Future proofing in the food industry with – Samiran Das
The food industry is transforming significantly, changing how we grow, buy, eat and feel about food. Shifting consumer preferences due to societal, technological and environmental factors are just one part of the challenge the food industry is grappling with. The complexity only deepens with soaring input costs, global supply chain disruptions, as well as long-term challenges like the impact of climate change and environmental pressures.
We bring you our conversation with Samiran Das, Strategy & Supply Operations Expert.
Samiran Das is an industry veteran, who recently retired from a senior management position at Dr Reddy’s Laboratory, one of the largest Pharma Companies in India. Before that, he spent 25+ years in management roles at some of the world’s largest food companies like PepsiCo, Fritolays, Unilever, General Mills, and Pillsbury. Post-retirement from active roles, Samiran is currently acting as a consultant to several leading brands in formulating their future strategies. An engineering graduate, he specialises in supply chain and manufacturing.
What are the major future trends in the food industry?
he alternative protein market and functional food are critical spaces to look out for. The alternative protein market is very fragmented at the moment, but many serious players have invested heavily in this space, and I believe it is going to grow exponentially, given the consumer interest in non-meat-based protein options globally.
Functional foods are trending, with more and more consumers turning to wellness-focused diets. It’s also a space that has seen an unstructured development. A lot of marketing is influencer led in social media channels, so home chefs and decentralised opinion makers will play a role in developing this sector. The fresh food space is also likely to go under transformation due to concepts like urban farming and vertical farming, which will disrupt the present models of the supply chain, giving rise to distributed manufacturing and distributed processing.
What could be the guidelines for food companies when choosing a textile service provider?
Textile management is a serious business. It is a knowledge industry by itself. Textile management cannot be taken as just a service being provided. Instead, companies should be looking for knowledge partners. And that’s because textile management has wide ramifications on operations, the environment, sustainability, and operating costs. If you can get this element right, a lot of operating benefits will fall in place.
The second aspect of it is to look at the intangible. I would encourage companies to evaluate textile management service providers with the TCO concept, which is the total cost of ownership concept, where you look at not just the tangible costs, which you can measure on the exam sheet, but also intangible costs that they incur.
These could be things like what are my consumer complaints? How many consumer complaints do I get? What is my quality rejects on the line? And by adopting a structured textile management service, will I be able to reduce these numbers? And if so, financial costs are also attached to it.
What role will sustainability play in the food industry?
Sustainability is a vast subject, and it can play many roles in all companies, and all businesses, including the food industry. When environmental sustainability overlaps with a business’s financial sustainability, a virtuous cycle of improvement is created. It’s all-around improvements. Traditionally the issues around efficiency were more about operating efficiencies, like how do we use less water or how do we use less electricity? How do we move from fossil fuels to renewables, etc? Those are still the table stakes. With a structured program, you should be able to blowback at least the inflation that happens year on year. But I think what is going to make a difference is the practice of value retention and upcycling. It can be done by ensuring that the value of a product or service is extended over a longer period and multiple consumption occasions. Some companies are looking at not only value retention but also upcycling. An excellent example of value retention is what Lindstrom is doing in their design-for-life principles in fabric manufacturing and fabric servicing.
Another great example of value upcycling is a fruit and vegetable company called Dole, which uses fruit and vegetable waste to manufacture enzymes, fibres, flavours, etc. So, we need to move away from conventional efficiency improvement plans that support sustainability to value retention and upcycling products and services. That’s going to be a challenge and an opportunity. In this entire journey, innovation plays a very important part.
What can we learn about the food industry from different companies?
We can learn a number of things from companies in the food industry and outside. One of the things that we have learned, perhaps the hard way, is that supply chain resilience makes a massive difference to operating elements. Therefore, resiliency in supply operations is an essential factor that all companies must consider.
Concepts like risk-adjusted revenues and risk-adjusted profits become very important during volatile situations. Now, that’s an investment that must be made upfront, but the companies and leaders are learning that this pays manifold in disruptive times, as we saw during the pandemic. Companies today are more than prepared or, compared to the earlier times, more than prepared to handle such a disruption with minimal impact on their operation. And as more and more effort goes into making supply chains and operations more resilient, we’ll find that disruptions can be dealt with fairly easily. It’ll become one more business process that companies will do as a normal, routine function.
Another learning could be looking closely at the product or service interaction with the customer. How a service or a product is brought into use and how that plays out could be a space where elements of expansion lie. If we look at the food industry those could be takeaways, home deliveries, DIY meals or meal kits. Are the food safety issues well addressed in these scenarios? If not, this provides an opportunity for maybe a food manufacturing company or even for service providers like Lindström to a food manufacturing company.
The same thing applies to services as well. So it is not about just the service, and conventionally, we have looked at ways and means of improving the service or the customer or the consumer experience on that service. However, if we also understand where and how that service is used, it will make a difference and throw up opportunities for the industry as a whole. Companies that try to understand the consumption points of both the product and the service or a combination of the two will stand out.
What kind of companies will be the ‘winners’ in the food industry?
The food industry winners will be companies focusing on transparency and technology. Today, the expiration date, the calorie value, and the ingredient list on the product are only a part of what the consumer is looking for when making a purchase decision. Factors like whether the product is ethically sourced, who made it, the working condition of the people behind it, and the product’s carbon footprint influence the customers’ buying decisions. So, transparency becomes an essential factor in this way. Leveraging technology not just to bring agility to the operations but also to predict consumer behaviour ahead of the market and monetising it would be a critical success factor.