Mr Pradeep Pant, former Executive Vice President and President, Asia Pacific and Eastern Europe, Middle East & Africa (EEMEA) of Mondelēz International, retired at the end of last year. A 37-year FMCG industry veteran, Mr Pant has managed some of the region’s most iconic FMCG brands across fast growing markets such as China, India, Japan, Korea and Southeast Asia.

As he prepared for retirement last month, the FIA Secretariat spoke to Mr Pant, who reflected upon his time as inaugural President of FIA and his hopes for FIA and the food industry in coming years.

FIA: Your career has spanned some of the most challenging and fast-moving markets in Asia. How have you seen the food industry evolve over the last 37 years?
The food industry in Asia has undergone massive transformations over the last three decades – we are catering to very different consumers; have seen major developments in in-market and intra-regional trade; and are operating in a very complex legislative environment.

Fast growing economies, the region’s emerging middle classes and a much more ‘connected’ global community means consumers in Asia have very different needs and expectations today than they did 37 years ago. Mealtimes are no longer a sit-down family experience; today’s consumers are looking for quick and easy options that they can eat on the run. People are also much more aware of what they’re eating, from both a nutrition and food safety perspective.

These developments have driven a huge amount of innovation and change. We have more format, packaging and brand choice than ever before and the industry has made significant strides in strengthening the safety of the whole food supply chain.

Asia has also begun to drive the innovation agenda. Traditionally, product and format innovation happened in the West and products were introduced in this region with very little ‘tweaking’. Today, companies are not only developing products and packaging in-market to ensure they are meeting local consumer needs, but Asian product innovations are also making their way back into western countries.

37 years ago, we were also operating in a very different trading environment. Traditionally, people would buy locally produced ingredients from their local market. Today, modern trade outlets and supermarkets are common across the region, and packaged food products have percolated down within different levels of the trade, vastly increasing consumer choice. At the same time, cross-border trade has substantially increased with multinational companies investing in the region and local companies growing their export offerings. This is particularly the case in ASEAN, which is working towards the creation of an ASEAN Single Market. The food industry in South East Asia is valued at around USD$200 million and ASEAN food exports are valued at around US$60 billion or 3.6% of total ASEAN trade. This is significantly more than several decades ago but still significantly below full potential. In this dynamic environment and with the right climate for trade, I believe the food sector will witness a similar rate of change in just one decade as I’ve seen over the last 37 years.

FIA: You held the role of inaugural FIA President for the first three years of the organisation. What are some of the highlights of your tenure?
It has been a great pleasure being part of FIA’s formation and to lead the organisation through its first three years. I have several highlights which I believe demonstrate what FIA stands for, and where it is heading.

It has been extremely gratifying to work alongside governments, regulators and industry partners in the region to co-develop solutions for some of the world’s biggest challenges. Together, the founding members of FIA have given a voice to Asia’s food industry on issues such as food safety and nutrition and solidified our place in a global network of affiliated associations. This has ensured that Asia, which is set to become the most important region for food dialogue in the future, is truly represented at an international level.

At a regional level, it has also been very rewarding to see how FIA has united companies and national associations across Asia to effect real, positive and lasting change in encouraging healthier lifestyles. One clear example of this has been in responsible marketing to children. During our first three years, members worked together to agree on responsible marketing to children pledges in several countries across Asia, demonstrating the industry’s commitment to advertising products in a responsible way. The food industry in Asia is stepping up to the self-regulation challenge and FIA is driving a consistent and meaningful approach on the promotion of nutrition literacy and balanced lifestyles, under the guidance of current FIA President Umran Beba and the FIA Council.

The significant steps we have taken to drive the harmonisation of food standards is another key highlight. The ground-breaking Food Industry Summit in Jakarta in 2012, which culminated in the adoption of a shared Vision Statement, outlined the commitment by industry associations to accelerate the harmonisation process in ASEAN. This milestone paved the way for the successful launch of the ASEAN Food and Beverage Alliance (AFBA) last year. AFBA has come a long way in a very short time and is set to become a key stakeholder in driving harmonisation for the agri-food sector in ASEAN.

FIA: As you step into your new role as Honorary Advisor to the FIA Council, what are some of the challenges facing the food industry in Asia and how can FIA address them?
With 76 million more mouths to feed in Asia every year, food security and food safety will continue to be the region’s key priorities. At the same time, the dual burden of over and under nutrition continues to be high on the regional, and global, agenda and the private sector has an important role to play. There will be a great deal of discussion among policy makers, industry, NGOs and academia about securing a steady source of high quality, safe and nutritious food for the region. Food will become even more scrutinised than it is today – by Governments and consumers.

As we move forward as a region, all parties need to work together to influence positive change in critical areas such as food safety and health and nutrition. We need to embrace the full suite of scientific tools and food innovation if we are to address these critical issues and we need to involve all levels of society in this important debate.

This collaborative approach is what FIA is all about and I believe that the organisation’s next phase is about deepening its relationships and partnerships. I also hope to see more companies joining the FIA network to widen the breadth and depth of experience and expertise within the organisation.

With the 2015 deadline for the establishment of an ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) fast approaching, I look forward to the development of harmonised food standards in the region. I believe there is significantly more potential for the food industry in ASEAN to make a greater contribution to economic growth and increase the availability of a wide range of safe, high quality food choices for consumers. AFBA and FIA can work together with policy makers to remove the remaining barriers to trade and help to realise this region’s full potential.

FIA is now the trusted voice of Asia’s food industry and I look forward to seeing how the organisation continues to support the journey towards sustainable growth for the food industry in Asia, which will in turn allow companies of all sizes to embrace their full potential.

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