At a time when e-commerce companies are increasingly getting into the food and grocery category, regulatory mechanism in this space is weak.
Besides niche players such as Big Basket, Local Banya and Zop Now, Amazon recently started selling food products. Flipkart, too, is planning to get into grocery soon.
“Online is one area where we have yet to enter,” said an official at the Food Safety & Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), which has been in the news for pan-India recall of Nestlé India’s Maggi noodles.
The regulator recognises that catching a company in the wrong and fixing responsibility in the online space is a new challenge.
In India, most e-commerce companies are operating in the B2B space (business to business) and are not selling products to customers directly.
The product transaction is between the seller and the buyer, though the platform owner is supposed to monitor the quality of products despatched from its platform.
There have been cases of sub-standard and fake products being delivered to customers, but when online players get active in the food category, monitoring has to be more stringent, an executive at an e-commerce company admitted.
While websites of most big online players do not show Maggi noodles (that has been recalled), regulatory mechanism would be required to be in place soon as the food category grows bigger in the virtual space, according to an analyst.
In fact, all these sites have instant noodles of brands (other than Nestlé’s Maggi), besides pasta and spaghetti of several brands. After ordering recall of Maggi noodles, FSSAI has asked for testing of all brands of noodles, pasta and spaghetti across the country.
So far, the focus of the food regulator has been on products of mass consumption such as oil, water and milk, and not on packaged food, an FSSAI official said. “Now, states must activate their machineries,” the official said. Gujarat, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Goa are among the active states on compliance with food regulatory norms, while others must do better, he said.
Currently, more than 60 per cent of the applications coming for food approval are health supplements, special dietary items and nutraceutical products as many of them have shifted from drugs to food, it is learnt. Scrutiny of drugs has been much more stringent than food products in India. Only about 30 to 40 per cent applications are for proprietary food items.
The food regulatory scene, however, might undergo a transformation after the recent Maggi recall, the first such of this scale in the country.