How BL Agro leverages automation for better productivity

Interview -- Ashish Khandelwal, managing director of BL Agro

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BL Agro Products

Continuous improvement and innovation in both product development and machinery is the key to staying relevant in the fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) sector for the long haul, according to Ashish Khandelwal, managing director of BL Agro, an edible oil and food manufacturing company based in Uttar Pradesh. 

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Ashish Khandelwal, managing director of BL Agro

In an interaction with IndiFoodBev, Khandelwal shed light on the company’s evolvement and commitment to sustainable packaging, advanced machinery, and automation in food processing and packaging. He spoke on the shift toward a healthier lifestyle following the Covid pandemic.

BL Agro is at the forefront in upgrading all its products and machinery that align with evolving consumer preferences,” Khandelwal says.

Established in the year 1940 with Bail Kolhu mustard oil as a single product, the Bareilly-headquartered BL Agro has since ventured into the manufacturing and packaging of other edible oils. In 2018, it launched its food products brand ‘Nourish’.

The company plans to invest ₹1,000 crore to set up cattle farms in Bareilly in Uttar Pradesh, and Amreli in Gujarat. “Currently, we are venturing into animal husbandry with the aim of increasing productivity and quality of milk. We have signed an MoU with Brazilian institutes, which are going to help us in the process,” Khandelwal says. With a range of edible oil and various food products, the company has set up two refining units in Jauharpur and another in Bareilly.

Sustainable packaging and waste management

To strengthen innovative technologies and embrace sustainable and flexible packaging for food products, BL Agro relies on Leepack’s machines, which help increase the shelf-life of pulses, grains, flour, and whole spices. “Vacuum packing of our food products in a hygienic environment improves the shelf-life of pulses to two years and that of flour to one year,” Khandelwal says.

With higher efficiency in the process of food processing and packaging, we tend to minimize the amount of waste generated. As part of EPR (extended producer responsibility), we collect more than 300 metric tonnes per month of recyclable pouches and bottles.” BL Agro doesn’t have its own recycling plant and outsources all its recyclable materials.

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BL Agro plant at Bareilly, UP

Hygiene and automation

With purity on the priority list, the company, he says, has established a NABL-accredited lab where all products and procedures are run through quality-control tests before moving on to the next stage.  

Khandelwal says the pandemic has shifted consumer attention to personal health and well-being more than ever. “Since the customers are now more inclined towards a hygienic lifestyle, we rely solely on advanced machinery for manufacturing and packaging of oil and food items such as pulses, grains, ready-to-cook items, and whole spices, thereby minimizing human intervention in the whole process,” he says.

Automation, he says, not only boosts productivity but enables them to meet quality benchmarks, and maintain uniformity in taste, texture, and nutritional value.

Discussing the company’s focus on advanced machinery in the processing and packaging process, Khandelwal says BL Agro has installed machines from Sidel for the filling and sealing of edible oil bottles, Comra machines for the sorting of products, and an automated racking system from Japan. “By leveraging automation, the company has streamlined its operations and minimized human errors.”

Differentiating factor

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Bail Kohlu Kacchi ghani Mustard Oil

According to Khandelwal, the smell, pungency, and color of the Bail Kolhu mustard oil is its main focus, which has to remain constant throughout the year. “As oil is very sensitive, and changes color from season to season, we maintain the color and keep the pungency at 0.25% (which can go from 0.7% to 3.5%) for its aroma and soothing effect to remain intact.”

There are challenges in maintaining the nutrient factor of pulses and grains as well. According to Khandelwal, the grains and pulses are roasted at an accurate temperature to maintain their environmental moisture content. “The temperature level is changed from time to time as the moisture content in the grains and pulses depends on the season.”

Khandelwal shared his plans of installing new plants and expanding the distribution network from Uttar Pradesh to Delhi & NCR, Assam, Rajasthan, Haryana, Gujarat, and Bengaluru. The company, which has more than 75 products, plans to introduce 100 more under the brand ‘Nourish’.

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