FICCI conference highlights food ingredients innovations

Can India become the food factory of the world? What would be the holistic food ingredients ecosystem, and what are its growth and opportunities? What are the roles of ingredients in ensuring health and wellness? What are the emerging trends and evolving regulatory and business environment? These and other questions were discussed during FICCI's 2nd National Conference on Food Ingredients: Tool Towards Innovation on 19 July.

22 Jul 2022 | By Dibyajyoti Sarma

Arun Singhal, CEO, FSSAI

During the inaugural session, Sanjay Khajuria, president, CIFTI-FICCI said that the policymakers have implemented a number of reforms to create an enabling environment for rapid growth, across all segments of the food value chain.

“Food additives are an important part of the food processing industry,” Siraj Hussain, former secretary, Ministry of Food Processing Industries, Government of India, said. Giving the example of the success of the Maggie brand of instant noodles, he added, “The entire food processing industry uses additives or flavouring and therefore, it is important that the role played by sweeteners, emulsifiers, flavours, colour, additives, etc is realised.”

Food ingredients regulations

In his inaugural address, Arun Singhal, CEO, FSSAI, said food ingredients play an important role in product formation and perform a variety of functions. He also commended the role of the food grain industry during the pandemic as the country never felt the shortage of food items.

Singhal highlighted how the pandemic has triggered a major change in consumers’ preferences and behaviour. “Today, everyone wants healthy food. Today, consumers are looking for food with nutritional values, especially plant-based nutrition,” he said. He added that this has opened up opportunities for innovation in ingredients. He gave the example of flax seeds, which has now become a superfood. He also mentioned other food innovations, such as vegetables with meat flavour, garlic paste without the smell of garlic and so on.

Singhal said while innovation in food ingredients is a welcome move, these innovations need regulation. “All over the world, the regulators require that all the ingredients are listed on the product details page of a product,” he said.

Singhal said while regulating food ingredients, FSSAI, as a regulatory body, follows a science-based method. He said FSSAI’s Food Safety and Standards Regulations look at the safety aspects of food ingredients. This includes imported food items as well. 

For FSSAI, each substance included in a food product, including additives, are counted as ingredients. Singhal said FSSAI looks at the horizontal parameters for food safety.

Horizontal standards cut across various categories of foods and contain standards about contaminants, toxins, residues, packaging, labelling, etc. Vertical standards mainly include identity and compositional standards of specific food products which cover additives, microbiological requirements, etc.

Singhal said any food ingredient with a history of use for 50 years can be approved easily. However, non-specified food ingredients like micro-proteins need stringent regulation. 

He said to get regulatory approval, there needs to be information on purity of the ingredient, and continuous analysis is mandatory. He also urged the industry that the measures used for establishing the claims for an innovative ingredient should be truthful, and there should be a valid protocol. 

“There are traditional ingredients used in food products. If we get a standardised list from the industry, we can approve it,” he said. 

He also asked the industry to help with the capacity building of the smaller unit engaged in food production, as there are still issues of safety and hygiene among the smaller players.

He also stressed on the importance of self-compliance when it comes to developing new and innovative ingredients. “Self-compliance, science-based claims, and data would go a long way in developing safe and innovative food ingredients,” he concluded.

Holistic food ingredients ecosystem

The subject of the second session was building a holistic food ingredients ecosystem with the focus on growth and opportunity.

Prakash MG, managing director, India subcontinent, IFF, who moderated the session said, food ingredients innovation in India is still at a nascent stage. He said things will change as India starts using more processed food.

Tarun Arora, chief executive officer, Zydus Wellness, said, “The Covid pandemic has taught us the importance of immunity. So, food plays an important role. Food ingredient innovation needs a combination of modern science and traditional wisdom.”

Satish Rao, chairman & MD, Firmenich Aromatics Production, said, “Today, safety regulations have come a long way, from prevention to collaboration. That said, self-regulation is the best way forward.”

He added that as India has a huge repository of heritage ingredients, it’s time for the industry to come together and find a way to use these ingredients. 

Virender Grover, managing director, Roquette India, said that sustainability, food safety, and food as experience are some of the drivers that are changing the customer needs. 

On the question, can India be the food factory of the world, Tarun Arora said, this needs resources, which the country currently lacks. He also said that for this, we will need innovation and consistency. “If we want to take Indian food outside, we need to adapt it to the global taste,” he said. “Also, we will need to build trust and confidence in Indian food that they are safe and healthy.”

Satish Rao agreed that first the country needs to develop an ecosystem to build credibility. “Also, we need to figure out how to leverage our core capability,” he said.

Virender Grover said, “We have the opportunity now, but we may be competing with the South Asian countries, Australia and Japan. For India, raw material is a major challenge, as it is a non-GMO country. So, we will have to look for alternatives.”

He added, “The food ingredient manufacturer is the primary processor of agricultural commodities. Food ingredient industry have an ability to provide consumers with access to a bigger variety of choices for healthy plant-based diets, that will also reduce our environmental footprint and our current big dependence on animal farming for our protein needs. But unfortunately, still our stakeholders do not see ingredient manufacturer as integral part of food industry. Roquette in India process more than 8 lakh tonnes of maize (corn) every year and supply to food, pharma and animal feed industry."

On the challenges facing the food ingredients industry, Grover said consistent supply and quality is a major challenge. For this, he said, the industry needs to work closely with the farmers. He also mentioned the crude supply chain management and the challenges of contamination. 

Satish Rao said while there have been changes happening in supply chain management thanks to digital technology, transparency remains an issue. The value chain should be transparent, he said. “We need to work towards establishing trust in the system, in the brand. No one person can do it. It will need the help of all stakeholders,” he said.

Tarun Arora said there is a need to focus on farmers. “The industry needs to organise farmers for better raw material,” he said.

Looking at the future, Grover said, sustainability would be the major focus in the coming years, which Rao stressed on the importance of health and wellness.

The third session of the day focused on the role of ingredients in ensuring health and wellness. Moderated by Badrinath Raghavendran, director, F1rst-Giract, the session was attended by Harshpal Singh, managing director, Ambe Phytoextracts; Mihir Joshi, category marketing lead, ISC & Beverage Lead, AMETI, IFF; Milind Nerlekar, sales head (taste & wellbeing), Givaudan India; and Kaushal Vaishnav, business manager, CHR Hansen.

Emerging trends and regulation

The fourth and the concluding session discussed the emerging trends and evolving regulatory and business environment of the diversified food ingredient sector. Moderated by Dr Jasvir Singh, regulatory, scientific and government affairs leader-SA, IFF, the event was attended by Dr Venkatesh Sosle, VP regulatory affairs and analytical services, Tata Consumer Products; Pratichee Kapoor, director-Big Bets, Kerry Ingredients; Sohan Singh, regional technical head, APAC, PureCircle and Ravinder Grover, programme lead, Harvest Plus.

Dr Jasvir Singh highlighted that the ingredients industry needs a focus group. In this context, it was announced that FICCI has started a focus group on food ingredients to be led by Prakash MG. 

Talking about emerging trends, Ravinder Grover debunked the myth about bio-fortification and said that it’s a simple approach to enhancing the nutrient levels of staple ingredients. It’s a new (15-year-old) idea and it’s cost-effective as investment is needed only in the beginning, he said.

Dr Venkatesh Sosle asked why ingredients are not treated separately as standards. He also urged the industry to look for new, innovative ingredients. He also stressed that as the regulatory body is not foresighted about innovative ingredients, the industry needs to take the lead to push the regulatory body into action. 

Pratichee Kapoor said at Kerry Ingredients, the company recognised that every ingredient needs to be looked at through the lens of health and nutrition. “Health and nutrition should not come at a premium,” she said.

Sohan Singh said for innovative ingredients, the industry needs to find a way for the customers to accept them. Also, the industry needs to find out what customers want. Singh said customers want “healthy indulgence.”

Talking about regulation, Pratichee Kapoor said regulation is important. She said, especially for new categories, a basic framework of regulation is needed. 

However, the question remains if there is too much regulation?

Dr Venkatesh Sosle said the industry needs a regulation system where it can exchange information. “There should be more communication between the industry and the regulators,” he said. 

Giving the example why cricket is popular in India (because everyone can easily understand the rules), Dr Jasvir Singh said the regulatory rules should be easy for everyone to understand. At the same time, the rules should be flexible enough so that they can be changed and tweaked according to the situation.  

On future trends, Ravinder Grover said the concept of food as medicine is gaining popularity. He also said plant-based food ingredients are getting popular. 

Dr Venkatesh Sosle said the future is affordable but healthy ready-to-eat products. 

Pratichee Kapoor the future is products that reduce wastage, have more shelf-life and less carbon footprint.