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June 20, 2024
Food Beverages Processing | India no 1 Food Processing Magazine

Mr. Manoj Kochar, President of the Authentication Solution Providers’ Association (ASPA)

In an exclusive interview with Mr. Manoj Kochar, President of the Authentication Solution Providers’ Association (ASPA), we explore into the organization’s operational strategies and the pressing issue of counterfeit FMCG products. Mr. Kochar provides insights into consumer awareness of counterfeit goods and their potential health impacts. He discusses the severe risks posed by contamination in fake packaged foods, including pesticides and heavy metals, and the lack of nutritional value in counterfeit items. Furthermore, he highlights the significant threat of foodborne illnesses from these products and offers practical advice for consumers to mitigate these risks. Finally, Mr. Kochar outlines ASPA’s role in establishing industry standards for food safety and their collaborative efforts to enhance product integrity and consumer safety.

Kindly brief us about Authentication Solution Providers’ Association (ASPA) and its operational mechanisms?

ASPA operates as a non-profit organization dedicated to advancing secure authentication solutions. Its mission revolves around raising awareness about the critical importance of robust authentication practices in combating fraud and security breaches.

In pursuit of this mission, ASPA actively engages in advocacy initiatives to promote the widespread adoption of strong authentication standards and policies. Through strategic collaborations with industry stakeholders, regulatory authorities, and governmental agencies, ASPA strives to influence the formulation of policies conducive to the proliferation of robust authentication practices across diverse sectors.

Furthermore, ASPA serves as a catalyst for innovation within the authentication solution landscape by spearheading research endeavors focused on exploring emerging technologies, identifying vulnerabilities, and developing best practices for implementation and security. By fostering a collaborative environment and facilitating knowledge exchange among its members, ASPA encourages the development and refinement of novel authentication solutions. This concerted effort not only fosters continuous innovation but also ensures that authentication practices remain adaptive and resilient in the face of evolving security threats. Through its multifaceted initiatives, ASPA remains steadfast in its commitment to advancing the adoption of secure and reliable authentication solutions across various domains.

How do you perceive the level of awareness among consumers regarding the presence of counterfeit FMCG products in the market and their potential impact on health?

While consumers may grasp the potential health risks posed by counterfeit FMCG products, there remains a significant gap in understanding how to spot and differentiate them from genuine ones. Counterfeit items often contain harmful substances or substandard ingredients, endangering consumer safety. The growing sophistication of counterfeit operations compounds this challenge, as distinguishing between real and fake products becomes increasingly complex.

Moreover, consumers often overlook the broader consequences of purchasing counterfeit goods, including supporting illicit trade networks and undermining trust in legitimate brands. According to ASPA and CRISIL report in 2022, about 42% of consumers willingly purchased counterfeit FMCG products, with 38% citing lower costs and 26% citing unavailability of original products as the reasons. Lack of well-known brands in interior markets of India creates demand for unorganised players to enter the market with look-alike products.

Retailers and distributors, particularly in non-urban and low-income group markets, acknowledge the prevalence of look-alikes and copy products in the FMCG market. Industry experts and manufacturers estimate that counterfeiting in this segment is highly prevalent, potentially reaching 25-30% as per the same report. Addressing this issue requires collaborative efforts from regulatory bodies, brand owners, and consumer advocates. Implementing educational initiatives, stringent authentication measures, and robust enforcement are crucial steps to empower consumers and safeguard public health. By providing consumers with the tools to identify and reject counterfeit products, we can mitigate the risks associated with counterfeit FMCG items and foster confidence in the integrity of the industry.

How significant are the risks associated with contamination in fake FMCG packaged foods, especially in terms of the health hazards posed by substances like pesticides and heavy Metals?

The risks associated with contamination in counterfeit FMCG packaged foods are profound, particularly concerning substances such as pesticides and heavy metals. These counterfeit products often lack stringent quality control measures, leading to the utilization of substandard or hazardous ingredients during production.

Pesticide residues in counterfeit foods can result in severe health implications, including neurological disorders, reproductive issues, and heightened cancer risks. Similarly, heavy metals like lead, cadmium, and mercury pose threats of organ damage, developmental complications, and chronic illnesses.

Counterfeit products come in various forms, including look-alikes and duplicates. Look-alikes mimic the packaging design and colors of popular brands but carry a different name, such as Lalita Amla resembling Dabur Amla or Fighter biscuits resembling Tiger biscuits. Duplicates, on the other hand, are replicas of original brands but with substandard shape, design, color, packaging, and ingredients. These can include premium tea mixed with low-quality leaves, ghee made with urea, or mustard oil mixed with substandard oil, posing serious harm to consumer health.

Additionally, the unsanitary production environments and inadequate storage conditions of these counterfeit goods heighten the risk of contamination by harmful bacteria, molds, and pathogens. This can lead to various health issues, such as food poisoning, allergic reactions, and gastrointestinal disorders. The lack of accurate labeling and ingredient information further compounds the danger, making it challenging for consumers to identify potential allergens or harmful substances and exacerbating the risks associated with consuming counterfeit products.

From your perspective, how aware are consumers of the potential nutritional deficiencies in counterfeit items and the health issues that can arise from inadequate nutrition?

Consumer awareness of the potential nutritional deficiencies and health risks associated with counterfeit food items and supplements remains limited. Despite some regulatory efforts to raise awareness, there exists a significant knowledge gap regarding the identification of counterfeit products and their broader implications on personal health and well-being. Many consumers prioritize cost savings over quality assurance, inadvertently exposing themselves to products lacking essential nutrients or containing harmful substances.

Alarmingly, as per the ASPA & CRISIL survey report, about 35-40% of consumers found the FMCG products they had purchased to be fake, but none complained to the manufacturer or consumer forum, only lodging complaints with the shop owner for exchange or refund.

The fake FMCG market is growing faster than the overall FMCG market, with nearly 3 lakh crore FMCG products circulated in India being counterfeit, as per the FICCI 2021 report. Counterfeiters take advantage of the large unorganized FMCG market and use advanced packaging technology to imitate original products or pass off brands with similar-sounding names as originals.

To address this issue, increased consumer education, clear labelling guidelines, and stricter enforcement against counterfeit operations are imperative. Empowering consumers with the knowledge to identify and avoid counterfeit items is crucial for prioritising well-being over cost savings. By fostering a vigilant consumer base and implementing targeted campaigns and authentication measures, we can mitigate the risks associated with counterfeit proliferation and ensure adequate nutrition for all.

Brief us on, how significant is the risk of foodborne illnesses associated with the consumption of counterfeit FMCG products, and what measures can consumers take to mitigate this risk?

Counterfeit FMCG products, particularly high-volume, low-cost items like water, salt, flour, and milk, pose significant risks of foodborne illnesses due to potential contamination with harmful substances. Additionally, higher-value products like premium tea and ghee are susceptible to adulteration, further endangering consumer health. Counterfeit products often enter the supply chain through direct sales by manufacturers or by offering high margins to distributors and retailers.

Consumers can mitigate these risks by exercising caution and vigilance. They should purchase products from reputable sources and be wary of significantly discounted items. Checking for inconsistencies in packaging and branding can help identify counterfeit products. Additionally, reporting suspected counterfeit products to authorities and participating in awareness campaigns can contribute to raising public consciousness about the dangers of counterfeit goods.

By prioritising product authenticity and staying informed, consumers can safeguard their health and well-being against the risks associated with counterfeit FMCG products.

Considering the dual impact of counterfeit FMCG products on both health and finances, how do you suggest consumers balance their purchasing decisions to minimize the risk of economic loss while prioritizing their health and well-being?

Firstly, consumers should educate themselves on identifying counterfeit products by scrutinizing packaging, branding, and labeling for inconsistencies. Most FMCG companies have anti-counterfeiting departments that hire third-party consultants to monitor counterfeiting activities and provide visual guides showcasing how consumers can differentiate real from fake products. Brands are also adopting security measures like hologram labels, QR codes, and tamper-proof packaging to enhance brand protection and aid in identifying counterfeits.

Secondly, consumers should prioritize purchasing from reputable retailers and authorized distributors, as counterfeit products often enter the supply chain through unauthorized channels.

Thirdly, consumers should avoid being enticed by unreasonable schemes or purchasing from unverified sources. It’s advisable not to buy open food as it lacks authentication. Additionally, reading the instructions on the packaging should be a standard practice, as different brands selling the same product may not adhere to all guidelines.

Additionally, consumers should report suspected counterfeit products to relevant authorities and support awareness campaigns, contributing to the collective effort against counterfeiting.

By exercising vigilance, prioritising authorised sources, scrutinising product authenticity, and supporting anti-counterfeiting efforts, consumers can safeguard their health and finances while upholding the integrity of the FMCG market.

Looking ahead, what role does ASPA see itself playing in shaping industry-wide standards and best practices for food safety, and what collaborative efforts is the company engaged in to achieve these goals?

ASPA acknowledges the paramount importance of industry-wide standards and best practices for food safety. Looking ahead, ASPA envisages itself assuming a pivotal role in shaping these standards by capitalizing on its expertise in authentication solutions to bolster the security and integrity of food supply chains.

To achieve these objectives, ASPA is actively engaged in collaborative endeavors with various stakeholders across the food industry. Working closely with food producers, distributors, regulatory agencies, and technology partners, ASPA endeavors to develop and promote authentication solutions tailored to the unique challenges of food safety.

Through research initiatives, knowledge exchange forums, and strategic partnerships, ASPA aims to identify vulnerabilities in current food supply chain practices and develop innovative authentication technologies to mitigate risks. By fostering collaboration and advocating for the adoption of robust authentication measures, ASPA strives to safeguard food integrity and protect consumers from adulteration and contamination threats.

In essence, ASPA is dedicated to driving industry-wide efforts to establish and uphold rigorous standards and best practices for food safety, thereby ensuring the trust and confidence of consumers in the products they consume.

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