Indian plant central to Naturex drive to boost emerging markets

By RJ Whitehead

- Last updated on GMT

Indian plant central to Naturex drive to boost emerging markets

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Having first gained a foothold in India with its Roha plant acquisition from Valentine Agro in 2012, Naturex has cemented its position in the local fruit and vegetable powders market by being ahead in drum-dry technology.

That’s according to Jean-Philippe Giorgis, the company’s senior vice-president for Asia-Pacific, who says India is four-square in its strategy to achieve a quarter of its sales in emerging markets by 2020.

That’s not to say that Naturex is starting from scratch in Asia, where it has been present for the last two decades and growth has been good. What it has been doing though, is finding ways to “adapt our company and portfolio right down to local customers​” within the region’s many-varied markets. 

Asian populations want to be reassured by what they eat. So we can see a lot of demand for wellness, natural products and health products. So that’s playing in our favour—we have been doing this for 25 years​,” Giorgis says. 

The strategy for us is really to make sure we supply the right demand focus for each market. In India it’s crunchy fruit and powders, while in China customers want different things. There has been a tremendous trend for switching from synthetic ingredients to natural ingredients​.

We are a big player in specialty plant-based natural ingredients, so typically we want to bring our global technology to the local Indian market​.” 

Naturex has more than a dozen plants across the world, including its Roha plant in Maharashtra. Roha predominantly produced spray-dried fruits and vegetables for powders and colours when it was acquired, but with the addition of drum-dried technology at the plant 12 months ago, Giorgis says it is now ahead of its competitors.

What we have done is reinforce our presence in India by adding new formats. When you look at the products themselves, powders can go into baby foods, cereals and instant beverages, and sometimes in natural colours. 

“What we have done with our drum-drying machinery is find new applications and combinations of those products in a way that we don’t see a lot of in the competition​,” he adds.

Fruits such as mango, pineapple and banana, all abundant in India, can be turned into purees and then dried in a drum to produce fine granules all the way to large flakes. 

In this way, a crunchy piece of dried fruit can be combined with dried material to make ingredients for an instant beverage in which the crunchy bits produce a pulp effect. 

Instead of having old-fashioned products that are mixed with water, now you can have an instant drink that is going to be full of pulp and appear more natural. We are expanding the applications we can offer with such products​,” says Giorgis.

In some Asia-Pacific markets a format like this is unique. Moreover, this pulpy formation adds convenience, especially in countries that would prefer to move away from frozen fruits that need constant refrigeration. 

Though Naturex is increasing its exports from Roha to other Asia-Pacific locations, Indian production focuses on the local market, where customers are mostly looking for sustainability, safety and—this being India—cost-effectiveness.

Though the Indian food market is booming, there remains “a need for more structure and co-ordination​,” Giorgis says, yet customers are still keen to innovate. 

They want new products, healthy products, all with price constraints. It’s a work in progress. The mindset is very aggressive, but also very open at the same time​.”

This mindset isn’t so much a challenge as an adaptation, he adds. ​“We are fortunate to have a very large portfolio which allows us to combine products and come up with solutions that are going to bring value to the customer at different price levels​. 

As long as we understand the value the customer receives from our products, we can adapt to what they need. It isn’t a challenge in market penetration, but one to deliver what the customer wants​.”

The company is being helped by increasingly open dialogue between the Indian food regulator, the FSSAI, and the food industry, especially after the scandals of two years ago which saw Nestlé’s Maggi noodles taken off the market by zealous inspectors.

A confused regulatory set-up prompted customers to “put both feet on the brakes​” in terms of new product development, based on uncertainty over whether new launches would be deemed legal by a decrepit regulatory system.

The situation has since improved, though it has brought the need for safe, natural ingredients to the fore, with sustainability in particular demand among Naturex’s customers. China is another market where safety ranks high in this regard.

[At the time, the FSSAI] was taking a top-down approach to regulation and manufacturers were waiting for more information before moving forward. The dialogue is much more open now between all the players—the government and the companies in the market​. 

We’re on the right track with the regulator, as issues are being clarified​,” says Giorgis, adding that Naturex has been working closely with the FSSAI, and has benefitted from more communication than in the past. 

The company posted double-digit growth in Asia-Pacific last year. In 2015, the Roha plant’s surface area doubled and its production capacity increased by 40%. An entirely new building, with a reduced environmental footprint, houses extraction, processing and drying workshops, as well has two pilot plants. 

Its product range has also expanded over the last five years to include pigments such as paprika, curcuma and annatto.

Our commitments in India reflect Naturex’s geographical expansion strategy, and aims to respond to our customers’ demands in this expanding market​,” says Giorgis, adding that the country has recorded some of the company’s best growth performances in Asia-Pacific. 

It is one of the main factors propelling us towards the objective set out in our strategic plan​.”

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