our product portfolio now comprises 100+ SKUs making us the largest frozen food brand by range offering the widest variety of frozen food products. The brand is exported to more than 15 countries across the globe including the US, Middle-East, Singapore, Australia and some of the European countries and is today the preferred brand among the Indian diaspora in these countries. The brand is today the most innovative frozen food brand with constant disruptions in the food space.

What do you think about market opportunities in India as a company? Do you see enough policy interventions by the government?
India is a large consumer market that loves food. With the advent of direct-to-home channels, food has broken the barrier of reach. With the world's youngest population, India is poised to become a global hub for food in the next 10-15 years.

Keeping up the pace with these changes the government needs to future-proof this with a clear cut policy which ensures that the food that’s served and sold is of top quality and hygiene. While there needs to be enough input to build a new business in food there also needs to be tight policy to keep a tab on non-compliant food entities.

What future do you see of your brand and the frozen food industry in the country, in the next five years?
Frozen food market stood at $310 million in 2017 and is projected to grow at a CAGR of over 16% to reach $754 million by 2023. The frozen food sector in India was only limited to frozen snacks and vegetables. But, today there is an extensive range of products from fruits & vegetables to frozen meats and from frozen snacking to full meal options. To capitalise on this boom, the industry has to become future-ready with the rapid adoption of innovative practices and technologies that will give it the edge in a burgeoning and competitive global market, pegged to reach $309.98 billion by 2021.

The brand has already built the capacity to cater to its growth plans. We want to amplify our presence closer to the consumer by driving value and premium offerings across our portfolio. Over the last 24 months, we launched 20 new and innovative products and have also renovated our sales, marketing, operations and route to market. With various strategic and tactical measures, we are working towards doubling our revenues in the next two years.

What are the challenges you see for the food processing industry, in general, and the frozen food industry, in particular? How do you see them resolved by the administration/authorities?
While the vast processed food industry promises a lot of growth, it also brings with, its own challenges. These include the following: the retail space has too many brands and a few differentiations. Grabbing the consumers’ attention is always a challenge. It is further complicated by the choices the consumers have as alternatives to traditional home cooking like the food tech startups delivering food right at their doorsteps. Another major problem that the industry faces is that infrastructure development fails to keep up with the consumer demand, thus resulting in a higher pressure on distribution. Cost to serve and space within stores is always a dichotomy, and hence, puts pressure on a fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) company’s bottom line.

The brand has built robust systems and processes that ensure these issues are addressed by keeping the consumer at the centre of all decisions. The sector continues to face a shortage of talent. Within FMCG, the frozen business needs differential skills, and hence, the challenge is to hire the right set of people. Innovation needs to be the bedrock of all consumer companies. The challenge is also to ensure that innovations are not futile and the right efforts are put to drive it to succeed. The consumer mindset on frozen foods in India is yet to evolve. The brand is pushing the messaging on ‘frozen is fresh’ to build category growths.

Share your company's product portfolio and the innovation that goes into the development of these products.
The brand stands for ‘Experts in Food Innovations.’ It has the largest and most holistic range in the country’s frozen food space with representation in all categories of vegetarian and non-vegetarian products including seafood. We are having two manufacturing units one at Kochi and another at Chittoor, both producing about more than 4,000 tonne of foods and ready-to-eat items in vegetarian and non-vegetarian categories. We have witnessed growth across all our categories. In the second quarter of the year, we even rolled out six new products along with it is signature ‘frozen gourmet meals’ in collaboration with one of the known Michelin star chefs.

One of the most visible innovation is the increasing product portfolio. Until a few years ago, frozen foods comprised of seafood, chicken, snacks, and vegetables. Today, mainline foods like pizza, biryani, meal solutions are coming into the frame of frozen foods. With this, the firm is offering good traction for all our new launches, including the Chicken French Fries, Cheese Corn Nuggets, Cheese Pops, the Kebab range, Chicken and Paneer Rolls and the recently-launched momos and filter coffee. We have stepped up our distribution, market focus, innovations, and digital marketing footprint to drive growth across all these categories.
 
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