ProPak India-Suman Food webinar addresses challenges in F&B industry

ProPak India, a processing and packaging event hosted by Informa Markets (formerly UBM India), and Suman Food Consultants recently conducted a webinar on the challenges and solutions for the food and beverage (F&B) industry during the Covid-19 crisis, which attracted over 900 attendees.

13 May 2020 | By Aultrin Vijay

The webinar attracted over 900 attendees from the food and beverage sector

The webinar highlighted the pressing need among industry leaders to chalk out strategies in order to address the situation, delve into impact assessment and revival strategy and how to steer the industry to bounce back post the pandemic. The F&B professionals deliberated on challenges in food production, labour issues, liquidity crunch, strategies food industry should adopt to tackle the recessionary phase, impact of Covid on the packaging industry, self-reliance of the food industry, and the role of digital marketing and online platforms in the food processing industry.

The webinar was moderated by Sagar Kurade, managing director, Suman Food Consultants and was marked by experts from the F&B industry.

Challenges in F&B sector
Speaking on the operational challenges in food production under Covid-19 pandemic, Nitin Seth, vice chairman, GD Foods said, “There is a huge gap in what the central government says and what district administration understands. They say that 60% of the food industry is operational; even if the manufacturing units are operational, they are operating at 15-20% capacity only.”

On the labour issue, Anil Rajput, head corporate affairs, ITC said: “Whether one gets permission to operate at 15%-20%-50%, labour is administrative. The major issue is the fear that the labour has of risking their own life as well as the life of their dear ones back home. We as employers need to think from their perspective and adopt the most caring and nurturing attitude towards them and ensure a safe working environment in order to mitigate risk for labours, both physical and psychological. Money is not the driving factor to bring back employees to work.”

Focusing on the liquidity crunch issue for MSMEs, Aditya Bagri, managing director, Bagrrys India said: “This being a procurement season for food processing industry, in the current scenario, a lot of MSMEs are struggling to procure the required raw material due to liquidity crunch, which ultimately affects the manufacturing capacity. This has been actively discussed with the Ministry of Food Processing Industries (MOFPI) in order to see if some amount of relief is passed on. Also, if financial institutions can come up with some option to inject the working capital needed at subsidised interest rates. Further, with the manufacturing units being non-functional during the lockdown period, if the discretionary fixed costs such as electricity charges can be subsidised or waived off, it could add up to the liquidity for the food processors. Further, it is important that the cash flows across the supply chain in order to put the working capital cycle in motion.”

Speaking on the farm-level intervention and the need of the hour to move from unorganised to organised sector, Jayesh Gosrani, joint managing director, Goma Engineering said, “Today, consumers have become more health conscious and are very much aware of what they consume. Automation in the processing sector will be the key to success wherein the products are processed in a condition where the consumers are confident of consuming it.”

Additionally, Girish Bajaj, managing director at Bajaj Processpack also reiterated that primary processing is the need of the hour. “There are around 70-80 agro processing universities, which have well equipped post-harvest technology centres. If these universities can become a link between farmers and end consumers in terms of the inspection of the crops and guiding framers to do the primary processing of the agricultural produce at the farm level, it will reduce the wastage.”

With the world getting into a recessionary phase, the panellists also spoke about the strategies the food industry should adopt to tackle this phase.

“The industry needs to be agile and adapt to the changing scenario. It will not be survival of the fittest; it will be survival of the quickest,” said Rajput. “This might open new opportunities for the entire food processing sector. In the short run there could be some challenges. However, the industry will have to be prepared for new product development based on consumer behaviour post this crisis scenario.”

Pandemic impact on packaging industry
Talking about the impact of Covid on the packaging industry, Amit Ray, executive director, Uflex said, “The essential commodities will spurt. However, the lifestyle products and luxury commodities will take its own time to regain its normalcy. Hygiene products will see a boost. Packaging will be a key to success with changing behaviour of the consumers.”

While labour issues prevail during the Covid crisis, Bajaj noted what the role of automation could play. “With the consumers' changing behaviour towards personal hygiene, food safety and health consciousness, the demand for quality processed foods is on rise and that’s where the manufacturers will look at automation to ensure that the food they produce is safe and healthy.”

Commenting on the self-reliance of the food industry, Rajput said, “De-globalisation shall open up new opportunities for the processing sector. Demand for technology transfer and joint ventures will increase in the country. The machine manufacturers can get into joint ventures and get into manufacturing of their own end products in the country.”

Impact of online platforms
Meanwhile, describing the vital impact that digital marketing and online platforms will have on sales in the food processing industry, Bagri said, “The lockdown scenario has made people try online solutions and companies are heavily investing in customer acquisition and digital marketing. The change is consumer behaviour in ordering online is going to stay for long due to convenience and flexibility.”

ProPak India, which caters to India's processing and packaging industries, has been geo-adapted from ProPak Asia, and is comprehensively tailored to Indian requirements. Meanwhile, Informa Markets' portfolio comprises more than 550 international B2B events and brands in markets. One of the leading exhibition organisers in India, Informa Market hosts over 25 large scale exhibitions, 40 conferences, along with industry awards and training across the country every year.

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