The onions must speak: In the food biz, be transparent about supply chains

Food entrepreneurs must honestly share information with stakeholders that can help them trace every step of the supply chain. Take, for instance, the journey of an onion from farm to food processing unit to plate

Updated: Nov 5, 2019 11:28:23 AM UTC
Image: Shutterstock

Any food and beverage operator worth his salt inevitably wants to serve his guests food that is safe, tasty, cost effective and convenient. He understands that among the many things he must do to achieve this, attention to the supply chain is critical.

Further, his consumers also want to know all sorts of things about the ingredients: where they’re from, how fresh they are, how they were transported, etc., and why not? Anyone committed to good health and fair practices, whether a manufacturer or a consumer, is entitled to know.

Today, people expect a brief résumé of their ingredients and finished goods. Tomorrow, they will demand an entire dossier of traceable details on every aspect of the supply chain.

Let’s take the example of a simple ingredient: An onion that is converted to paste form by an FMCG food brand, for convenience in cooking, at, say, the kitchen of a caterer. Now imagine that we have to map this entire journey and share details.

What better way to know your onions, than to ask them. So visualise an onion speaking with us, through an RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) possibly, telling us about its journey....


From farm to plate

I was a late Kharif crop sown in August ’18, harvested in Jan ’19 in Nashik, Maharashtra, and sold in a jute sack at the Lasalgaon wholesale market at Rs 7 per kilo. The excellent quality black loam soil with organic manure I was grown in, led to me to be a good-sized 50 mm, A-grade Nashik Red Onion in the market that season.

Wholesale market
A local trader bought and stored me at ambient temperature around 30°C and a relative humidity (RH) of 65 percent. Since my neck had been dried for 10 days, I lost about 10 percent of my weight but stayed well without rotting or sprouting and you could hear the nice dry rustle in the 40 kg sack each time we were periodically turned to prevent us from getting spoiled. In around three weeks, the trader sold me for Rs12 a kilo at the local mandi (market).

Brand / Direct Manufacturer (FMCG / Institution / HoReCa)
A Mumbai-based cooking paste brand called Swaad, who wanted to make and sell fried onion paste to the HoReCa sector and retail, bought me from the trader and arranged for me to be transported to their contract manufacturer named A1, in Chinchwad, Pune.

As per Swaad’s demand planning team, they required a small batch of 600 kg and I was one among a ton of other onions sent to the A1 factory. I passed through their quality check as per the specifications laid out in Swaad’s SOP manual, though a few others didn’t make it. We were cleaned, peeled and stored for few days, then finely chopped through the food processor and fried in sunflower oil, with a pinch of salt (both organic).

Since Swaad wanted the brand positioned as natural and preservative-free with a 12-month shelf life, we went through a retort packing process in multi-layer pouches, where we were labelled and batch-coded with our specifications, to be sold at an MRP of Rs.50 per kg, specifically for institutional and HoReCa buyers.

Warehousing and distribution
We were 12 pouches to a carton, and the inventory management team immediately sent us to our company distributor, also in Mumbai, who was able to meet the demand by dispatching 400 kg of our 600 kg batch, within just two weeks.

Plate: End consumer feedback
I was delivered to Sun Catering Services who used the pouch I was in within the week. They were happy with the product and reverted to Swaad with a repeat order. However, I’m told one of the pouches from the same batch as I, got puffed up for some reason. Swaad has sent it to the lab and is presently trying to trace back the problem to the point that it might have happened, with a view to understand the reason and take corrective action.

Details mentioned are meant only for representative purposes.
In the food business, we must know not just our onions, but every single ingredient, whether raw or prepared, and have the ability to track each aspect of our supply chain, from farm to plate.

Honestly sharing this information with our stakeholders helps build trust in the brand and thus loyalty towards it.

So to produce and consume food with integrity, it is imperative that the onions must speak.

The writer is Founder & CEO Phoenix Consulting, a business consulting firm offering start-up, developmental & turnaround assistance to entrepreneurs in the trade.


The thoughts and opinions shared here are of the author.

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  • K V Simon

    Absolutely important . The food service operator owes truth and transparency to every customer . Every link in the supply chain must come through clean both morally and legally .

    on Nov 5, 2019
  • Sandhya

    It was very illuminating to read this article. We use onion and never even think how it reached our kitchen . The author has written well about this journey and my interest is now piqued about all other ingredients that go in daily cooking. Very well written from point of view of onion. Looking forward to more articles.

    on Nov 5, 2019