Defence Food Research Laboratory director Amarinder Singh Bawa discusses his organisation's ambitious plans and achievements
Chennai: Processed food development and its packaging for a longer shelf-life is one segment where the defence technologies are being transferred to the civilian sector in India in good numbers.
Many of the technologies that enable to manufacture ready-to-eat pulav, curry or tender coconut water in packets and other packaged food stuff were developed for the country's defence forces at the Mysore-based Defence Food Research Laboratory (DFRL) and have since then been transferred to the Indian corporate sector.
The latest technology transfer under process is the process of making sweet palm toddy or neera. DFRL developed the know-how jointly with the Central Food Technology Research Institute (CFTRI) Mysore.
Says DFRL director Amarinder Singh Bawa: "We developed this for the Karnataka state government which wanted to help the farmers. Our technology will delay the fermentation of palm toddy by two months so that a larger market could be targeted."
A master's degree-holder in food technology from the Central Food Technological Research Institute, Mysore, Bawa went to Canada on a Canadian Commonwealth fellowship to complete MSc in meat science and a doctorate in food science from the University of Guelph.
After serving in the Punjab Agriculture University, Ludhiana he joined the Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar, where he established the food science and technology department. In December 2000 he moved over to DFRL, first on deputation and later as a full-timer.
He talks about DFRL's plans and achievements in an interview with domain-b. Excerpts:
What are the technologies that DFRL has developed till date?
The technologies that have been developed and available for purchase can be classified into products and food-process technologies. Again, under products we have different segments like:
- Ready-to-eat foods: chapattis, spiced potato parathas, puff-and-serve chapattis, fruit bar, nutri-bars.
- Quick-cooking foods: pre-cooked dehydrated pulav mix, insta-nutro cereal mix like bisibele bath, dehydrated potato peas curry.
- Instant foods: pulav mix, kichidi mix, curry dal, vermicelli kheer mix, upma mix, scrambled egg mix, omelette mix.
- Freeze dehydrated foods: fruit juice powders (one-year shelf-life), chicken pulav, mushroom soup powder and others.
- Food process technologies: hurdle technology for preservation of fruits and vegetables, retort processing in flexible pouches, milk powder tabletting and others.
- Ration packs: supplementary compo-pack ration, full-meal compo-pack ration and others.
How many technologies have DFRL developed and how many of them have been sold to the civilian sector?
We have developed around 70 technologies and nearly 20 have been sold to the civilian corporate sector.
What are the latest technologies that are ready for sale or which you are already selling?
Self-contained, self-heating ready-to-eat food packet is the one that we have developed recently. The unique aspect of this packet is that it has three compartments - one to house the food and the other two to hold a special liquid and a chemical powder, respectively. All that a retail customer has to do is to connect the liquid and the chemical power compartments; this will not soil the hands. The heat generated due to chemical reaction will be transferred to the compartment that holds the food and make it ready to eat in few minutes.
According to our calculations each packet would cost around Rs 15-20 and companies can target picnic-goers and travellers. But initially it will be for the army. And once the army starts using the same, the private sector will start showing interest. Similarly we have pouches for ready-to-heat-and-eat food products. All you have to do is to put the pouch in hot water for some minutes to heat the food inside and start eating. We have recently sold the know-how for preserving fruits and vegetables without adding any preservatives.
Of the technologies you have sold till now, which are the ones that are doing quite well in the market?
The puff-and-serve chapattis, high-protein biscuits and vermicelli kheer are doing well at the retail market place, thank you. The Gujarat-based ADF Foods use our retort pouch to pack its food products for exports.
We are curious to know the reason for the down-to-earth technology transfer fees. The tender coconut water know-how is priced at Rs 3 lakh. Similarly the hurdle technology and self-heating pouch are priced at Rs 50, 000.
We just take into account the actual cost incurred in developing a technology. Further, our mandate is to develop such technologies for our defence sector. If the same has civilian market prospects they will be transferred so that the defence forces can buy directly from the private sector.
But why don't you charge some royalty fee or follow a pricing strategy that factors the probable future profits of the private sector while transferring the know-how?
Our focus is development of technologies. In case of royalties we have to keep separate accounts and constantly interact with the technology buyers which would eat into our time.
Do you sell your technologies to more than two players in a state?
We don't restrict the number of buyers. Only in the case of packaged tender coconut water that we decided to restrict the number of buyers to two per state.