Food processing: A sunrise industry
The budget allocation of Rs.2,000 crore is sure to provide an impetus to the sector in India
Food processing has been known from time immemorial, ever since human evolution began. India, especially, has been a forerunner in giving diverse facets to this art of food processing. Using salt and oil to pickle surplus vegetables and sun-drying brined vegetables and fruits to increase their shelf life, and survive scarcity and unfavourable conditions is nothing new in Indian households.
It would not be an exaggeration to say that food processing started in the kitchen of every household, as a result of the traditional knowledge of our women. Today, we define food processing as any kind of intervention with the available raw produce of agricultural or horticultural origin, thereby adding to its value. It comes as no surprise that the food processing industry connects the farmers with their consumers, adding value on the way.
India’s food processing sector spans a wide range of products that includes fruits and vegetables, meat, fish, seafood and poultry; dairy and dairy products; fermented foods and drinks; grains, cereals and millets; bakeries; confectionery; nutraceuticals; etc. Of these, RTE (ready to eat) and RTH (ready to heat) foods have grabbed special attention. It is a well-known fact that in today’s world, time has become extremely precious, and a fast-paced world has got habituated, in fact, addicted, to a ready-made culture, where fresh fruits are cleaned, sliced and wrapped without preservatives and made available on the go. With no time to cook a meal, RTE and RTH foods come in handy for the busy consumer. The demand from consumers and their willingness to pay that extra buck for convenience are the main reasons behind the roaring business in the food sector, especially in the processed food arena.
The science behind food processing was established on a few basic needs: (a) to increase the shelf life of a product (b) improve the digestibility of the product (c) a trade commodity for economic progress. Today, the Indian food processing industry is recognized as a sunrise industry. According to reports, during 2009-13, India’s exports of processed food and related products increased at a compounded annual growth rate of 21.9% to $36.1 billion. Further, the Indian food industry is estimated to grow to about $200 billion by 2015. Thus, it could lead to significant economic development, apart from providing employment opportunities.
The food park recently inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at Tumkur in Karnataka is a good example. This has set a great precedent for public-private partnerships where the private sector invests in infrastructure, while the government brings in technology and knowledge to help farmers earn reasonably, without suffering losses. Such mega food parks may steer the nation towards income generation, employment opportunities, besides reducing wastage.
The basic principles of food processing have revolved around the science of dehydration, pulverizing of raw material for easier cooking and extending shelf life of the product for the convenience of consumption over a longer period. Modern food processing sciences have established various energy-saving methods of addressing these requirements. Advances and innovations in food processing science have established protocols and techniques for superior retention of flavours, better product integrity and better nutrition benefits.
While processed foods have multiple advantages of being hygienic, free from pathogens, sometimes made tastier and healthier too with the addition of flavours and nutrients, they also come with certain disadvantages. Some people believe that processing of food deprives it of its major nutritive properties, rendering the product tasty but less nutritious, although in reality, processing reduces the nutritive value only by a minimal amount. However, use of preservatives and food additives are common in the food processing industry, and these could render the commodity toxic and unsafe if proper care is not taken.
The Central Food Technological Research Institute (CFTRI) has been part of the evolution of the Indian food industry since the time of independence. Notwithstanding the traditional bedrock of home-scale food processing in India, CFTRI’s efforts have been progressive in the development of ecological and socially sustainable and standardized food processing protocols. We at CFTRI are pioneers in food processing. Our innovations have established world-class food processing technologies, with comprehensive use of by-products and value addition through new concepts like nanotechnology, intelligent packaging, etc. CFTRI has been instrumental in providing technologies to many entrepreneurs and industries that have modernized the pantries of Indian households, besides large-scale production to meet domestic and overseas demands.
Processed food in India will continue to stay so long as we see changing lifestyles, increasing numbers of working women, disposable incomes and trendy attitudes. Besides, the government is keen on encouraging this industry by promoting joint ventures, giving industrial licences, introducing schemes for technology upgrade, and establishing and modernizing processing industries.
In conclusion, the future of the food processing industry is dazzling, with food safety, quality assurance and hygiene norms gaining importance. The stringent rules laid by the government are sure to take this industry to global standards. To top it all, the allocation of Rs.2,000 crore for the food processing industry in the budget is sure to provide an impetus to this sector in India.
Ram Rajasekharan is director of the Central Food Technological Research Institute, a unit of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research .