These were some of the headline takeaways from industry experts speaking at Fi India’s pre-connect congress in Delhi on Saturday.
With the $250bn market expected to experience year-on-year double-digit percentage growth for the foreseeable future, delegates were told that improving food safety and quality standards was the only way to advance the industry on a sustainable footing.
Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) chief executive Pawan Kumar Agrawal said the organisation had striven to implement rigorous, science-based standards, but stressed more needed to be done.
“This is a process that is constantly evolving,” he said.
“Not all food business will always be happy, and it’s not my job to keep these businesses happy, it’s my job to ensure food is safe for all.
“But food businesses are as concerned about food safety as I am. We are committed to following a consultative spirit, but the onus that lies on the food business will be even more.”
All India Food Processors’ Association (AIFPA) president Sagar Kurade agreed, saying effective standards would enable India to build on its horticultural base.
“We are living in economy where 63% of the population is dependent on agriculture. If we are to take India forward we have to look at adding value, and food processing is the only industry that does that,” he said.
“That’s why we are working closely with other industry bodies to incorporate international standards in India,” he added, insisting this would also help boost exports, very few of which reach western markets.
“We have a great opportunity now because the world is becoming smaller,” he said, claiming that inward investment provided as many opportunities at exports.
“There are companies all across the world looking at expanding in India, either by operating here or outsourcing here. There is a great opportunity here if we move away from growing for the table top and encourage farmers to provide food for processing.”
It is believed a number of global retail and manufacturing firms are exploring opportunities in India since it was made open to foreign direct investment in June.
Walmart is believed to be eyeing retail expansion while one of Brazil's largest poultry firms is thought to be in talks with Kishore Biyani's Future Group to enter the country, according to recent press reports.
FSSAI’s Agrawal also said the authority would soon be issuing some regulations on fortification – an area he said should be a priority for manufacturers given the number of citizens with micronutrient deficiencies.
“While food safety is primary concern, we are also working towards nutritious foods for our people,” he said. “After careful consideration we will soon be coming out with regulations on fortification and we want to ensure these standards get implemented in government programmes.
“In my opinion food fortification will be a big growth area in the coming years.”
Argrawal went on to deny a suggestion from one audience member that the FSSAI’s approach to regulation may actually be stifling the opportunities available to manufacturers and processors.
While he conceded that standard-setting in the country was “somewhat lengthy”, he said it was vital that regulations were appropriate to an Indian context, as well as international requirements.
“We do not want to hamper food business innovation and growth, but to take this [process] away from Indian scientists and just take international standards may not be the best way forward,” he added.