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Published on: June 28, 2021, 9:25 a.m.
Huvepharma’s pet projects
  • Inside a Huvepharma India plant: bringing safe food to animals

By Sekhar Seshan. Consulting Editor, Business India

It’s raining cats and dogs at Bulgarian food & nutrition major Huvepharma. ‘Companion animals’, says O.P. Singh, managing director of the global giant’s subsidiary Huvepharma SEA, are the fastest-growing segment for the company, with a growth rate of 27 per cent year on year in India. “This is second only to Japan, which is growing at 29 per cent, and more than double the global growth of about 12 per cent,” he adds. India is one of the most important of the 90-plus countries in six continents in which Huvepharma operates.

The global market for this segment is over Rs2,000 crore annually for food and Rs380 crore for health supplements. “Pets have the same lifestyle problems as humans: cancer, diabetes, hypertension and so on,” says Singh. This is why I started my first pet nutrition and health company, Petcare. It was literally a bedroom idea, because I had a dog that had been gifted to me by the Maharaja of Bhutan.” He later sold Petcare to Cargill Foods, and later started Venkys Pet for Venkateshwara Hatcheries – followed in 2019 by Opuspet. The market continues to grow healthily, he says: the pet adoption rate is growing at 30 per cent a year.

Singh has been a part of the animal health industry for almost four decades now, he acknowledges. “The industry has come a long way in terms of amalgamation, understanding of the evolving demands of livestock, balancing act between productivity and animal health, understanding of consumer behaviour,” he says. “All this, supported by advanced technological knowhow, investment in research and product development, has put us on the road to achieving improved efficiencies in poultry health and management.”

Overall, India makes up a 3-per-cent share in the global animal health market. Livestock, which contributes 4.5 per cent to the country’s overall GDP, comprises the largest chunk – as much as half -- of the animal healthcare market, followed by poultry at 40 per cent. 

The company with responsibility

In what is undoubtedly an agri-business-dependent economy, Huvepharma sees it as its responsibility, as animal healthcare providers, to create a ‘sustainable and regenerative ecosystem’.  And so, Singh says, all the five businesses he heads – Huvepharma SEA; nutrition and enzyme technology company Advanced Bio-Agro Tech Ltd (ABTL); Huvepharma SEA; Norel NBPL, which is a joint venture with Norel of Spain; and Opuspet, a company he launched in 2018 – are fashioned around this thought. The five have a combined turnover of €74 million (Rs653.17 crore).

“No resource can be inexhaustible or its usage without repercussions; so, our team has also been involved in research and potential application of alternative protein in animal feed,” he explains. Pilot projects for this have been conducted globally and even commercial usage is underway in some instances. But he and his team are looking for solutions that are feasible, available, accessible, efficient, workable for multi-species and cost-effective in the Indian context. “It’s a tall order, but we are chipping away at it with patience and perseverance. My team and I do our best to stay on course,” he says. 

Stressing the importance of local know-how and veterinarian connect for successful India operations, Singh says it is this, blended with the Bulgarian parent’s international expertise, which had enabled the Indian entities to introduce products that are specific and customised to meet the unique demand of different species as well as geographies.

Huvepharma SEA also offers technical advisory services, which are designed to offer solutions on how to make food production safer for both producers and consumers. “We are committed to the ‘One Health’ philosophy and try to incorporate and integrate it with our products and services, because the end consumer at the top of the food chain is now aware, more conscious about the source of their food delivery,” he explains. “They ‘demand’ safe food, which is traceable from end to end, and we have to deliver it.”

This commitment also stems from a larger dynamic at play – the Indian market, valued at $1 billion – which represents the largest consumer base among the emerging economies. Also, India, along with other countries of South Asia, accounts for almost 25 per cent of global population, putting this geography in the driving seat.

“Educating our stakeholders is an area that we take seriously,” Singh says. “We take the ‘bottom up’ approach in this – right from hand-holding farmers to creating production modules for integrators to working with veterinarians.” Describing his companies’ work in immunity modulation as ‘significant’, he points out that it is the immune system of the animal that is the heart of health. “Immunity is a variable factor, but I like to believe that we can offer tailored solutions to enhance it,” he adds.

Indian livestock has peculiar problems that need to be treated with targeted products and solutions. While the dairy side will see continued product innovation in mastitis, infertility and pro-biotics therapies, the poultry business – with chicken being the favourite protein in the Indian diet that is otherwise dominated by vegetables – will look to nutritional products like enzymes, toxin binders and acidifiers. Immunity is a dominant and recurring theme in animal health, shifting the focus back on ‘prevention’ rather than ‘cure’: the market for preventive medications against foot & mouth disease (FMD), mastitis and other common animal diseases is growing at a brisk pace.

Singh predicts that the global growth in demand for animal protein will be driven by the developing countries, because 80 million people cross over from poverty every year to become middle-class consumers. And, this will put stress on already fragile resources, animal agriculture and the environment.

Making an impact

By 2030, it is expected that consumer spending on food will grow exponentially. All this ensures that there will be a lot of outward-facing action in the industry. “As food producers, this coming time will also reshape how we perceive our consumer, how we cater to their demands and how we deliver on them,” he explains. “These behavioural adjustments are not an option any longer – they are a necessity if we wish to be seen as a serious player with a serious commitment to make impactful contribution to the industry.”

Amid all this, food safety will be paramount, at every step of value addition from sourcing to processing to packaging, as well as the supply chain. Only about 5 per cent of poultry meat in India is today sold in processed form; even of this, just about 1 per cent is processed into value-added – ready-to-eat or ready-to-cook products. With consumer preference for packaged meat growing, the poultry processing industry in India is expected to expand at a CAGR of as much as 20 per cent. 

“We will also see investment in research facilities, which we need as part of continuous process improvement to make the food chain free of contaminants,” he says. “We will need to double down on the identification of alternative protein sources that will work in Indian conditions.” Consumer education about the industry is also important – not only to help people shape their lifestyle but also to increase their awareness about the state of the animal health industry, what steps are being taken to improve operations and animal health to bring them safe food. 

“Our group companies are completely dedicated to animal health nutrition and food safety,” Singh adds. “We are fully geared to face and to thrive in the face of emerging challenges of animal protein production. Huvepharma leads the segment, as it addresses the evolving concerns of animal health in the future. In that respect we have always been a step ahead. Using current circumstances and trends to map and extrapolate future expectations has helped us influence nutritional health decisions of feed producers and integrators.” 

At Avee Broilers, which has had a relationship with Huvepharma over the last decade, its managing director Shrikrishna Gangurde says this is due to their product quality, supply consistency, technical services and new product addition. “As we are growing 8-10 percent annually, we buy that much more from them,” he adds.

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