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The food processing industry bets on FOPL for accessing global market

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To deliver on the huge potential of India’s food processing sector, and MSMEs in particular, there is a need to fully recognize and embrace measures like the adoption of science-backed FOPL, to make Indian food at par with food in the global market. Adopting this global practice of FOPL on all packaged foods can act as a major boost for ramping up exports of packaged food products, especially those produced by MSME units

The Front-of-pack labeling is the most popular trend in Western countries, especially in the food and beverage sector as consumers in the Western world want to be aware of the nutritional value and the ingredients of the food or beverage items they are purchasing. This trend is gradually proliferating in India and therefore Indian industry and the govt are focusing on this practice. 

WHAT IS FOPL?

Front-of-pack labeling (FOPL) refers to nutrition labeling systems that are presented on the front of food packages to support consumers in making healthier food choices at the point of purchase by delivering simplified and at-a-glance nutritional information.

Adopting this global practice of FOPL on all packaged foods can act as a major boost for ramping up exports of packaged food products, especially those produced by MSME units.

According to Euromonitor sales data from 2006-2019, the retail value of packaged junk food and soft drinks in India grew 42X in just 13 years. The food processing industry, which the Govt. of India views as a major sector for employment generation, is worth $200 billion in 2022 and is expected to grow to $500 billion. Recognizing this potential, the government is incentivizing food parks for the processing industry with an eye on enhancing the export of processed foods.

The Production Linked Incentive Scheme for Food Processing Industries (PLISFPI) encourages global standard food manufacturing companies in India and supports Indian food brands for export in the international market. But to deliver on the huge potential of India’s food processing sector, and MSMEs in particular, there is a need to fully recognize and embrace measures like the adoption of science-backed FOPL, to make Indian food at par with food in the global market.

“A big goal for the Indian food MSMEs is to embrace healthier versions of traditional food, and global standards, which can be a big boost for exports. India can benefit greatly from tapping into this massive potential by aligning with global standards for food labeling and setting thresholds for salt, sugar, and fat – opening up a huge global market for Indian traditional snacks,” said Manish Agarwal, Vice President ASSOCHAM, Uttar Pradesh.

Vinod Vyas, Managing Director, Rajkot District Cooperative Milk Producer Union, Gujarat, said, “World over, the food industry is taking steps to ensure that their products are safe and healthy for the consumers. We are eager to put Indian food products on the global stage by adopting labels that are in line with the best practices from around the world. India can become a trendsetter if it goes ahead and adopts ‘high in’ style warning labels.”

India is witnessing an alarming rise in diet-related diseases such as diabetes, and obesity among adults, as well as a sharp increase in childhood obesity. According to the estimates drawn up by Consumer VOICE based on various reports, Indian consumers will spend $ 6 trillion by 2030 on processed and branded food products. With ultra-processed food taking over the dietary preferences and buying decisions of consumers, the food industry is taking cognizance of the critical role of understanding warnings on food packets. India is looking to prioritize the roll-out of FOPL on all packaged foods at the earliest. Food Regulator FSSAI is in active consultations with the stakeholders to strike a consensus and introduce a statutory regulation to this effect. While FSSAI has expressed a preference for a ‘health stars rating’ which experts say would be misleading for consumers, doctors, and scientific communities say that India should adopt ‘warning labels’, not just for its staggering disease burden, but also to ensure its exponentially growing food market is ready for a healthier future.

According to a study done by researchers from the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC), which analyzed 10,500 products that had provided complete nutrition information in the nutrition facts panel, as much as 68 percent of food and beverage products available in the Indian food market have excess amounts of at least one ingredient of concern, namely salt, sugar, and saturated fats. The study found that only 32 percent of food products are within the scientific thresholds recommended by the World Health Organization’s regional standards.

In light of these facts, it makes eminent sense to heed the concerns voiced by leading industry representatives and food manufacturers on why the front-of-the-pack food label can go a long way to inform consumers on whether a product contains excessive sugar, sodium, and saturated fat, helping them make a healthier choice and also act as a major boost for increasing exports of packaged food products in the global market, especially those produced by Indian MSME units. The FSSAI, which is deliberating on the much-awaited FOPL regulation for India, should act fast to allay the nation’s concerns on food safety, nutrition, and health.

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