India is a country where most of the consumers prefer fresh and home-cooked food, but with growing urbanisation, increasing disposable income and lack of time for urban working women to prepare a proper meal, consumer are now moving towards convenience food products.
Food safety and packaging
Today most of the ready-to-eat food products come into retort packs. The introduction of retorting technology in processed food sector has made the sale of ready-to-eat food products commercially viable with great taste. The retorting or sterilization process ensures the stability of the ready-to-eat foods in retort pouches, on the shelf and at room temperature. The application of sterilization technology completely destroys all potentially harmful micro-organisms, thereby making sure that the food product has a very long shelf life of over 12 months and needed no refrigeration.
Speaking on the quality standards of ready-to-eat products, Vikran Sabherwal, vice president – marketing, MTR Foods Ltd, said, “At MTR we follow HACCP or Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point, developed by the Codex Alimentarius Commission, which is a global food safety standard. We have successfully met the stringent requirements for this certification. Our facilities are equipped with the latest systems. We adhere to international standards across all operations: from sourcing the finest ingredients to processing and packing using cutting-edge technology. Each MTR product carries this assurance of quality.”
The market overview
Convenience food items such as ready-to-eat products not only serve to save time but it’s more hygienic than traditional Tiffin boxes or Dabbawallas. Currently the market size of Ready to eat products is approximately around Rs 100 crore. Other factors that contributed to the growth of ready-to-eat segment includes - cold chain development, more powerful logistic support, technology and packaging innovation and of course the growth of modern retail trade. Also the pricing of ready-to-eat food products is done keeping in mind competitive products as well as other sources of ready foods like restaurants. MTR Foods offer a wide range of ready-to-eat dishes, ranging from South Indian, North Indian, Main Course to Snacks.
“The Indian consumer, especially the woman is rapidly evolving; she has more tasks in hand in addition to cooking. For this reason, we wanted to revitalize the brand to drive growth and shift from being focused only on south India, to using market support and product innovation and becoming a pan India brand,” said Sabherwal. Adding further, he said, “In order to achieve this goal, MTR Foods has spent the last year in carrying our comprehensive research and has gathered important information about its brands, core categories and consumers, as well as identifying important areas of growth. The research and analyses have helped it develop a strong plan for growth, a sharper position platform and new brand architecture.”
As per Sabherwal, ready-to-eat category contributes 10 percent of the company’s overall revenue. With the increased demand of ready-to-eat food in domestic market, and growing regional, national and international brands in market such as Kohinoor Foods Limited, ITC Limited’s leading brand Kitchens of India, MTR Foods Private Limited, Gits Food Products Private Limited and Haldiram Manufacturing Company Limited, manufacturers of ready-to-eat foods in India are now targeting international markets. MTR Foods also exports 10 percent of its total business mainly in the US and some other key countries globally.
Innovation is the key to success
The ready-to-eat segment has been identified as one among those that holds the maximum potential for growth, and the players in the segment are optimistic about future prospects. To cash on this booming opportunity, the ready-to-eat industry will have to introduce innovative new products of high quality at low cost in small package sizes. Sabherwal said concluding, “We expect the ready-to-eat category to keep developing in India, as consumer slowly start embracing packaged food and as life styles keep developing.”