CONFERENCE REVIEW: 21st Century Spice Industry – Disrupt or Be Disrupted


23 Mar 2017 --- The second international spice conference organized by All India Spices Exporters Forum in association with Cochin Chamber of Commerce and Industry was held at the Leela, Kovalam, Kerala-India from February 12-14, 2017. The theme of ISC 2017 was “21st Century Spice Industry – Disrupt or Be Disrupted.” The conference brought together several key industry players, who deliberated on the various challenges faced by the industry and recommended solutions for them.

The business part of the conference started on February 13 with a session on “Spice Cultivation – Challenges Ahead” followed by a session on “Products and Operational Excellence: Innovations -The Order of the Day.” There was a session on “Disruptions in Spice Quality Standards – Food Safety and Sustainability” followed by ‘CODEX MRLs –Need for Reforms’ in the afternoon. During the forenoon of February 14, a session on “Value Added Spices: Building the Culture of Innovation” was conducted which was then followed by “Crops and Markets: Turmeric, Onion, Garlic and Herbs – What the Future Holds?” The afternoon session had an Audio Visual presentations on “Cumin, Chilli and Pepper Crops.” Here is a look at some of the key highlights from this event. 

Session I: Spice Cultivation – Challenges Ahead 
The presentation on Spice Cultivation In India – Industry Initiatives explained the follow up action from ISC 2016 deliberations and initiatives which are taken up by All India Spice Exporters Forum (AISEF) and World Spice Organization (WSO). These initiatives are targeted to bring all stakeholders on to the same page which will be a critical element for Collaborations. Over usage of agrochemicals, lack of infrastructure and farmers training are identified as the major challenges. The presentation focused on the importance of pest and disease forecasting, safer drying techniques and sustainable agricultural practices.

Quality at Source – Linkage and Interfaces with Input Industry: This presentation highlighted how the inputs industry plays an important part in saving/improving the crop for the farmer and meeting residue standards. This seems to be an Click to Enlargeessential element of the sustainable chain. Spice industry needs to work with the input industry to work out solutions and get the best inputs approved. The presentation unveiled the necessity of quality at source – having a continuous linkage and interfaces with the farmers and the agricultural input industry to serve the finest quality products finally on the shelf or on the table. How Agrochemical Industry globally is taking the challenges head on through disruptive innovations was the focus of this paper. 

Sustainable Spice Cultivation – The Indian Perspective: This presentation detailed the initiative being taken by the All India Spice Exporters Forum and SSI India focusing on the .Sustainable Spice Projects being taken up in India in collaboration with SSI India. The project for 2017-18 covers four crops covering 4 crops viz. Chilli, Cumin, Coriander and Turmeric with participation from 21000 farmers. The activities are focussed on creating a compelling common agenda by 2025 to cover a large percentage of farmers, a common framework for a sustainable and meaningful impact and highlighted the importance of farmer training and creation of a single standard for farm audits. The thrust was to create a common agenda with the industry, a common framework, and a meaningful and sustainable impact.

Spice Cultivation – New Frontiers with a Global Perspective: This presentation covered the efforts being made by International Trade Centre, Geneva, to bring in new means of cultivation in Africa mainly Rwanda, and Ethiopia. 

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The objective is to expand and secure future sourcing of spices on a global basis and to boost economic growth in producing countries focusing on the social and economic aspects of growing spices in these least developed countries. The presentation has put forward the options of collaborations and leveraging these new geographies.

Session 2: Products and Operational Excellence: Innovations – The Order of the Day
This session analyzed the importance of scenario planning and explained the processes in terms of food production capacity and food delivery. The various scenarios were explained by taking in to account the supply, demand, health and health focussed Innovation, technology, regulations etc. 

New innovative products and business processes are critical factors for the continued sustainable advancement of any industry, more so in the global spice industry. There is a huge amount of opportunities and innovations that spices and herbs are going to open up in food and beverages, medicine and cosmetics sectors. This session also covered spices and herbs, especially that of turmeric, which has very potent curative properties. Such developments will create new avenues in the market for spices and herbs. 

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Operational excellence is an integral part of delivering quality. This session at ISC 2017 became a seed-bed of solutions for all supply chain issues by taking technology as the pivotal factor with a significant competitive advantage. How technology, transportation, and streamlined processes can make a difference to the way products are delivered were the focal point of one of the papers presented with respect to Operational Excellence. The paper on operational Excellence highlighted several real life examples of major global brands that have been disrupted and showed us innovations like – how natural food coatings to extend life & reduce waste.

The paper on Improving Supply Chain Efficiencies: Technology – The Game Changer explained how to take a well-established mature industry to transform itself and its ability to serve its customers.

Session 3: Disruption in Spice Quality Standards – Food Safety and Sustainability
This panel discussion addressed some concerns and opportunities now and on the horizon with respect to changing consumer wants and needs, continued erosion of consumer trust due to adulteration incidents and outbreaks, increased complexity and cost of new and more stringent food law, development of more sophisticated and sensitive testing methodology for food safety of products and greater number and extent of recalls due to an abundance of caution. The discussions were centred on the ever-changing food safety and quality standards of the various spices. Harmonization of global spice standards is on the agenda of the Industry for some time now. We need concrete decisions followed by lobbying for new policy advocacy among various governments. The panelists were from various spice associations. They discussed on the merits and demerits of various developments and changes in quality standards and on how to balance customer safety and basic industry concerns of impractical, unscientific, unrealistic and many a times unachievable standards.

CODEX MRLs: Need for Reforms: The session on “CODEX MRL’S –Need for Reforms” has drawn attention of many participants, as the session actively debated on serious challenges faced by the Spice and other commodities sector. The participants debated on how 193 nations with different capabilities of resources, technology and of different stages of development in their economy can work towards harmonization through CODEX and how they can move forward in the same direction and be on the same page. It was a very effective discussion debating on how to achieve same set of standards for different categories of products. The panelists recommended that spice associations should attend relevant CODEX meeting along with the representatives of the national delegations whenever the spice issues are taken up. Also pointed out the importance of lobbying with likeminded CODEX delegations and commissioning more research studies.

Session IV: Value Added Spices-Building the Culture of Innovation
This session was based on a “culture of innovation” that alone will transform the industry in the future. The key analogy for the same is drawn from the classic stories’ in which the world’s largest brands became a non-entity in its core business as it didn’t make proactive steps through disruptive innovations. 

The session highlighted the importance of having an enterprise mind-set that is open to change, holistic thinking and acting, making decisions interactively using a variety of methods and ability to adapt the business design to changing conditions. The panel analyzed strategies w.r.t Make & Sell, Sense & Respond and Anticipate & Lead, of which the third one was identified as the most important determinant in meeting disruptive challenges.

In this session, the three panellists focused on their own experience in successfully responding to a disruptive innovation from a competitor, disruptive innovations that created a new market and value network eventually disrupting an existing market and value network. They have also provided their views on digitalization and e-commerce ruling the marketplace and the disruptive changes that one can expect in th future and how the players should prepare themselves

Session V A: Crops and Markets, – Turmeric, Onion & Garlic and Herbs – What the Future Holds?
This session on turmeric provided information that the 2017 crop is expected to be better than last year and as higher prices last year prompted farmers to plant more acreages under turmeric. However, the overall crop has seen a decrease from the 2011 levels. Prices in 2017 are expected to be lower than 2016, depending on the varieties. India continues to remain the largest producer, with approximately 82% of the global production. The world production of onion remains steady with only 1.5% of it being used for dehydration. The US remains the market leader in usage and production followed by India and China. A normal crop is expected in 2017. In garlic though, it’s a China show, 2017 is expected to be better than last year with a proportionate reduction in prices. 

This article is based on a review from the ISC 2017 organizers.
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