Nov 5, 2018
Farmers of northern states such as Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and Haryana can become entrepreneurs provided they innovate in terms of storage, preservation, processing and packaging, says Monika Garg.
Punjab, Haryana and eastern Uttar Pradesh are recognised as food bowl of the country where agriculture is the main economic activity. Well-established irrigation system and robust infrastructure have boosted cultivation of wheat, rice and several other cash crops such as mandarin orange (kinnow). Yet, its food processing sector is lagging behind.
Food processing industry is a fast-growing sector, but it is showing minimum growth in north India. Major factors responsible include poor investment by the industry, overdependence on government schemes and grants, and poor knowledge of key concepts in food processing, product development and general training.
Food processing involves fruits, vegetables, milk, meat, poultry, fisheries, grains, pulses and oil seeds. Traditional way of food processing is sun drying, fermentation, soaking, murabas, chutneys, achars, idlis, etc. With time, our diet and food habits have evolved and so has the food processing industry. There has been some progress in food processing, for example grading and waxing of fruits like kinnows, that has increased shelf life and value of the produce, which is now being transported to different parts of the country.
The juice industry has also emerged for extraction and packaging, but without major progress. Aerated drinks are dominated by international industries. Milk is remunerative industry with tremendous potential. Grain processing is better in north as these cannot be consumed without processing. Many small-scale processing units, along with a few bigger ones, are already into this field, but still there is a scope for growth.
Vegetable processing mainly involves potato, tomato and green peas. In north India, largest sale of vegetables and fruits is in the raw or unprocessed forms. They are mostly confined to the domestic level, therefore, offering a huge scope for the processing industry. With busy lifestyle and eating on the run, consumers are accepting processed food. This is expected to increase the value of produce. It also creates demand for producing more. There is a need for hygienic and ready-to-eat innovative products with good taste and high nutritional value.
Farmers are interested in cultivation of wheat and rice, as these are assured income crops, besides being less labour intensive. Vegetable and fruit production and consumption can be increased by creating convenient, healthy products.
Storage of fruits and vegetables, however, require cold chain facilities. The Ministry of Food Processing has envisaged several food parks in different states. All that is missing is knowledge of key concepts in food processing, product development and general training. Food cleaning, edibility and safety are key requirements of the blooming food industry. Other important factors are shelf-life, new variety, convenience and diversity while preserving quality. Demographics, by age and gender, are to be considered before entering into processing segment. We can focus on certain age groups like kids, youngsters or aging population and gender to gain insight into that market potential.
Easy to open packaging, re-closable containers, small quantity of food may be better for elderly population. Understanding market and ethnical versus traditional are also important point of consideration. Diverse, high quality food in ways that have never been done before, through attractive packaging with labels like free from chemicals or adulteration, attract consumer attention.
We can target specialised and niche markets. Food spoilage due to insects, moisture, light, heat, oxygen that may cause colour and flavour changes need to be considered. Preservation by refrigeration, pasteurisation, oxygen control by replacing with nitrogen, water content reduction by dehydration of concentrates, replacing part oxygen by carbon dioxide (3 per cent), irradiation-based contamination reduction, freeze concentration, filtration, osmotic dehydration, solar or hot air dryer enhance shelf life of produce. Added preservatives like sodium sorbate, salt, sugar, pH, fermentation can be important for preservation.
Proper blanching helps in order to deactivate enzymes and surface sterilisation. Refrigeration (0-4 degree C), slows down the growth of microorganisms, oxidation, enzymatic reaction, slows diffusion of flavours, loss of vitamins, moisture, aromatic compounds and thus help in extension of shelf life. Coating with barrier layers can prevent moisture loss and respiration can be reduced by drying. Also, good understanding of chilling and freezing can improve preservation.
Good manufacturing practices have to be followed for commercial food processing. It includes potable water, good product flow, separation of raw material and finished products, screened windows and doors to avoid insects and proper washing facility etc. Maintaining proper time and temperature at the time of pasteurisation also plays an important role in preservation. For example, a cold and a hot day would have different requirements. Warehousing may be required. Package labeling is also important, indicating shelf life and qualities of product need highlighting. Batch labeling also plays a crucial role which cannot be neglected. Best way is to prepare process flow diagram, drawing series of steps with boxes and arrows, indicating each step. Too many critical points should not be there. Identify good manufacturing practices, critical control points and final points that must be met.
To encapsulate, it is lucid that food processor must be proactive in seeking opportunities. Several innovative storage, preservation and minimal processing technologies need to be developed day by day. It should be able to cater to national or international demands. It is no longer sufficient to be reactive and wait to see what trends are coming along before taking any action in response to them. Following the trend with a “me too” product does not create a sense of uniqueness that will drive the demand for your product.