India as a powerhouse of innovation in food and nutrition

KS Narayanan, an independent advisor to food and beverage (F&B) companies, writes about how India can become a powerhouse of disruptive innovation in food and nutrition

09 Oct 2021 | By WhatPackaging? Team

Narayanan: We are witnessing a rapid succession of launches of functional foods

The pandemic has caused deep-rooted changes in our relationship with food – whether it be how we consume or what we consume. Consumers across the country are not likely to return to the pre-pandemic buying habits anymore. 2021 is going to be a landmark year of profound rooted changes. As a result, we are witnessing high market competition with a slew of well-funded start-ups going after various niches, real and imaginary, and more giant corporations fighting hard to adapt to the significant scale changes with agility.

Health and wellness were one of the significant mega-trends that the F&B/foodservice has been witnessing. It has grown at its own snail’s pace, with many nicknaming it New Year Resolution foods, as it sees a spurt in consumption and adoption at the beginning of the year and tapers off as the year progresses. However, the pandemic has acted as a catalyst for the sharp growth of this industry. People are now rethinking wellness through food and nutrition, which extends to physical health, mental and emotional wellbeing, building immunity/absence of any ailments and seeking new alternatives in the form of plant-based foods such as alternative meats.

This has manifested itself in many ways to capture the consumers’ interest in different brands, food categories, and consumers alike.

People and brands are falling back to trusted age-old Ayurveda – ingredients and formulations. They are trying to revitalise old recipes, including ayurvedic herbs with proven efficacies into their formulations, and hoping to reap the benefits of our age-old wisdom. Ashwagandha in biscuits is an excellent example of the shift in the way consumers and brands look at health and nutrition.

The shift to healthier eating has forced all packaged food brands to introduce newer variants with less sugar, salt, or fat, eliminating artificial colours, flavours, and the so-called nasties or incorporation of local grains, nuts, seeds, fibre etc. Being a clean label brand is the “in” thing to be!

In addition, we are witnessing a rapid succession of launches of functional foods, including the addition of so-called nutrients, herbs, and more, starting from plain water to the most sophisticated of meal shakes, snacks, meals, and whatnot.

The inability to eat out of home as often as consumers used to pre-pandemic has encouraged people to order in using their smartphones. As a result, many foodservice entities are forced to offer products and services that do well on delivery. Hence, massive innovation is happening in this segment to create and package food to travel well.

Further work-from-home has blurred the distinction between the office and the home, and, as a result, a lot more meal occasions at home are happening today. Hence, this increases the opportunities for ready-to-cook, ready-to-eat categories across Breakfasts, Snacks, and meal occasions. This is an incredible opportunity for the entire frozen and chilled food segments to encourage their consumers to celebrate occasions at home in a safe manner.

With millennials and Gen Z taking centre stage using their mobiles and access to social media as their weapons for change, the focus is on causes such as being environmentally more conscious and sustainability. From this, we see the emergence of plant proteins and meat replacements as a mega category and India is not far behind in various concepts being put to the test. This is an area that we are likely to see growth.

The F&B industry is witnessing such an unprecedented pace of intensive and rapid innovation of this scale. The number of start-ups breaking into the market at this juncture and the funds which venture capitalists are pouring behind such ventures is mind-boggling. This, as a result, has even forced large corporates to become more nimble and agile in their offerings, thereby making them test the waters, albeit slowly.

This rapid change requires the coming together of brand marketers, who have a good pulse of the market, and the brands working in close tandem with food technologists and chefs to design and deliver experiences. Here, packaging can also play a significant role in ensuring that the consumer experience is offered as desired.

Notably, all of this is to be done within the precincts of the prevailing laws of the land, ensuring compliances across all stages of product development, manufacturing, and finally, what the consumer ultimately sees, i.e., the packaging declarations, and the brand communication across various media.

It is very encouraging to see that industry bodies such as FICCI and end to end solution providers including Thinking Forks are building virtual platforms such as India Food & Nutrition Innovation Summit (IFNIS 2021) to bring together ecosystem partners, showcase to the world the thought leadership in new and emerging food technologies, and demonstrate the innovation potential that can be harnessed for the benefit of a healthier India.

Narayanan is the moderator for Session 3 – Fire Side Chat with New Age Disruptors in Food and Nutrition Ecosystem at IFNIS 2021, scheduled on 27 October 2021 from 3pm to 4.15pm.