Can you highlight the trends in the food and sweetmeats production industry, particularly within your current business, in the area of automation that is driving the change?
The focus is on how sweets can move beyond fresh – packed across counter category boundaries into packaging and open a much bigger market exposure. A lot of R&D, automation and New Product Development (NPD) activities are directed at that end, in order to enhance shelf lives and package them. The idea of preserving sweets beyond the current 4-5 day window did not exist until recently. Due to this, not just the standardising of ingredients but the processes was also necessary. This led to a very quick adoption of automation and process improvements. Beyond that, many of the handling activities that involved human touch had to be replaced with automation and robotics to improve hygiene. A combined effect of all of this is that we can have products that are consistent, of better quality and something that will last much longer than something conventional. The second sought after sector is the sugar - free and allergen friendly food. The Indian and global market are poised to be 50% diabetic by 2020 and 40% allergic, leading to a lot of R&D being invested into it by manufacturers.
How much is the percentage of automation, in general, in the Indian food & beverage manufacturing industry? Do you see any challenges in terms of automating their factory operations, considering the food safety regulations?
Automation is viable when scale exists. So any organisation needing that scale of volumes and consistency will automate. Automation also ensures better compliances, so food safety is not a concern. The advent of modern trade, good supply chains and export and its certifications has led to many manufacturers to keenly adopt automation in their processes.
Please brief us on the automation systems and robotics technologies used in the Chitale Bandhu factories. What is your company's approach towards automation and the deployment strategy?
We have a 70-30 mix ratio of sales. 30% of our products do 70% of the sales and vice-versa. So, these products contributing that volume share naturally requires automation. Most of our key products, like, ladoos, pedhas, burfis, bakarwadi, namkeens have automated processes. So, low volume products or niche products still need that hand-touch which is preserved. It is a fine line between being sought about what needs a higher priority and scale to automate & what can be done at a later stage. The cost of the same is not low & unless volumes are justified, the break-even costs can be a burden to many manufacturers as well.
Also, a lot of our products are traditionally Indian and so far, not in huge volumes. Due to this, most global manufacturers are not aware of them and a lot of time is invested by the companies in getting the product understood by automation experts so that machines create what is desired. Often, the results are not successful and thus, conscious calls, right communication of expectation and finding the right partners who understand what’s needed take time.
Digitalisation is the buzzword today. How ready are Chitale Bandhu's factories to adapt to the new technologies like Industry 4.0, IIoT, etc?
It is already in place. Industry 4.0 is helping us monitor multiple manufacturing locations more efficiently, track line performances, manage operator efficiency, and over impacting our bottom-lines in a positive manner.
Collaborative approach is changing the way products are designed and manufactured. Can you share your views/ recommendations on this? Would Chitale Bandhu, after decades of its growth and success, ever consider or has felt the need to collaborate?
It is a tricky balance. The Indian legal system is not compliant enough to ensure that collaborations will be successful. Collaborative working means a lot of trust and open communication of trade secrets, which might not be honoured well. Currently, we are not exploring the same, as the intellectual property of the processes, the recipes and quality control, and assurance guarantee on the same is not up to the mark.
Do you think the Indian food and beverage industry is ready to adopt the advanced digitalisation technologies? What kind of support infrastructure & skills are required?
The Indian food industry is divided into two big brackets: Organised and unorganised. The organised market has already adopted and using digital systems and technologies well. These organisations are system-driven and know the power of digital systems and data. This helps them keep their expenses and finances in check and have a much more measurable nature of business.
The unorganised manufacturing market is yet to adopt – the capex to adopt and utilise is not always justified and that conversion also needs vision. Plus, often these businesses are man-driven and not system-driven. Besides, the moving of control from human to system is a hurdle for entrepreneurs.
What is the roadmap ahead and action-plan for Chitale Bandhu, in terms of capacity expansion, advanced technology adoption?
All activities in the plants to sales happen on digital platforms. Our systems are being modified to make them even more informative. This is helping us make better use of resources, reduce inventory loads and improve supply chain. This all is creating a pull in the market, which is naturally resulting into expansion in capacity. This interlinking of processes and systems helps us keep our activities lean and ultimately affects our cash flows and bottom lines, too. Thus, now harnessing all this data on digital platforms and using it to make wise decisions is second nature for any business.