Although India is among the leading producers of food grains, fruits and vegetables in the world, an alarmingly large proportion of that produce is wasted annually due to inadequate cold storage facilities and lack of automation in harvesting and sorting.
As a leading manufacturer of sensor-based food sorting systems, Norway-based Tomra Sorting Solutions is acutely aware of the issues surrounding food wastage in the world and works closely with farmers, processors and retailers to help reduce food waste globally. In India, apart from offering sorting solutions to the food industry, Tomra Sorting Solutions provides sorting solutions to the mining (mainly cement industry) and recycling (household and construction waste) segments as well.
In the food industry Tomra has customers in the spices, fruits, and nuts segments, among others. Till about three years ago, Tomra was working in India through a local agency based in Bengaluru, Menon Technical Services. However, it has now set up its own hub which provides demonstrations, sales and after-sales services. Nevertheless, the company continues to work with Menon Technical Services. With 11 employees working in India, Tomra offers solutions such as free fall laser sorters, belt camera/laser sorter, whole product sorter and steam peeler.
“The main aim behind setting up the India hub was to give greater attention to the Indian market as it holds great growth potential for the company,” Steven Van Geel, sales director, food, China told Packaging South Asia at the company stand at Shanghai World of Packaging 2017. Although Van Geel is based in China, he has visited India multiple times and feels that a lot of improvement has happened in terms of infrastructure here, especially in the number of cold storages.
The company till now has been catering to high-end customers in India but has plans to focus on the mid-segment of the food processing business. Van Geel said that beyond a point, it is hard to sell high-end European-centric solutions to emerging markets such as India and China because smaller players are not ready for that type of solutions.
“We are looking beyond the top end of the Indian market, which is the mid-segment. That segment is very huge. At the same time, we will not be entering the low end of the market as it is a segment dominated by sorting solutions from India and China,” Van Geel said.
Tomra will be offering a Chinese-made, laser-based solution to the Indian market that would not be very high end, nor would be very basic. The segments which Tomara would be targeting are nuts, dried spices, beans, seeds, etc. These sorting solutions, Van Geel said, will help in cutting levels of waste as well because they will help processors reduce the amount of good products unnecessarily being removed from the processing lines. Sensor-based sorting machines can determine that a product is 70% good quality and, rather than consigning this to waste, the majority of the product can then be reworked until it is ready to be used.
Indian food processing industry poised for greater automation
Just like other industries, the Indian agricultural sectors too are gradually moving towards greater automation as labor supply becomes an issue. Even if labor is not a problem, people are not willing to work on agricultural jobs because of the profile it carries.
Van Geel said that there will be increasing levels of automation in Indian farms because there are some jobs which are challenging, risky or involve very large volumes.
“People are reluctant to do these types of jobs even in India and that is where automation is needed,” he concluded.