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Food - Convenience v/s conventional

Convenience Foods have set a distinct mark in the market to cater to the quick-serving demands of the consumers and shed the stress off the time-bound Chefs’ shoulders. Akshay Nayak speaks to the industry experts belonging to the hospitality fraternity to decode the aspects of using convenience foods in the food serving segment.

Monday, November 6, 2017, 11:18 Hrs  [IST]

The food service industry has witnessed dramatic changes in the past decades owing to the changes that have come over in the consumer demands. The evolvement of consumers into different segments in terms of their spending and dining out patterns, have resulted in mushrooming of different formats of food service businesses across the globe each with their own service and operational designs. In order to support this growth, a parallel support industry also cropped up. Convenience foods are one of the offspring of this growth and evolution.

Convenience foods are the processed foods usually used for creating various dishes with the chef’s convenience. For the time-restricted Chefs and fast-paced routine of consumer’s convenience, foods like pre-made mixes, marinades, sauces, batters, etc. have become the go-to option. These foods have certainly gained momentum over the past decade in both the retail market as well as in the hospitality industry serving both the fast paced life of the people as well as time-challenged chefs in a professional kitchen.

While convenience foods add value to the food service industry across the world, the perceived usage of these items vary in different formats of the business. Even among the professional chefs, there is a section which whole heartedly adopts these products in their kitchen, while there is another section of traditionalists who keeps them at bay at all costs. Of course, there is another section of moderates who instead of negating it completely, try to balance their usage evenly in the kitchens.

“Convenience food helps to shorten the meal preparation time, fastens operations, reduces left overs and is considered to be cost effective. Products in this category enable the chefs to discover their culinary brilliance as well,” said Oliver Mirza, MD and CEO, Dr. Oetker India, sharing views on the benfits of convenience foods on the HoReCa Segment. “QSRs and HoReCa certainly are using convenience products more as compared to the fine dining restaurants, as fine dining restaurants aim to offer exclusive experience to consumers and hence prefer making their sauces and other ingredients from the scratch.”

Commenting on similar lines to this trend, Pankaj Jain, GM - Sales & Culinary, Rich Graviss says, “Today almost all segments of the food business are looking for convenient solutions. It is just that the solutions for different segment are different. QSRs look for fully finished or partially finished food products as it helps them to standardise speedy operations. Casual Dining operators look for partially finished and speed scratch products as it helps them to get a best of both – efficiency and uniqueness. However, fine dining mostly looks at speed scratch or premixes- like precut meats, base gravies, sauces, etc. as they can then retain their individuality and also improve the efficiency of operations.”

Range of Convenience foods for the hospitality
Even though the growth in use of convenience foods in the hospitality sector is varied and still in its initial stages of expansion, the few players who are supplying to the hospitality sectors have finesse supplies which include a wide range of pasta sauces, gravy bases, vegetable creams and toppings for desserts, and much more.

Dr. Oetker FunFoods Professional, the food service division of Dr. Oetker India, offers over 150 products that are currently used by many leading restaurants and local eateries across India. “Our food service division serves HoReCa and many leading QSR brands like KFC, Domino’s, Pizza Hut, Subway, and various 5-star hotels and airlines. Mayonnaise and Italian sauces are the key growth drivers of our HoReCa business. Our Indianised variants like Tandoori Mayonnaise, Garlic Mayonnaise and Mint Mayonnaise have also gained a lot of popularity in the B2B segment over the years. Our food service segment currently contributes around 25% to the overall revenue and we plan to further strengthen our presence in this category,” says Mirza.

Pankaj Jain while talking about the varieties of processed foods said that Rich’s works closely with the chefs to understand their shortcomings while using processed foods in their dishes and thereafter educate them with the appropriate solutions for the same. “Our founder, Bob Rich Sr., discovered and created the technology for vegetable creams. We have endeavoured to ease the work of chefs by learning their problems and coming up with answers that can give them three kinds of solutions which they look for. Rich’s offers more than 2000 solutions in form of products to the HoReCa channel across the world. Our product range varies from - whip toppings, beverage creamers, premixes and partially finished foods right from icings with inclusions, pizza bases, flat breads, cake layers, custards, and pudding to the fully finished foods such as ready-to-serve desserts, Value added Shrimps, etc.”

Mahesh Padhiyar, Chairman, Food Solution India Limited (FSIL), says that they have an exclusive range of Karamat branded soups, starters, marinades, sauces, chutneys, gravies, curries, non-onion, non-garlic gravy base, South Indian delicacies and much more which are available in 1kg and 5kg pouches especially created for the food serving segment.

Rajeev Gulati, Vice-chairman, R-pure Agro Products Pvt. Ltd., says, “Since MDH, the parent company and a popular spices brand in the retail market, R-pure is focusing more on the institutional segment including HoReCa. R-pure offers more than 70 variety of blended spices and wide range of convenience food items like jams, sauces- ketchup, continental sauce, soy sauce, Chinese sauces, pasta, ready-to-eat gravies, rusk & bakery, pickles, soya products (also available in commercial packaging for HoReCa segment).”

“Food Service India offers various categories in our basket with brand names Springburst, Chef’s Art, Sunbay, Spicefield, Marimbula & D’amour (seasonings, base gravies, sauces, spices, syrups & bakery premixes),” says S K Maratha, President, Food Service India Pvt. Ltd.

How Chefs’ perceive convenience food?
Since the advent of convenience foods, they have been bringing along with them many benefits to both the mediators using it and the end consumers. Convenient foods have been advantageous to the industry for many reasons like – saving time, energy costs, manpower costs, less flavour and texture variation, and leaves less food waste.

Speaking about the concept of convenience foods, Nitin Jain, Executive Sous chef, Radisson Blu MBD Hotel Noida said, “Processed food is usually ready-to-eat food which requires less preparation and is easily portable in addition to having a longer shelf life.” In hotels, there is a preference for fresh product to showcase in-house culinary skills and carve out an identity for themselves. However, for huge volume catering or small budget hotel and restaurants, the use of convenience food is preferred as it reduces manpower requirements and is easier to source, Chef Jain says. “Preparation time is reduced to a great extent, no storing; buying or planning of ingredients, less leftovers, faster presentation and easy cleaning up, less spoilage and waste occurs with packaged convenience foods, transportation of packaged foods is cheaper especially in concentrated form, and cost efficient mass production and distribution,” notes Chef Jain while listing down the many advantages of using convenient foods in the hotel industry.

Subroto Goswami, Executive Chef, Crowne Plaza Greater Noida, says that convenience foods saves time, energy cost and also manpower costs. In case the manpower is not trained enough, then the quality does not suffer. Hence it is advantageous to the hotel industry.

Despite having a long list of advantages, convenience foods come along with shortcomings due to unforeseen reasons like – higher costs, use of preservatives, and variation in the nutrients’ value among others. The industry experts share their perspective about the vivid aspects of limitations of these tertiary processed foods in the hotel kitchens. Usage of convenience food in professional kitchens might also dampen the innovative and creative spirit of the chefs.

Drawing the excerpts about the current scenario of the demand and supply of these ready-to-cook foods in the hotels, Chef Goswami says, “As the growth of these foods is still in the nascent stage, the impact is negligible. The main consumers of such product are mainly in the domestic and retail market. The disadvantages are, one gets restricted to a certain parameter, variations gets limited in the process creativity also gets restricted. As labour is cheap in India at the moment, the price of the convenience food becomes a hindrance at times.”

Adding another angle to the debate, Chef Jain said, “The cost per serving of convenient foods may be higher than homemade and conventional cooking. Convenient foods are typically high in calories, fat, saturated fat, sugar, salt, and trans-fats. They tend to lack freshness in fruits, vegetables, sauces and soups.”

Convenience food also acts as a dampener to innovation and creativity of chefs. Chefs also agree partly with this observation. “One has to start building around it as the product is already processed and ready. However when things are done from scratch then a Chef can play around right from the start. This gives a wider scope or platform to show creativity when one does it from scratch. With convenience food, this gets restricted to a certain extent,” Chef Goswami stated.

“For me, it all depends upon the situation. For example, I use semi-convenient food product to avoid unusual conditions. Convenience foods may offer fantastic benefits such as less time spent in the kitchen or planning meals, less preparation time, fewer leftovers and easy cleaning up but, there are its own disadvantages as well,” Chef Jain observed.

To sum up, convenience food has of course made life easier for both consumers and chefs in the kitchens at least in certain segments of the industry where there is less turnaround time for food delivery. However, in the fine dining space as well as outlets which cater to the experiential dining space, conventional stuff score over convenience food. More than the advantages and the disadvantages, the use of convenience food is driven more by situational factors in the food service industry today.

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