NewsX recently spoke to some of the experts of the food sector about the changing consumer behaviour during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, and, upcoming opportunities for the poultry sector.

For the chat, NewsX was joined by Vijay Sardana who is a Techno-legal expert in the agri-food business, Jitendra P Dongare who is the marketing officer for the Ministry of food processing industries at the GOI, Bhupinder Singh, the CEO of Vista Processed Foods, Hansel Chabra, the director of Square Meal Pvt. Ltd., Meer Zafar Ali, executive chef at The Leela Palace, Bengaluru, and Nikunja Sahu, the senior General Manager at Ultrafresh, Metro Cash & Carry.

The poultry sector in India was booming before the Covid-19 pandemic, however, things changed a little as the pandemic hit India, throwing some light on the future of poultry sector, Mr Vijay Sardana, a techno-legal expert in the agri-food business, said, “It’s a really important point that citizens today are all concerned about good health, in the pre-COVID environment, we all were very comfortable with poultry, unfortunately, during the COVID times, some rumours spread and people started moving away a little bit from the poultry. But the interesting part is that around the world, whether it is WHO or FAO, all health authorities are repeatedly asking to increase the protein intake if you want to improve your immunity.”

USSEC has come up with a manual named, ‘Frozen is the new fresh’ prepared by Mr Sardana on food safety guidelines for handling frozen poultry for small restaurants and eateries and food safety guidelines for handling frozen poultry in fine dining & catering systems. To download these manuals, click here.

Mr Sardana added that one of the easiest ways to cook protein at home, especially for those who are non-vegetarians, is, chicken, and that is why when the consumption of poultry was going down in India, around the world there was a shortage of poultry in most of the supermarkets because consumers those who understood the sense of nutrition, utility of protein in the body, understood that to fight against diseases like Coronavirus, protein intake was essential and that is why poultry becomes the very preferred option.

“And I will say that as now situations are normalizing, people are understanding about health, you know the benefit of nutrition to fight against diseases, protein intake is going up. Definitely, the industry is coming back and more and more people are now opting for poultry, the only difference now is that earlier they were buying from the roadsides, which was unhygienic, while today, people are demanding hygienic poultry, they want packaged, properly handled, hygienic,  poultry, because nobody wants to take a chance nowadays when it comes to food safety and hygiene, and that is a great change,” said Mr Vijay.

Joining in the conversation, the CEO of Vista Processed Foods, Mr Bhupinder Singh spoke about the Indian poultry market, he said, “My view is that it’s a huge opportunity, we have seen growth, there’s a trajectory growth. Yes, there were destructions during COVID, what Mr Sardana has communicated, due to the rumours, and also what we have seen is that rumours were shot, government and media communicated that these were all rumours, and we have seen the industry coming back. But, the challenge was that a lot of channels were shut, the distributions through foodservice were shut, the restaurants were shut, and also a lot of plants got shut because of manpower not being available. So, that was the only disruption which happened during COVID but we have seen the consumption coming back and we are the largest buyer of meat in the country of poultry, we have seen that it is coming back.”

Mr Singh further said that the challenge was how basically they come back to those capacities. He said that the consumers were looking for innovative products and they have seen that, they make a brand called Master Chef for ITC and they saw in the COVID period, a lot of focus on the frozen product had arrived. Mr Singh added that it was also food security during the lockdown period, they had seen people picking up the frozen product from the freezers over the live birds. Mr Bhupinder said that it’s also an alternative business for the farmers right there, the vision which the Prime Minister talks about, doubling the farmer income, this was the side business for the farmers and it would improve the income for the farmers.

Talking about the future of the poultry industry, the senior General Manager at Ultrafresh, Metro Cash & Carry, Mr Nikunja Sahu expressed, “My point of view is that chicken and eggs, earlier could be considered as agricultural products but nowadays, they are considered as essential food items. This is the shift in the ideology in the minds of the Indian consumers which has happened in the last couple of years. Like Mr Vijay and Mr Bhupinder said, there was a misconception that happened during mid-February which impacted the poultry sector very badly but it is bouncing back very fastly. This is because it is the need of the hour to develop antibodies to fight Coronavirus and the main and easiest source of protein as far as nonveg is concerned is chicken, it is a low-cost protein.”

The director of Square Meal Pvt. Ltd., Mr Hansel Chabra told someone uncommon things that people normally do not know about frozen products. He said that a frozen product is essentially a product which does not need any preservative when blast freezing happens or when quick freezing happens at the right time, not only the nutritional value is preserved but also the textural quality of the meat is largely preserved. Mr Chabra said that if one consumes a frozen product without knowing that it was frozen, most often, nobody’s able to tell the difference, so the safest means of preserving for meat is ‘frozen.’ He added that if one gets into dehydration and things, which are also means of preservation, they don’t really give the quality after the product is kind of rehydrated and is ready to eat.

Talking further about frozen food, Meer Zafar Ali, executive chef at The Leela Palace, Bengaluru said, “As an end-user, if you would actually see the reason why we would actually prefer a processed one rather than a street-slaughtered one is that we have control over everything, like what sir said initially, there’s a kind of traceability, we exactly know where the bird is from, I know what the bloodline is from, I exactly know the source, I know there’s not been any fluctuation in terms of temperature abuse and all of it. Now the important thing as an end-user is, it is also the kind of portions, imagine if I have to serve 180 gram as a standard in a whole, every time I have to serve 180 grams as a standard. When it’s processed meat, my specifications are laid to those specifications which I specify to the suppliers, this assures loss in terms of wastage. There’s no loss in terms of excess portions of thing and it’s absolutely controlled. So at the end of the day, the extra money that I probably pay for processed meat, I make up by controlling it on the portions, I make up by standardizing a product.”

Chef Mir Zafar Ali showed the versatility of chicken by preparing several dishes from different cuisines. One can find many recipes and information on poultry on the youtube channel ‘Poultry Dhaba’ by clicking here.

Jitendra P Dongare who is the marketing officer for the Ministry of Food Processing Industries at the GOI said that the government is doing a lot of things to promote not only the poultry sector but all the food processing sectors. Mr Dongare himself is from the Ministry of Food Processing Industries and he said that they were working in the direction to promote this sector. He also listed several schemes of the union government under which these sectors are being given a boost.

“If somebody wants to set up the infrastructure of cold storage, the ministry is there to help them with the financial assistance of up to 10 crore rupees,” said Mr Dongare.