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‘Our export volume is rising by 50% annually’

Monday, September 23, 2019, 12:02 Hrs  [IST]

Bengaluru-based Innovative Foods Limited, who operates under the brand name Sumeru, and is one of the pioneers of frozen food in India, is now on a product portfolio expansion spree. Asmita Mukherjee spoke with Mithun Appaiah, CEO- Innovative Foods Limited, Brand Sumeru, which helped debunk the myths associated with frozen food and shared his insights about the frozen food market in India.

Q In India, there is a mindset that consuming frozen food is not good for health. What steps have you been taking change the mindset?
People often believe the fact that 'frozen is unhealthy' and is not supposed to get consumed by the body. But, it is important to state that there are few 'myths' surrounding frozen food which needs to be busted. Our brand, Sumeru, is trying to break the myth that frozen is unhealthy and are proving that frozen is equally nutritious and fresh as non-frozen food.

The usual assumption that what is fresh in the market is better- is not true anymore. While fresh items might seem good to the eyes, in reality, these actually reach the consumer a good 15-20 days post-harvest date; where nutrition gets destroyed due to pollution, improper storage conditions, and slow transit. However, the frozen food industry's freezing units are located well within 100 km from its sourcing point. For instance, fresh peas in the Uttaranchal belt can reach the manufacturing unit within few hours only, cleaned and flash frozen at its peak nutritional state before getting stored and transported in a controlled environment (temp maintained below -18 degrees C) to prevent enzyme activity that might cause nutritional loss.

Freezing as a process involves minimal processing, has a high retention of nutrients, taste texture, and freshness, making it one of the best and the safest methods of food preservation without any additional preservatives.

Q How Sumeru has equipped itself with the latest technology?
One of the biggest advantages of frozen food nowadays is using IQF Technology. IQF (also known as flash-freezing) offers the food items to stay separate after they've been frozen. This is a great plus to the consumer. At Innovative Foods Limited, we use the most advanced IQF (Individual Quick Freezing) technology to freeze our products. Fresh vegetables produce enzymes that cause the loss of colour, flavour, and nutrients. Simple freezing leads to the formation of large ice crystals in the cells of the product/produce, thereby leading to loss of nutrients, texture, and taste. However, the advantage that IQF has over normal freezing is that it deactivates enzymes and prevents the formation of large ice crystals in cells of the produce thereby preserving the taste, texture, and nutrients in them. And since each piece is individually frozen, they do not cohere, and the final product is not frozen into a solid block.

Ensuring the product remains as fresh and nutritious as it was at the time of first defrost, bringing the 'farm to table' goodness to the consumer's kitchen. The process works the same way in the case of meat and seafood. Our strict quality measure ensures food is frozen under a highly regulated and quality controlled environment. This kind of technique will keep the packed food fresh and healthy till the time you have it.

Q What are the emerging trends in the frozen food industry?
Frozen Food Industry now has been slowly sipping into the Indian diaspora with higher demand. Manufacturers have been more concerned keeping in mind the fact the needs and wants of the customers. Trends like packaging and production can be more earth-friendly and companies are moving closer to fulfill their sustainability pledges. These days, products are made keeping in mind the health and wellness desire of a consumer. Trends such as frozen food moving into the organic food sector are also something new. Functional food is considered as one of the newest trends in this frozen food era which are whole, fortified, enriched or enhanced foods that provide health benefits beyond the provision of essential nutrients (e.g., vitamins and minerals).

Q Please tell us about your investment and expansion plans
We have already invested in a state of the art plant in Chittoor to ensure that our capacity and growth trajectory is supported. While our Chittoor plant manufactures only veg products; meat, seafood and few other products are manufactured in our other plant at Kochi. The new plant has been rolled out to ensure our growth plans on revenue and margins are driven.

We are expanding our international footprint into Australia, New Zealand, and Dubai where the Indian diaspora is looking for premium and innovative products made by Sumeru.

We have set up a team to focus and build the HORECA channel which has a great synergy with the range from Sumeru. Our endeavour is to provide the institutional partners with top quality products which not only taste great, but we also provide them competitive pricing with good margins. This focus has also come in due to the large range that Sumeru carries from items which include, potato, paratha, veggies, seafood, chicken, pork, and so on.

We are keenly watching the technological developments and are open to embracing newer technologies and practices. Our marketing efforts have been focussed on promoting BTL activations coupled with the digital medium. We want to amplify our presence closer to the consumer by driving value and premium offering across our portfolio.

Q How do you plan to capture the Indian QSR and HORECA market?
Sumeru Foods, under the parent brand name Innovative Foods Limited, is a reputed frontline partner which tailors convenient food solutions to a number of quick service restaurants (QSRs) such as McDonald's, KFC, Dominos, Subway, Pizza Hut, Dunkin Donuts, etc. We offer various products comprising frozen Indian bread, frozen wraps and rolls, frozen curries, frozen breaded products, frozen quick bites, a variety of frozen pasta, lasagna, and more. We maintain accurate in-house quality control with renowned certifications including FSSC 22000, SQMS, and Halal. We have also been audited and certified by some of the country's leading QSRs. Our nationwide distribution network and branch offices ensure consistent supply to all tiers of cities across the country.

We are eyeing to increase our business in the HoReCa segment as many hotels and restaurants are now using frozen foods in lots of their creations. We are already providing them with competitively priced products without compromising on the quality. Sumeru is preferred by various international QSR brands, and with all the infrastructure and certifications in place, we will further strengthen our presence in both the domestic and international frozen foods market.

Q Please comment upon your annual export volume, and major markets
12 % of our business is contributed to, by exports and is growing by 50% annually. Over the last eight months, we launched 20 new and innovative products and have also renovated our sales, marketing, operations, and route to market. With various strategic and tactical measures, we are working towards doubling our revenues in the next two years. With the addition of innovative product range, our product portfolio now comprises of 95 SKUs, making us the largest frozen food brand offering the widest range of frozen food products. Sumeru is exported to more than 12 countries across the globe including the US, Middle East, Singapore, New Zealand, Australia and some of the European countries and is today a preferred brand among the Indian diaspora in these countries. The export market especially the US market loves our Super Millet Khichdi and Paneer rolls. Our export market has nearly doubled in the last 20 months with the introduction of a new range of healthy parathas like Multigrain, Turmeric, and Beetroot. We have also seen good traction for our Malai Paneer and Veg Rolls from our export markets. The export market for Indian cuisines has opened up to more innovations as the present players in those markets have been only focusing on staples and mainline categories. Sumeru has the largest and the most holistic range in the country's frozen food space with representation in all categories of vegetarian and non-vegetarian products including seafood.

Q What are the challenges witnessed by you in the frozen food industry?
I think the biggest challenge for us is to manage a large number of SKU's. Managing them and ensuring their supply to all customers across the range brings out a number of logistical challenges. We are fine tuning our SKU range to focus and meet the consumer choices and varied taste profiles.

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