26 February 2015

Great opportunities for food cooperation with India


Milk production in India is increasing by 4 million tonnes of milk per year, roughly equivalent to the total amount of milk produced annually for human consumption in Denmark. Productivity is also increasing annually by 3-4%, and the investments in education are also massive. This situation offers opportunities for Danish companies and universities to enter in to new food cooperation with their Indian counterparts.

(From a blog post by Bjarke Bak Christiensen, Head of Department of Food Science, University of Copenhagen, originaly posted by Danish Food Cluster)

Bjarke Bak Christensen, Head of Department of Food Science, University of Copenhagen.

In November, I was with two colleagues in India to explore the possibilities for Danish/Indian cooperation in the dairy sector. What struck me the most was how quickly India is developing and the rising high level of education, and this confirmed to me that India indeed offers good potential for partnership opportunities for the Danish food industry.

India has a rich diversity of milk products; for example, a wide selection of fermented products, from which we can draw inspiration for innovative products for the Danish market. Many naturally fermented products, which often have a relatively long shelf life outside the cold chain, are produced by methods that largely have been forgotten by us. This includes products that combine milk and cereals, lentils or vegetables, to complete meals with a high content of carbohydrates, protein, and fat. In the Danish context, these types of fermentation could especially be useful for developing new interesting flavours.

A market for measuring instruments

As a university, we can contribute to the Indian model; for example, with regard to our tradition in cooperation with the food industry and for developing the innovation opportunities that are thereby created.

One of the problems of the Indian dairy industry is that the milk is often mixed with different substances to increase the amount before it reaches consumers. It is believed that up to 80% of the milk supply, in one way or the other, is tampered. Often the dairy cooperatives only have the equipment to measure the fat content of the milk, and do not have instruments that can measure a number of the substances used to manipulate the milk, and therefore they lack the ability to confirm the quality of the milk.

Focusing on practical experience

We visited Anand Agricultural University, National Dairy Research Institute (NDRI), and Mansinhbhai Institute of Dairy & Food Technology (MIDFT). All three universities are educating undergraduates and graduates for a career in the dairy sector. Some of the students are the children of farmers who supply milk to the local dairy cooperative – right down to the really small-scale producers of only 1-3 litres of mostly buffalo or cow milk a day. Thus, there is an extra benefit for the farmers as their children get the opportunity for a higher education if they are talented. The entrance requirements for universities are very strict, so only highly qualified students are admitted.

The three aforementioned universities have a strong set-up when it comes to laboratories and dairy facilities. The students gain practical experience in the universities’ own dairies, which produce commercial milk products every day; for instance, the University of Anand produces e.g. 100,000 litres of milk per day – equivalent to the consumption of a medium-sized Danish town. The students spend a year of their training working in dairies in various jobs in the dairy sector. On the other hand, there is less focus on innovation, which could therefore present an opportunity area for potential collaboration with the Danish food industry and Danish universities.

Innovation in demand

We know that innovative product development in the dairy sector requires a high level of education, and regarding this, education in India is developing at great speed. But it is in our opinion an education system that still has a very strong focus on trivia rather than on the ability to solve problems and generate new ideas, which was also confirmed by the three companies we visited: Chr. Hansen, IndiFOSS, and GEA. These companies all wished for more collaboration with Indian universities and better innovation capabilities among Indian graduates. This is where I see the greatest potential for both Danish universities and for Danish companies that can offer important expertise in these areas.

Bjarke Bak Christensen

Head of Department of Food Science, University of Copenhagen