Friday, June 14, 2024

Griffith Foods India: Bringing the Best Food Forward

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With a rich heritage of history that spans over a century, Griffith Foods stands as a pioneer in the food ingredient space — a name synonymous with product innovation — where flavor, innovation and sustainability brings forth the perfect blend. They define the future of food by creating delightful experiences and nourishing the taste buds of their consumers.

As the sun rises above the Bengaluru skyline, the city’s streets come alive with the rhythm of a bustling metropolis. Amidst the towering skyscrapers and the cacophony of car horns, there’s a place that hums with a different kind of energy — a place where culinary innovation thrives, where flavors are born, and where food dreams are crafted, one ingredient at a time.

Griffith Foods India, a shining gem of the food industry, and a name synonymous with food processing innovation, ingredients’ development, creativity, and is the center of culinary arts and flavor. The company’s sprawling white-coated headquarters along the Airport By-Pass Road in Yelahanka, Bengaluru reveals little about the magic that unfolds within its walls. It’s a place where architects of taste knock heads together on the endless flavor possibilities, and where innovation, flavour, responsibility and sustainability converge, to shape the future of food.

Griffith Foods have been in India since 2006 and has its manufacturing facility in Bengaluru, which serves not only the India market but also that of the Middle East, Africa, and the Indian Subcontinent. They are a 104-year-old, family-owned organization, a leading product development partner serving the foodservice and food-processing industries — with its global headquarters in Chicago, USA. Globally, Griffith Foods operates in 75 countries and runs 23 factories of its own. The company’s business set-up encompasses five distinct geographic regions, with India serving as a regional manufacturing hub for the Middle East and the Indian Subcontinent.

India Operations and Business

Griffith Foods leans on key business pillars considered to be their core competencies. First up is the company’s Food Science capability, which is handled by a team of food scientists and food technologists. Second is its expertise in Culinary Science, which enables both product development as well as customer engagement, and is driven by a team of highly qualified chefs.

On the Product Development side, Griffith Foods delivers strong consumer insights, which make it easier for their products to win customer acceptance and confidence. The company prides itself on being a valuable product development partner to its customers, and its insights help to create a convincing market pitch for products and solutions.

This aspect of the business is led by a team of marketing professionals who share robust data driven insights with the customers. The company partners and engages with consumer research agencies and marketing consultancies to differentiate and cater to the customers’ needs.

The company’s Business Development Team constitutes a very vital part in its line of trade, plays an important role in facilitating the internal release of products and helps expand the customer base. Across India, the company has over 1,000 B2B customers who are served by a 120-strong workforce. About 30% of the employees work in functions like Sales, Finance, HR, Administration, and in other roles, with the remainder belonging to the ranks of food scientists and culinary chefs.

In India, Griffith Foods have been able to expand its operational and geographic reach across its customer base, which comprises foodservice players, QSRs, protein processors, snack food processors, and other food processors who are engaged in the ready-to-eat and ready-to-cook segments.

“Over the past few years, barring the Covid period, both the foodservice and QSR segments in India have seen exponential growth. This high growth rate of India’s foodservice industry has helped Griffith Foods to expand and scale up its operations in the country,” says Sajan Chinnappa, Managing Director, Griffith Foods India, who has been associated with the food and beverage industry for the past 30 years.

Chinnappa has been with Griffith Foods since 2007 and has managed various functions including Sales, Supply Chain and Procurement. He started his career with the erstwhile Tata Tea Limited, on their plantation in Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Subsequently, he served with Cadbury India Limited, managing cocoa procurement, processing and logistics and working closely with farmers in the southern States of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, and Andhra Pradesh.

“Our customers trust us and have chosen to work with us over the years because we have helped them succeed. They continue to work with us because of the innovative product solutions that we offer, which have helped them to differentiate from the others in the market. Also, they have a lot of trust in our quality and value system,” avers Chinnappa.

In foodservice, Griffith Foods has an equally strong presence across north, west and south India, but not so much in the eastern parts. “We have customers in the QSR segment across the country, but as most of them are headquartered in Delhi-NCR, we have a strong presence in the region,” Chinnappa notes.

In the food-processing sector, where Griffith Foods enjoys a big imprint, snack foods are a major segment and also a star performer. “Snack foods are now on way to becoming the fastest-growing segment in the food processing category. Griffith Foods have been able to capitalize and take advantage of the fast-growing snacks category in India,” informs Chinnappa, adding that the company has customers across all snacks segments, but is mainly concentrated in west India and the northern parts as well. “We work with processors across all snack segments, whether its potato chips and crisps, extruded snacks or multi ingredients formed snacks and pellets.”

Griffith Foods’ protein-processing business in India is slowly coming of age, the reason being that India is still a fresh protein market. While most Indians still get their protein consumption from buying chicken, mutton, and fish from the wet market, this trend has seen quite a disruption in the wake of the pandemic. “It brought into sharp focus the considerations of health and hygiene into the buying decision of the people, and as a result of which they have become interested in alternative sources of proteins, other than animal proteins,” says Chinnappa.

Another factor that has helped ramp up protein processing in India is the growing ubiquity of double-income nuclear families across the country. These families have little time on their hands to cook and consume animal proteins, and are taking to consuming alternative proteins as a more convenient and hygienic source of nourishment for staying healthy. “To that extent, we have seen a lot of growth in protein processing, and Griffith Foods is commensurately raising its play in the segment. Protein processing is more of a north-based phenomenon and the northern market is doing well for us,” Chinnappa explains.

Approach to Product Formulation & Development

At its core, Griffith Foods is a laboratory of culinary creativity — a place where passionate food scientists, chefs, and innovators converge to unlock the mysteries of taste. It’s a playground for flavor architects, where the symphony of spices, herbs, and textures harmonizes to create culinary masterpieces that delight palates across the globe. No surprise that the company maintains an unwavering commitment to product innovation, pushing the boundaries of what is possible in the world of food ingredients.

At Griffith Foods’ factory site in Bangalore, the glass doors open to reveal a modern, open-concept workspace, with warm, inviting light. Rows of sleek stainless steel countertops gleam, punctuated by chefs and food scientists in crisp white coats, hunched over their workstations like alchemists in a laboratory. The air is thick with anticipation, the tantalizing aroma of spices and herbs mingling together to create an innovative blend.

Increasing Focus on Health and Wellness

Customer awareness of health and wellness in relation to food is now higher than ever. The emphasis on healthy food is being reinforced by the importance that regulatory agencies like FSSAI are according to health and wellness aspect of food. “We are seeing growing importance around food labeling, sourcing, clean ingredients, and more. That’s why, we follow a very holistic approach to product development and ingredients’ innovation, with an obsessive focus on the health and wellness aspect,” affirms Chinnappa.

Griffith Foods’ focus is on developing health and wellness products that deliver positive health outcomes. As India has a very high incidence of heart disease and diabetes, Griffith Foods is mainly engaged in developing solutions to reduce sugar and salt.

“Our approach to product development and food innovation is guided by our quest to provide solutions that lead to positive health outcomes. Until now, a lot of our food innovations have been centered around sugar-and-salt reductions, on functional ingredients, and solutions that address taste and texture of plant-based protein alternatives,” reiterates Chinnappa.

The market response to the company’s health and wellness solutions has been very positive, given the fact that, in the snacks category alone, demand for health and wellness products has been growing at a CAGR rate of 15-17%. “Additionally, we are working on a lot of plant-based solutions that deliver wholesome nutrition, although a majority of these efforts have yet to reach the point of marketing,” reveals Chinnappa.

Looking into the future, Griffith Foods sees health and wellness food products taking center stage, with new and emerging trends in product development. The challenge, of course, will be to introduce products that deliver positive health outcomes while simultaneously maintaining high standards in taste and texture.

Affordability is another big factor when it comes to the acceptance of new products. “Currently, most products in the market with a health halo are considered premium. Given our mission to provide health and nourishment, all our innovations are directed to providing affordable, delicious, and nutritious solutions,” states Chinnappa.

Griffith Foods sells its processing solutions to other B2B customers in the food domain, who sell and distribute to their customers in different regions and markets. “As a B2B company, we don’t have to look at the different markets for our sales data. Our customer could be a snack processor who is selling products across the country, even in markets beyond Tier I and II cities through supermarkets located closer to the semi-rural and rural areas. That’s because the health awareness about sugar and salt is as high in these places as it is in the bigger urban centres,” points out Chinnappa.

Promoting Plant-Proteins

When it comes to the plant-based food industry in India, Griffith Foods believes that there can be better ways of promoting and encouraging the consumption of alternative proteins. The company feels that most Indian consumers are not intimately familiar or emotionally connected with many of the products that are available in the market today, such as chicken nuggets, pops, and similar stuff.

“As a country, we have always had a very rich tradition of growing and consuming plant-proteins in the form of pulses, legumes, lentils, chickpeas, green grams or mung beans, and more. These are all very high sources of plant proteins and are very closely bound to the culinary customs of most Indians,” observes Chinnappa.

He adds that trying to sell alternative proteins in the form of products that are supposed to taste and feel like meat and promoting such products as mock meats may not be a great way to encourage our plant-based food industry.

“If you look at the statistics, a large part of our population remains protein-deficient. However, there exists an abundance of plant-based protein isolates around us from sources like chickpeas, green grams, and many more. They can easily be made available in formats that are palatable and ideal for the Indian palate. The best part is that they can serve as a good and easy way of protein delivery for our population. For example, protein deficiency is the highest among growing children, especially those from the lower-income groups. Making plant proteins available to such children through midday school meals or through other means can be an effective route of providing plant-protein nourishment and nutrition to them,” he avers.

It’s an approach that may actually work in favor of the plant based food industry in India. Most of the protein alternatives available in the market today are either soy-based or peabased. India also happens to be the largest producer of green grams or mung beans in the world, which is one of the highest sources of protein. Chinnappa’s advocacy to make use of protein sources that we already have in rich abundance could become a turning chapter or even an open-sesame moment for the industry.

“I feel that instead of trying to propagate and popularize plant-based protein as an alternative to meat, a better way to look at it would be to treat it as a source of protein delivery, which should be made available informats that are compatible with the Indian palate and in forms that are easily digestible and suits our culinary culture,” opines Chinnappa.

As for the delivery formats, if plant protein can be combined with some of the ancient grains that the country produces in plenty, like millets, it can become a very good proposition to tackle the prevalent nutritional deficiency of our population. The combination of plant protein with a rich source of fibre like millet, can not only help fight the nutritional deficiency that the country faces but it can also become a winning strategy for promoting plant protein from a nutritional standpoint instead of pitching it as a meat alternative.

Pioneering New Concepts and Innovations

Innovation, for Griffith Foods, isn’t just about introducing novel flavors but also about pioneering brave new concepts that help to foster a healthier and more equitable food ecosystem for the future. The company’s initiatives in this direction have been to partner with food producers and ensure that everyone involved in the process benefits equitably.

Nourish Venture & Terova – Griffith Food Subsidiaries

To address and fast-track food innovation, Griffith Foods operates a wholly-owned subsidiary called Nourish Ventures, whose mandate is to grow and scale up innovative companies, that are working to develop sustainable foods. It engages with such companies and provides them with venture capital and strategic resources. Through its global reach and scale, it helps companies connect with like-minded innovators around the world, so that they can bring their innovations to the forefront.

Nourish Ventures focuses on innovative ideas from companies that are chiefly engaged in developing sustainable foods, and helps them grow and scale up. “In India, in particular, Nourish Ventures is at the forefront of exploring new opportunities by engaging with emerging innovative companies, startups, academia, and centers of excellence, and also engaging with a number of Farmer Producer Organizations to further advance sustainable food networks in the country,” says Chinnappa.

Griffith Foods is known for reimagining food systems by promoting sustainable food cultivation, and encouraging farmers to embrace eco-friendly and environmentally-conducive agri-practices. In an age where consumers are more conscious than ever about the food they consume, Griffith Foods has taken a proactive approach on empowering consumers with knowledge, allowing them to make informed choices.

Like Nourish Ventures, it has another subsidiary called Terova, which works primarily with small rural farmers in India, Vietnam, Africa, Mexico, South America, and Albania. Terova’s mission and purpose is to serve modern society with premium, sustainable ingredients, and products grown with a farmer-first approach. It offers full traceability of products while ensuring the environmental health, and social and economic equity of the farmers. All farmers under the Terova program follow sustainable and ethical practices in keeping with the Rainforest Alliance’s standards and their products carry the Rainforest Alliance Certified seal.

As the world grapples with climate change and dwindling natural resources, Griffith Foods understands that the future of food is intertwined with the future of our planet. Their sustainable sourcing practices ensure that the ingredients they use are produced with minimal environmental impact.

From farm to fork, every step of their supply chain is meticulously scrutinized to reduce waste and carbon emissions. Griffith Foods has woven sustainability and responsible, ethical business practices into the very fabric of its existence. Their forward-thinking approach to responsible sourcing, waste reduction, and carbon footprint reduction stand out for being truly exemplary and worth emulating

Chinnappa reels out precise data points that frame the company’s sustainability activities in their proper context. He adds, “About 46% of the habitable land around the world is being used for agriculture. About 50% of the human-induced pressure on the world’s bio-diversity is linked to food systems. Nearly 70% of all freshwater withdrawals are done for agriculture, and 31% of the global emissions of greenhouse gases are associated with food systems.” These are the numbers that effectively frame the sustainability issue by pointing to the larger picture on the kind of impact that food systems have on climate change and environmental degradation.

“At Griffith Foods, all the activities that we do are to serve our purpose, which is to blend Care and Creativity to Nourish the World. When it comes to sustainability, our practices are not just limited to our production processes. We take a more holistic view, which addresses the well-being and fulfillment of our employees, the communities that we work in, and it also extends to sustainable sourcing. Our sustainability practices are geared to transforming our product portfolio with the aim of delivering positive health outcomes as well as positive climate and environmental actions,” states Chinnappa.

To demonstrate that the company “walks the talk”, Griffith Foods’ production processes are all LEED-Gold certified, and endorsed both by the Indian Green Building Council as well as by the US Green Building Council. It has drawn up a time-bound action plan for reducing its carbon footprint and, in fact, some of those actions are already in play. About 45% of the energy used by its plant comes from solar or renewable sources and it intends to become a 100% clean energy player by 2026-27.

“Our plant has been a zero-landfill facility since 2017 and it runs its own rainwater-harvesting facility. Also, all the waste water generated by our plant during the manufacturing process is recycled and converted into clean water, which is used at the site for different purposes. So, there are a lot of positive sustainability actions that Griffith Foods is engaged in, not only in India but around the world,” says Chinnappa.

When it comes to responsible sourcing, about 80% of Griffith Foods’ raw materials are generated from sustainable  sources. They come either from farmers who practice sustainable farming or from primary manufacturers who follow sustainable processing methods. “We have set a goal in terms of the number of farmers that we would like to positively impact through our interventions with regenerative agricultural practices. We have already set the ball rolling on meeting this goal by working with several Farmer-Producer Organizations,” informs Chinnappa.

For procurement of processed ingredients, Griffith Foods works only with the manufacturers that are externally certified, such as those with EcoVadis certification, which ensures that its suppliers follow ethical and sustainable practices. “We are one of the few companies in India to have a Sustainability Manager on our board to oversee all our sustainability initiatives, which is evidence of the priority that we accord to sustainability,” signs off Chinnappa.

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