The president of Danfoss India shares with Sushila Ravindranath why agriculture and horticulture will emerge as the sunrise sectors in the near future, with cooling and refrigeration experiencing highest growth.
I am meeting Ravichandran Purushothaman, the president of Danfoss Industries India, for an early dinner at the Avartana at ITC Grand Chola, Chennai. It has opened recently, only for dinner, and we both have been meaning to check it out. It serves South Indian food which does not look South Indian. The chef and his team have worked on an innovative, one-of-its-kind menu for over two years. Food is served from exotic-looking locally-sourced crockery and cutlery. We are both vegetarians and there are set menus. We start with tomato rasam. It is poured in wine glasses, hot from a plunger filled with coriander and tomatoes. The liquid is steeped in the plunger for 30 seconds, we are told. It tastes very good, retaining its many flavours. It passes the test of our South Indian palate.
Danfoss India, a company focused on climate and energy-efficient engineering solutions, is a 100% subsidiary of the Danish Danfoss Group—a privately-held and family-owned multinational which was set up in 1933. It has a turnover of 40 billion Danish kroner (over $6 billion) and employs 25,000 people. The group spends 4.2% of its sales turnover on R&D. The Danish ambassador to India at that time, Michael Sternberg, brought several Danish companies to Chennai and Danfoss is one of them—it was established in 1998.
India is among the top 10 countries to lose a large part of its agricultural produce—126kg of lost food for each Indian. “We want to bring this down using our technology. Our company is working towards achieving more with less and making India an energy-efficient nation. We have four growth themes—infrastructure, food, climate and energy,” Ravichandran tells me, as we finish the rasam. It is followed with chickpea and millet salad with rice crispies. In normal Chennai parlance, it would have been called sundal.
Ravichandran has been with Danfoss since 2002 and took over as president in 2013. “When I joined, we operated from a five-star hotel in the city. We have come a long way since then. We have expanded the footprint of our sales. We are at 83 locations. Our products are used in commercial horticulture and refrigeration industries. We have built a huge campus in Chennai with world-class R&D labs. We went into local production in 2007. No ready skills were available for building Danfoss’s products. We started working with four leading universities, building centres of excellence for refrigeration and air-conditioning. We do a lot of innovation. The company has crossed a turnover of Rs 1,000 crore and employs almost 1,000 people. We make sure there is diversity at the entry level. The average age of our employees is 37 and 16% of them are women.”
As Ravichandran starts explaining to me about the applications which reduce energy consumption, our next dish arrives. It is bitter gourd cruiser, cumin potatoes and shallot jam. The food is turning out to be highly distracting and interesting. “We supply 70% of components for chilling plants, but we don’t build chillers. A lot of components of the air-conditioning systems in most large hotels, like this one, use our components. Our innovations help reduce energy in power modules and solar inverters.”
The country’s Smart City initiative will require modern and energy-efficient technologies. “Cooling and refrigeration will have the highest growth in India. Everyone wants to cut down on power consumption. Danfoss has worked with a number of smart city projects globally. We have the capability and the products and services range that would help change cities into smart cities in the next 10-15 years,” he says.
Danfoss, he says, has a story to tell in each industry. “Half of India’s milk is cooled using products made by Danfoss. We supply bulk milk cooling systems which preserve milk from farm to supermarket. Wherever there is value addition in agriculture, we are there. We, however, have a long way to go. The penetration of refrigeration in China is 45%, in India it is a mere 4%. We are working out ways of bringing meat and horticultural products to market without wastage.”
As we taste pumpkin dumplings followed by banana flower fritters with various delicate chutneys, Ravichandran tells me that Arunachal Pradesh grows the best kiwifruit in the world. With proper storage and transportation, they can find a huge market in India. “Horticulture in India faces three major challenges. First, good agricultural practices are still missing. There is no widespread usage of drip irrigation. In spite of subsidies, only 20% of Tamil Nadu farmers use drip irrigation,” he says.
The second challenge, he adds, is the lack of infrastructure for grading, sorting and packing of agricultural products. “Tamil Nadu is the largest producer of bananas in the country, cultivating around nine million tonnes annually, but inefficient post-harvest practices have led to massive losses every year. An average of 30%, or 2.7 million tonnes of Tamil Nadu’s bananas, currently go to waste largely because of lack of sufficient integrated cold chain infrastructure. In the last four years, Danfoss has been working in the Theni district of the state, improving farming practices to such an extent that it is now considered a world leader in banana production. The fruits are spotless.”
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Bananas earlier selling for Rs 11 per kg are now going at the rate of Rs 32. “We introduced drip irrigation. The carbide ripening method, which is very bad for the fruit, was replaced with ethylene drying. We want to replicate the Theni model and roll out equivalent cold chain infrastructure across the state and then, in the best-case scenario, across all of India,” he adds.
Danfoss is now looking at apple, orange and pomegranate for intervention. “We are also connecting small farmers to a farmer’s producer company. Many small mango growers are coming together for this.” By this time, we have tasted tiny idlies and idiappams served with different vegetables, both traditional and non-traditional. We are winding down with sago yoghurt, which is curd rice with sago substituting for rice with tamarind and dried berry sauce served from cups and test tubes. The dessert is fennel panna cotta. Then there is a white substance sitting on a betel leaf, which is actually a pan frozen with liquid nitrogen. I try it and find it quite refreshing.
As we walk out after this rather strange but an exciting meal, Ravichandran tells me that agriculture and horticulture will emerge as the sunrise sectors. “There is a big transformation happening in this area. India can become the food factory of the world in the next 20-25 years.”