The post-pandemic world is poised for a great reset that could trigger a global upheaval in food production, supply and end-consumer access. While some organisations have been claiming that climate change is responsible for these developing scenarios, scientists in the field of meteorology, geoengineering research and agriculture reveal otherwise. The latter maintain that a real-world and scientific approach to increasing food production, and tech-enabled storage while reducing food wastage is the key factor in preventing food scarcity. Food processing companies have called for collective action in tackling food security and food safety, many of whom are actively investing in their R&D, launching innovative solutions and making significant efforts in cutting down food loss. However, it’s important to mention that the global efforts in this space are markedly high as compared to the Indian market, primarily in terms of launching new technologies and solutions. Although the attempts can be seen at the academic level in India, it’s high time for Indian companies to look into R&D investments in this matter. Let’s explore this further.
Consumer consciousness around food waste has more than doubled in the past two years as rising food prices, supply chain challenges, the pandemic, and sustainability concerns impact consumer behaviour.
According to the Capgemini Research Institute’s 2022 report, “Reflect. Rethink. Reconsider. Why food waste is everybody’s problem”, 72 per cent of consumers are aware of their food wastage as compared to only 33 per cent of consumers before 2020. Over 90 per cent of consumers prefer brands that are reducing food waste. The report further says that consumers are already looking into ways to reduce their food waste. There has been an 80 per cent year-on-year growth in social media searches for methods to increase the life of food items. Cost savings (56 per cent), concerns around world hunger (52 per cent), and climate change (51 per cent) are the primary reasons contributing to this.
In line with consumer’s evolving mindsets, industry players as well as the government are also making significant efforts in the space. From Hyderabad’s Bowenpally Vegetable Market generating electricity from vegetable waste to Amazon launching organic fruits and vegetables sourcing from farmers’ collection centres in the country, there is a lot more happening to support the food security agenda of the nation.
To reduce food grain wastage, the Government of India in May 2023 launched “World’s Largest Grain Storage Plan in the Cooperative Sector”, a groundbreaking step taken by the government. This new scheme is aimed at addressing the agricultural storage infrastructure shortage by setting up various types of agri-infrastructure, including warehouses, custom hiring centres, processing units, etc. Addressing the challenges related to food loss, food safety, nutritional aspects of food, and food security is at the core of this newly launched plan. Along with this, a range of innovations is constantly in the making in the Indian food processing industry that is directed toward all these aspects.
Significant efforts on the cold storage front
The refrigeration and cold chain industry of India is growing at a fast rate due to the shift in focus from increasing production to better storage to reduce wastage of agricultural produce and other perishable products. India is home to the largest cold storage capacity in the world, with 8200 cold storage and 36 million tonnes capacity. The Indian cold chain market is expected to more than double from Rs 1.28 lakh crore in 2022 to Rs 2.86 lakh crore in 2027, a CAGR of 14.3 per cent.
During the “India Cold Chain Conclave” organised by Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare, along with PHD Chamber of Commerce & Industry held in New Delhi on January 19 this year, Manoj Ahuja, Secretary, Department of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare said, “Technological innovation is crucial for the growth and development of the Indian cold chain industry. With the advent of advanced refrigeration and cooling systems, the industry is now able to store and transport goods at much lower temperatures, which helps to extend the shelf life of perishable products. This has led to an increase in the export of perishable goods from India, as the products can now reach international markets in better condition.”
Cold chain solutions address the problem of food loss directly by increasing the shelf life of food, and indirectly by increasing the reach of food to markets and processing facilities. Several initiatives for cold storage development have been taken in the past in India, but the focus has now shifted to creating an integrated cold chain across the supply chain. The industry players are also significantly noticeable in this space.
In April 2023, Mumbai-based Allana Cold Chain Solutions, one of the leading providers of end-to-end cold chain storage and transportation services announced its expansion in operations with the construction of storage facilities in Kolkata, Andhra Pradesh (in Kakinada) and Punjab (in Dera Bassi). This expansion is a testament to Allana Cold Chain Solutions’ commitment to providing end-to-end solutions by integrating the experience and expertise in blast freezing, packing, inspection, freight forwarding and custom made offerings to varied sectors and reputed clients such as McCain Foods, Britannia Industries, Morde Foods, Abbott India, Sapphire Foods (KFC supplier), Varun Beverages, Mars International and others, ensuring the integrity of cold chain logistics requirements throughout the process.
Commenting on the foray, Manish Muley, Chief Executive Officer, AllanaSons, said, “Our effective management module has enabled us to be operational 24×7 resulting in a 20 per cent increase in revenue over the previous three years. With the new additions, the growth rate is poised to be between 30 and 35 per cent per year. The expansion of operations with the addition of these new facilities bears witness to our efficient management. The demand for cold chain logistics services has been continually expanding, and these new facilities will assist us in meeting those demands from our existing and newer clientele. We are convinced that we can cater to our customers with the finest quality of service thanks to our cutting-edge technology and considerable industry expertise.”
Another Mumbai-based cold-chain marketplace startup, Celcius Logistics announced the launch of its smart last-mile delivery platform that addresses and fixes the most pertinent pain points in India’s fragile cold supply chains. The company has already secured contracts for storage and distribution from clients like Zepto, Maersk, Jubilant Foodworks and others, and also handles distribution for Zomato, Rebel Foods and a host of other Cloud kitchens and local businesses that get instant access to all the asset inventory via Celcius’s last mile delivery platform. The tech enablement not only optimises the last mile but also helps address issues of timely delivery and loss due to wastage, maximising profitability for all parties and enhancing food security in the country.
The cold storage sector encounters challenges that other dry warehouses do not face. The higher cost of operations in cold storage makes it critically important that the space must be utilised optimally. In India, the dairy or cold chain industry has not evolved in terms of intralogistics automation as companies ignore the benefits of modern cold storage design which also includes a high-density storage system apart from advanced refrigeration technology.
To address these issues, Godrej Körber, a joint venture company between Godrej & Boyce and Körber Supply Chain, a German company, is driving warehouse automation transformation for the Indian cold chain sector through differentiated automation solutions. Godrej Körber is aiming for a 20 per cent contribution in revenue from India’s cold chain sector by introducing a highly advanced high-density automated storage and retrieval system (AS/RS) in the financial year 2023.
Suunil Dabral, Senior Vice President & Business Head, Godrej Körber stated, “An automated cold storage facility’s purpose is to expedite procedures and increase safety for both staff and commodities. Godrej Körber aims to bring this transformation to India’s cold storage facilities by providing special high-density storage automation solutions, including stacker cranes and shuttle-based AS/RS solutions that let you fully control the storage of all palletised commodities without the need for manual handling. By integrating advanced technology and innovation, we aspire to tackle supply chain complexity across sectors and automate a large number of the cold chain warehouses in India.”
The tech enablement not only optimises the last mile but also helps address issues of timely delivery and loss due to wastage, maximising profitability for all parties and enhancing food security in the country.
Addressing shelf life
As the food processing companies call for collective action in tackling food security and food safety, many of them are actively investing in their R&D, launching innovative solutions in the market, and making significant efforts in cutting down the food loss. However, it’s important to mention that the global efforts in this space are markedly high as compared to the Indian market. Mainly in terms of launching new technologies and solutions. Although the attempts can be seen at the academic level in India, it’s high time for Indian companies to look into R&D investments in this matter.
Looking at the global front, food processing companies are mainly focusing on the shelf life aspects to combat the challenges related to food waste. Many are launching shelf-life extension technology across their portfolios. Research has shown that approximately 50 per cent of consumer waste could be prevented via shelf-life extension technologies – a saving which would meaningfully reduce world hunger.
SAVRpak, a US-based food technology innovation company, launched SAVRpak Drop-In, the world’s first-ever moisture control technology that extends the shelf-life and freshness of produce up to three times. It creates the perfect atmosphere inside the package for a longer period by eradicating a number of causes of premature moulding, wilting and spoilage of peel-less and packaged produce including berries, leafy greens, grapes, mini cucumbers and others. Successful trials have been completed with Divine Flavor, Ocati, RCG Fruits, and Agrovision.
Commenting on the launch, Grant Stafford, Co-CEO, SAVRpak said, “We’re excited to be able to address an area of food preservation that has been unachievable to date, and that’s the ability to extend the life of peel-less produce like berries and leafy greens. We have successfully transformed the basic technology to address a category that lacked a solution to keep food fresh for longer while reducing food waste – a top culprit of greenhouse gas emissions. Our technology extends the marketable shelf-life of produce by up to three times – ultimately giving consumers a longer window to enjoy produce at home while reducing waste.”
In September 2022, Ireland-based leading taste and nutrition company Kerry launched a unique tool to raise awareness of food loss and waste. Although the tool does not directly enhance the shelf life of the product but enables food manufacturers to determine the impact they can have in reducing global food waste by using shelf-life extension technology across their portfolios. Kerry’s Food Waste Estimator allows consumers and manufacturers to quantify and understand the financial and environmental impact of reducing food waste either in the food chain or in the home.
Bert de Vegt, Global VP for Food Protection & Preservation at Kerry said, “Today is a reminder of the precarious global situation of food security. We all need to act and as an industry, we must take immediate action to eradicate food waste within the food system through new technology and innovation together. While Kerry partners with manufacturers to extend the shelf-life of products, it is important to remember that individual actions at home can also have a big impact. If the world reversed the current trend of food loss and waste, we could protect enough resources to feed three times the amount of undernourished people on the planet today. Our new tool provides simple but actionable insights for both consumers and the food industry and shows the real impact that shelf-life extension technology can have on food products.”
In January 2023, Evigence, an Israel-headquartered food technology company secured $18 million in a Series B round. The company produces sensors and couples them with data analytics to monitor perishable food freshness in real time. The funds are directed toward expanding commercialisation of the freshness management system of the company that extends the shelf life of the food produce, reduces food waste, ensures food quality and safety, and improves operational efficiency. The company has demonstrated meaningful bottom-line impacts, including 20 per cent shelf life extension, a 5 per cent increase in sell-through and a 33 per cent reduction in waste.
“We aim to redefine the way the world manages fresh food”, said Yoav Levy, Founder & CEO, Evigence. “Today there is no objective way to measure freshness. Small variations in temperature during transit or storage can lead to waste of perfectly good food on one end of the spectrum, or problems with food safety on the other end. Date codes don’t account for these fluctuations. We want to change the paradigm,” he added.
On the domestic front, the innovations and initiatives look a bit different in terms of addressing food waste and food security in India. For instance, a team of researchers at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Jodhpur created and demonstrated a cost-effective and highly sensitive tactile pressure sensor for detecting fruit ripeness. By measuring the elastic modulus and capacitance, the researchers were able to demonstrate ripeness assessment for different types of tomatoes.
The sensor is capable of sorting fruits as per their ripeness and by integrating it with a robotic arm, a high-throughput system can then, effectively sort fruits based on their ripeness and quality during the plucking or transportation stages. This cost-effective system will be particularly useful for exporting high-value fruits over long distances allowing producers to reduce associated food waste.
Need to amplify R&D and tech efforts
Although the recently launched Grain Storage Plan looks promising for the Indian agricultural and food processing segment, effective implementation and empowerment of the scheme in the long term will require significant planning and management. After the implementation of this plan, there are a lot more aspects the government and industry need to look into. For instance, shelf life-related issues, investing and building on the necessary technologies like cold storage, maintaining and monitoring the nutritional value of the stored food produce, constant checking on food safety attributes, looking into supply chain management, transportation planning, etc.
Domestic efforts in areas such as R&D and technologies are quite inadequate. Government and industry players both need to address this shortcoming. Unlike South Korea, which has adopted regulations and policy guidelines to reduce Food Loss and Waste (FLW), India does not have laws and regulations that prohibit or restrict the generation of food waste. Serious work is crucial in this matter too.
Dr Satyanarayana Kandukuri, Food Processing Practice Lead, Sathguru Management Consultants said, “India needs to develop a policy that encourages the active participation of the private sector in FLW reduction. Research grants and fiscal incentives such as tax exemptions can encourage participation by academia, industry and startups in FLW reduction or food waste valorisation. Reducing FLW is crucial for addressing food security and building resilient food systems. This needs to be recognised as a priority action agenda that requires collaboration and coordination among all stakeholders.”
Our nation has been actively working on the ground to build a better future in terms of food security and sustainability. Milestones in terms of our cold storage infrastructure are prominent and we are constantly progressing in this direction. However, like global brands, for long-term outcomes, better R&D efforts and higher investments in technologies is the need of the hour. The World’s Largest Grain Storage Plan in the Cooperative Sector would be a massive success if these aspects are taken into consideration.