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Food ingredients growth fosters success of processing industry
Wednesday, 13 October, 2021, 08 : 00 AM [IST]
Nandita Vijay, Bengaluru
In the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic, the food ingredients industry has gained significant importance giving a boost to healthy and nutritious consumption of immunity boosting products. These span from not just ginger, turmeric, pepper and cinnamon but saffron, tulsi, cardamom
hibiscus, amla among others that have gained ground with considerable innovations in the form of beverages or as infusions in ready-to-eat food products.

Ramesh Agarwal, CEO, Food Safety Works, stated that the food ingredients sector is seeing a healthy growth both globally and also specifically in India with people's demand for processed food increasing due to rapid urbanisation and increased disposable income.

Trends in this space
Visible trends in this space from an India stand point is that snacks, beverages, sauces and pastes are the fastest growing categories which indirectly spur the demand for flavours, preservatives and sweeteners. “However, there is a specific interest on natural ingredients coming from the overall need to move to healthier foods,” noted Agarwal.

But food ingredients face constant challenges of misinformation, more so in the current times with heightened fear and their link to carcinogenic behaviours. The approval process for introducing a new ingredient is quite tedious. Despite these complications, the consumers always seem to believe that adequate studies have not been done. Non-scientific and overuse of the ingredients by smaller FBOs (food business operators) result in increased fear, according to him.

Natural and plant based ingredients
On the research front, India has been making good progress in the space of natural and plant based ingredients. The newer companies have started looking at the global market for ingredients. With the overall trend of moving away from animal meat, India has seen some good investments on plant based proteins and the country is aspiring to become a leader in this field, said the Food Safety Works chief.

Among the leading food ingredient players in the country and worldwide  are Alliance India, Gujarat Enterprise, BASF, AAK, ADM, DSM, DuPont, Frutarom, Ingredion incorporated, Kerry group, Sensient Technologies  Corporation, Ajinomoto Co. Inc., Symrise, Cargill, Kemin Industries Inc., Givaudan, CHR Hansen Inc., Lallemand, Tate & Lyle, ABFI and Lonza.

Approved ingredients and additives
There are no restrictions as such. Import requirements are similar to those of any other food item. The importer must possess a valid FSSAI licence with importer as one of the "kind of business" and the correct food category. Further there is a list of approved ingredients and additives mentioned in the Food Safety and Standards (Food Products Standards and Food Additives) Regulations, 2011.  “Importers must ensure that the imported ingredients are mentioned in that list. If not, then the company might need to take prior approvals to import such ingredients,” he said.

PLI scheme
Coming  to the Union government's PLI (productivity linked incentive) scheme, Agarwal said that the scheme has been directed towards building final products, brands and employment generation and in that sense, food ingredients do not really fit the bill. However, enhanced production will help increase the overall demand in the sector which should help provide the necessary support for this industry to invest.

In the FI segment, Food Safety Works headquartered in Bengaluru with offices in Mumbai and New Delhi help the companies understand the food safety and regulatory aspects of the products to ensure that they meet the product specifications and compliance. For a new ingredient, the company extends its expertise in carrying out the research documentation and hand-holding them through product approvals.

“We also help the manufacturers who use these ingredients about the correct usage of the ingredients so that they do not result in becoming a food hazard. We also help FBOs adopt some of these ingredients as part of the productisation services where we take a recipe and convert it into a final product that can go on the store shelf,” said Agarwal.

Concerned on India’s overall disease burden driven by lifestyle disorders, People’s Vigilance Committee on Human Rights (PVCHR) along with the Foundation of Sustainable Development India and Savitri Bai Phule Mahila Panchayat noted that there is enough research to link the exponential rise in childhood obesity, early onset of cardio vascular disease, diabetes and non-communicable disease (NCDs) spiralling out of control with excessive consumption of processed food and beverages.

Speaking at the launch early this month of PIPAL (People’s Initiative for Participatory Action on Food Labeling) which is a national grassroots initiative to accelerate the adoption of strong food labels, Prof. Vishwambhar Nath Mishra, mahant of Varanasi’s Sankat Mochan Temple and head of the department, Electronic Engineering, IIT-BHU, emphasised that there is an urgent need to protect children from becoming obese and being vulnerable to deadly diseases as they grow up. There is a rise in consuming junk or processed food and it is well-established that most of these foods contain harmful ingredients or salt and sugar several times higher than the recommended threshold. An easy-to-read FOP (Front-of-pack) label which clearly sets a limit that warns children and parents should be a priority.

Experts at the event said that India should lead by example and join the growing number of countries across the world that have made food labelling mandatory and have set WHO mandated thresholds on harmful ingredients. Evidence coming in from countries like Chile and Brazil have clearly indicated that a simple and mandatory warning label style FOPL(Front-of-pack labelling ) such as the ‘high-in salt/sugar or saturated fats’ warning labels make a quick impact on betterment of public health, reducing consumption of unhealthy food, changing consumer preference and encouraging industries to reformulate.

Poor dietary pattern
Meanwhile, Dr Sangeeta Kansal, head of community medicine at Institute of Medical Science, BHU, stated, “With more than 14 million obese or overweight, Indian children are facing an unhealthy future and have a high risk of NCDs in their adulthood. We are what we eat and therefore we must look very closely at the food that is being marketed to us. As doctors, we are gravely concerned with the poor dietary pattern that has become the order of the day. Regulatory steps such as nutrition thresholds that make it mandatory for the industry to reformulate and make their food products healthier, at par with global and scientific standards, will go a long way in preventing an obesity or diabetes epidemic.”

India is one of the global leaders in the food and beverage industry with a sales volume of 34 million tonne. As per forecasts of the Euromonitor data, India was set to emerge as the third- largest market for packaged food in the world by 2020, after China and the United States. Studies have found that in India, across urban and rural households, 53% children consumed salted packaged food such as chips and instant noodles, 56% children consumed sweet packaged food such as chocolates and ice creams and 49% children consumed sugar-sweetened packaged beverages at an average of over twice a week. A simple, interpretive and mandatory front-of-pack label, considered a critical component of a suite of measures to fight NCDs, could be India’s winning strategy to ensure a healthier tomorrow for its children, said experts.

Ashim Sanyal, COO, Consumer Voice, concluded, “This consumption pattern is of further concern since most processed and packaged foods contain salt, sugar and fat in quantity that is several times higher than the threshold proposed by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) in its 2018 draft labelling and display regulations or by the WHO SEARO NPM model. The draft regulations published by FSSAI in 2019 was an important step towards reducing the health harm of these products. As a result of push back from the industry, a decision has been pending for years now.”
 
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