Interview with Jitendra Sagili, Maple Leaf Foods

Ahead of the Future Food-Tech Summit in San Francisco, we spoke to Jitendra Sagili, Vice-President, Research, Development and Technology at Maple Leaf Foods. We asked his opinion on the most exciting technologies in today’s food industry, Maple Leaf Food’s approach to innovation, and the partners he is hoping to meet at the summit.

What consumer trends are Maple Leaf Foods focusing on right now?
We continue to look at all the hot food trends like snacking & convenience, health & wellness, alternate meat proteins, and authentic, craft foods. We are also setting up ambitious goals in sustainability, food transparency and tracking, and animal welfare.

What technologies are most exciting to you? 
• Technologies that are redefining the way we make, supply, view, buy, prepare and consume food.
Innovative manufacturing technologies such as creating plant-based ‘blood’ for a plant burger mimicking meat, cell-based meats, and single-cell proteins.
Technologies that are pushing the ‘proactive health’ agenda like gut health by producing fermented products like Tempeh, Kombucha, Kefir are all amazingly exciting.
Application of technologies such as Blockchain, Artificial Intelligence and Internet of Things in food will generate great food traceability, transparency, food safety, trust and rapid customization abilities. At home, smart automation and digitalization of appliances and apps will change the way we prepare and bring food to the table.

What’s missing?
Cost effective technologies that enable sustainable and affordable food production while reducing food waste! We still see a lot of food waste in the food system, from farm to fork, and food is not getting any cheaper. In particular, technologies that can be implemented to handle food waste in developing countries.
Also, technologies that enable personalized nutrition to improve health & well being and to tackle obesity and chronic illnesses for an individual.

Maple Leaf Foods is committed to building on and investing in the plant-based protein market. What challenges do we need to solve to accelerate growth of the sector?
• Manufacturing capacity
• Higher manufacturing and product costs
• Functional plant-based protein raw material supply
• Consumer acceptance on taste, nutrition and ingredients

What’s next for Maple Leaf Foods and what kind of partners are you looking to collaborate with?
Maple Leaf Foods’ vision: “To be the most sustainable protein company on earth”. This is a huge undertaking, so we are committing significant capital and mind time to getting this done. To achieve this vision, we also continue to diversify our protein sources (meat, plant, and other alternate proteins such as insect protein) offerings, product lines and packaging sources. Our ‘New Frontiers Innovation’ efforts and investments are based on the above principles. As such, we are looking for partners who can bring innovation that helps us meet our vision. Partners, for example, who can help us to have a significant reduction in our environmental ‘foodprint’!

And finally, if you could summarise the food sector in three words, what would they be?
As we see it now: “Broken, exciting, diverse”. When we look at the stats on obesity vs. undernourishment, food waste vs. food insecurity and the food industry’s impact on the environment, I see a broken food system. But, it’s exciting because we’re seeing a ton of awareness and innovation in ingredient, process, equipment and packaging technology to tackle this imbalance. The diversity in types of food (formats, flavors, fusion, meat and dairy alternatives) available in current food space is incredible and it keeps on growing!

Jitendra will be speaking on the panel, Cementing the Position of Plant-Based Proteins: What Does the Future Hold? at Future Food-Tech, March 22.

He will be joined by:
Session Chair:
Dan Altschuler Malek, Senior Venture Partner, New Crop Capital
Adam Lowry, Co-founder & Co-CEO, Ripple Foods
Takoua Debeche, Executive VP, Research & Innovation, Danone North America
Pascal Leroy, VP Peas & New Proteins Line, Roquette
Miguel Calatayud, CEO, IWI Life

Find out more about Maple Leaf Foods and follow on Twitter @MapleLeafFoods