Focus on sustainability in the beverage industry

IBA's National Beverage Conclave

The panel discussion on the economic and fiscal sustainability of the Indian beverage sector. (L-R) Rakesh Mohan, president emeritus & distinguished fellow, CSEP, member, PM-EAC; Suneeti Toteja, scientist, Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS); Deepak Agarwal, founder & CEO, Auric; Dr Arpita Mukherjee, professor, Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER); and Naina Sharma, principal investment specialist, Invest India. Photo IFB

The Indian Beverage Association (IBA) organized the National Beverage Conclave on 6 July 2023 at Shangri-La Eros, New Delhi, with its focus on the theme, ‘Sustainable Food Systems: Redefining the Beverage Industry.’ The event brought together policymakers, food scientists, Indian and international organizations, regulatory bodies, beverage startups and the beverage industry leaders under one roof.

The Indian Beverage Association is a body of the non-alcoholic beverage industry that aims to bring together all the stakeholders to a common platform to promote the growth of the non-alcoholic beverage industry.

The conclave comprised panel discussions that revolved around themes such as environmental sustainability, economic and fiscal sustainability, and social sustainability, inspiring participants to re-imagine beverage manufacturing, distribution, and consumption. It also emphasized the sector’s role in economic growth, fostering innovation, and promoting exports. Key discussions centered around strategies to enhance competitiveness, expand market reach, and attract foreign investments. With its focus on collaboration, development, and innovation, the conclave aimed to propel the beverage industry toward achieving these ambitious economic targets through social sustainability.

Chief Guest Dr. Rakesh Mohan, president Emeritus and distinguished fellow at CSEP, said he was delighted to witness the beverage industry’s remarkable journey toward sustainability. “The industry has embraced a conscious approach towards the environment, ensuring that their products are produced with a strong commitment to preserving our planet. Furthermore, the industry’s focus on health and fitness aligns with the changing needs and aspirations of our consumers. As we compare India’s progress with other developed countries, it is inspiring to see our beverage industry actively implementing sustainable practices. From reducing energy consumption to implementing innovative solutions, they are setting a commendable example for others to follow.”

The first discussion was on the environmental sustainability of the Indian beverage sector. C K Mishra, former secretary of the Ministry of Environment, Forests, and Climate Change, said that to make India plastic positive, all dots such as green energy, green finance, and green technology have to be joined to move to sustainability.

Leena Srivastava, director, and head, Ashoka Centre for a People-Centric Energy Transition, said sustainability is a responsibility for everyone and feedback loops from challenges such as climate change, biodiversity, plastic, and chemical pollution make us look at sustainability. Focusing on partnerships and looking at them from a full supply chain perspective will help in developing a full-chain approach to deal with challenges, she said.

According to Srivastava, more than 600 liters of water are required to produce a single bottle of wine. According to her, two-thirds of the top beverage companies report scope 1 and scope 2 emissions while only half of them report scope 3 emissions. “The beverage industry is going to be affected by rainfall patterns, impact agriculture, and biomass in the near future and we need to be net zero by 2050.”

In a second panel discussion on the economic and fiscal sustainability of the Indian beverage sector, the panelists touched upon new products and initiatives. Arpita Mukherjee, professor, Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations, talked about the globally established databases such as Euromonitor International are reporting about new products in the beverage industry such as reformulated products, organic drinks, honey-based and ayurveda-based products. These new startups have the potential of creating employment across the supply chain and such products can lead to an increase in a wide range of fruits and vegetables.

Mukherjee pointed to the lack of categorization on what is healthy and what is non-healthy and the necessity of aligning taxes with the abilities of startups and lower players. These taxes need to be aligned with the needs and sustainability goals of the economy, she said. Unsweetened beverages and water have the lowest taxes in the beverage market today.

Suneeti Toteja, a scientist in the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS), spoke about the role of standards in sustainability as they are mostly seen as obstacles rather than facilitators. The beverage industry is a highly regulated sector and standards need to be derived by scientific advisors rather than government officials. Many safety standards are voluntary in foreign nations, she said, adding it is the government’s decision when to make these mandatory.

Around 20-30% of fruits and vegetables are wasted before they reach manufacturing plants. Guides, codes, and practices should, thus, be developed for cold storage requirements of fruits and vegetables for fruit-based drinks and the same goes for infrastructure and logistics, she added. Nutrition and safety play an important role in the industry and strict food safety and hygiene standards lead to fewer failures. Once the industry is compliant with standards, it will naturally lead to growth.

Deepak Agarwal, founder and CEO of Auric said ayurveda represents India in the world. The beverage industry has always used pleasure as an emotion. His startup has developed functional drinks made of coconut water facial glow. Auric has also introduced tablets for beverages. These tablets can be added to water to make flavored sparkling water. He said startups can bring innovations to the beverage industry but face challenges in terms of profitability and compliance and ethics.

In another panel discussion on the roadmap ahead, Sandeep Bajoria, vice-president, India operations – Coca-Cola India, said that packaged beverages in India enjoy a festive season other than the summer season. This festival season is driven by rituals and consumption. He said the company has a bundle of young brands that stay relevant and capture the right occasions. The company’s initiative Coke Studio is an effort to connect the different Indias. Bajoria said the company can provide the product at the right price point and the convenient place, but in the end, it is the customers’ choice what they want to consume. The fight is not about juice or cola, the fight is about what the consumer decides to put inside their bodies. He said the company had launched a campaign to be completely neutral on packaging by 2030.

JP Meena, secretary general, IBA said, “IBA’s National Beverage Conclave 2023 has provided a remarkable platform for industry stakeholders to come together and shape the future of the beverage industry. We are thrilled by the level of engagement and the commitment showcased by participants from various sectors. By embracing sustainable food systems, we can unleash the full potential of the non-alcoholic beverages industry, creating a more prosperous and environmentally conscious future.”


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