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Guwahati: The three-days event of CII Food Pro Northeast 2023 in its first edition from September 14 to September 16 at Maniram Dewan Trade Centre has sprouted immense hope among the organizers to make it a prospective region for food processing hub.
Business Northeast conducted an exclusive interview with the Chairman of the event, B Thiagarajan to know more about the event, status of food processing industry in the state and region, how to tap potential of the region, etc.
1. Please let us know about CII Food Pro Northeast 2023.
Answer: Food Pro Northeast 2023 is the first edition of Food Pro which is a milestone premium event that CII has been holding in southern region. In fact, we have done 14 editions of Food Pro. It is aimed at growing the food processing industry, farmer’s income, skill building, and entrepreneurship development, forward and backward linkages for growth of the food processing industry becoming a global hub. In the Southern region, over the years we have seen significant development taking place through this event. It is not only the food processing industry that will participate we are also witnessing allied industries like the food processing equipment manufacturers who can go ahead and set a food processing contracting companies and many more innovations as well like for example oil extraction, or how the coal press oil equipment can be developed. We have figured out that this format is the one that can bring all the stakeholders together. We felt that it should be taken across the country. It is because there are regional participants who may not be able to travel.. CII believes that northeastern region has immense potential to grow in many sectors, most importantly agriculture and food processing. As a part of that Food Pro Northeast 2023 was born.
2. What according to you is the status and size of the processed food industry of Northeast?
Answer- Forget this region, if you take India as a whole it is still single digit penetration. Food Processing is important for ensuring Food Security. Food Processing is important for stabilizing the prices. If you encourage food processing inflation is controlled. Processed food inflation is kept very low. The myth that processed food is not healthy, is not true. The processed food technology those are available and the food safety issues that have been implemented successfully by the government ensures that the processed food is also healthy. When we are talking about processed food we are talking about tomatoes, potatoes and brinjals we are also talking about spices for example. Processing adds value and the farmer earns much more value out of that.
The production value is smaller as the landholding is smaller. So there is a consolidation that has to take place. What we are trying to do is that we are setting up a farmer’s producer’s organization and get the consolidation taking place through that entity. Say for example honey. Honey is a food. Honey has to be processed, honey has to be branded and honey has to be branded. Small quantities of honey can be sold in bottles. They need to be trained. That’s how they will go ahead and produce more honey. For all these, CII has its members that finds such community for helping. This is one example. So small produce, lack of technology, lack of infrastructure, how we can go ahead and change this to become an important food processing centre. In a country in which there are enthusiastic youth who may not be quite interested in travelling elsewhere to be employed can begin a start up itself. For instance there is turmeric. It has medicinal values. You must one day learn to contact with international supply chains. From Tamil Nadu, turmeric is getting exported. You are seeing baby corns getting exported. Northeast has got a lot of pineapples that is a processing variety. If pineapple can be processed into slices, tin or as a juice you get immense value and it can be exported anywhere. So, we have to look at specific commodities at specific regions. How we can overcome small issues. Small farmers cannot connect with brands like Pepsi, Coke or Dabur. CII is trying to crack this programme.
3. What are the advantages of such events like Food Pro Northeast 2023 for the success of entrepreneurs?
Answer- Firstly, the entrepreneurs get a platform to interact with other stakeholders. There may be somebody coming from South. They may find types of products and take decisions as per the prices. Secondly, suppose there is a brand which is interested in marketing. So they find that somebody is producing this year. He or she can fine whether they can procure from this person. Thirdly, there are equipment manufacturer who are displaying like oil extracting machine, frying, processing or any kind of things or a cold storage. The visitors will see that this is the equipment he/she should also buy. So they will connect with the equipment manufacturer. There are conferences where experts are rare. People can come and ask whether they can be helped. So, it is broadly a B2B (Business to Business) connection, B2G ( Business to Government) connection and end customers. You will see many other customers on Saturdays and Sundays walk in into see. Here, knowledge transfer is possible. Yet, this is just the beginning. Over the years you will see that growth is taking place.
4. What is the process of participating in this event by the food processing entrepreneurs?
Answer- In Guwahati, Food Pro will take place once in two years. Food Pro 2024 is going to happen in Chennai. People who saw this event may connect with. They will get a mailer. They can take part in it. Food Pro 2025 will take place here. Mailers will go, digital publicity will be there. They have to connect with CII and say that they will want to put up a stall or they want to visit or I want to participate in the conference.
5. What can the state and region do to tap the export potential of agro-based processed food given the increased connectivity with South Asian countries and the growing importance to tourism?
Answer-There is an entity called APEDA which is Government of India which helps people to identify what export opportunities are available there. It is worthwhile to see APEDA’s website and go ahead and meet APEDA’s officials. That is beginning part of it to understand. Smaller manufacturers may benefit by connecting it to bigger brands who can help. What we have seen in Southern region is that the young and new entrepreneurs who have been producing and selling potatoes, let’s say potatoes. Now, can you make potato chips or can you make ready to fry potatoes? Big brands are marketing such things. That variety will be different. In participating in the event, they will learn what can be produced. Interacting with the companies people will understand what is to be produced and supplied based on needs. These companies go to them and give them the required training.
The second way of doing this is that I am content. I want to create a local brand. I will produce potatoes, sell potatoes and will also sell fried potatoes. If I am making potato fries what is the best way to do it. What is the value proposition of my brand? In the Southern region, many brand sweets Krishna Sweets, Grand Sweets etc. They are local brands participating in Food Pro. Same is the thing with diary. There are many diary local participants to grow. CII is a non profit that is formed with members who are in MSMEs and large companies, You go ahead and exchange ideas and figure out business opportunities and grow. CII helps its members to grow its business and grow the nation’s economy. It also help in growing opportunities. If somebody is already exporting and further expanding to become CII member, CII has offices across the globe. We do have regular interactions with Consul Generals or the Generals. In each of the region there is interaction with the embassies. That is why it is done.
6. What are the steps taken by you in this event to grow the market of food processing in the Northeast going with the theme of the event?
Answer- CII is a national council of food processing. They are already doing that. Their whole focus is on big issues like how to improve the penetration process of foods. It finds how to improve export opportunities for the food processing industries. How to bring in modern technology from abroad that this food will be of standard that can be consumed.
7. What are your future plans to grow the market of food processing in the northeast?
Answer- One is the technology adoption. It requires both knowledge and the capital. Companies such as Godrej are doing many things in order to make it possible. Five years back it was not possible for certain things to happen like ready to fry, cheese, snacks. Today is possible and available. Healthy options are available. Technology is important, capital investment is important, ability to market and creating awareness is important. It is important to make the products affordable.
8. What is your expectation of revenue generation from Food Pro Northeast 2023?
Answer- We are a non-profit organization. If the industry grows, we will be happy.