Neelikon has emerged as a prime manufacturer of high quality .6 for food colour, pharmaceutical colours, cosmetic colours, personal care colours and ink industries. The company management talks about its three decades long successful journey, in a candid interaction with Sachin Jagdale
How has food, drug and cosmetic colour industry in India evolved? What is your contribution in the same?
Colour is one of the most important qualities of food, it makes the food appealing and affects every moment of our lives. There have been colours used in foods for centuries to increase consumer acceptability. Centuries before, human race was using natural food colour to improve visual appeal. Some of these natural colours were turmeric, saffron and burnt sugar. These colours were obtained from plant, animal and mineral sources. Unfortunately, natural resources are not available in uniform colours. There is quality and colour variation because of seasonal changes. They are unable to sustain high cooking temperature. They are also unstable in sunlight. They are not available in various shades in water-soluble form. Thus, natural colours had their own drawbacks like heat, pH and light instability, as well as poor stability against oxidising agents in food, which made synthetic colours gain popularity in the food industry.
Chemically synthesised colours were easier to produce, less expensive and superior in colouring properties. They blended easily without imparting flavours of their own to foods.
In the beginning of the 19th century, the bulk of synthetic colours were derived from the petroleum product aniline, therefore they were called ‘coal-tar’ colours because the starting materials were obtained from coal. As the use of synthetic colours in food increased, it raised safety concerns which led to numerous regulations throughout the world and in the US. After detailed study, 16 out of 700 colours tested were found suitable and safe for human consumption.
The Prevention of Food Adulteration Act of India permits the use of eight synthetic colours in specified food commodities.
In the last two decades, the food market has changed rapidly with a larger proportion of processed foods and instant foods. To make processed foods appealing and to attract the consumer, application of an appropriate food colour is necessary and selection of food colour is a great challenge in terms of cost, stability and feasibility of the colour.
To meet the demand of food colours for application to a wide variety of foods including beverages and confectionery, eight synthetic colours, three for red shade (Carmoisine, Ponceau 4R, Erythrosine), two for yellow shade (Tartrazine and Sunset Yellow), one for green (Fast green FCF) and two for blue shade (Brilliant blue FCF and Indigo Carmine) and eleven natural colours are available under the current legislation in India. Developments in the technology of food colour preparation, improvement in the stability of colours and preparation of colour formulations including the search for new colourants are important aspects of study in the area of colours.
For more than 30 years, Neelikon has been a prime manufacturer of high quality colours, dyes, cosmetic pigments and lakes for food, pharma products, cosmetic, personal care, homecare, stationary and inkjet ink industries. In our journey since inception, we have indigenously developed technologies for manufacturing food colours, drug and cosmetic colours, external D&C Colours. Today, Neelikon is recognised as a global supplier of colours for food, drug and cosmetic applications. Neelikon offers the following to the industry:
- US FDA certified FD&C colours, D&C Colours and Lakes
- Food colours, pharma colours and cosmetic colours meeting US-FDA, European and Japanese legislation
- Food colours meeting specifications recommended by Joint FAO/ WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA), and
- Speciality fluorescent colours used in production of daylight fluorescent pigments, textile dyeing, non-destructive testing (NDT), plastic colouration etc
- Neelikon colours are sold in more than 100 countries
- Neelikon is an ISO 9001 : 2008, FSSC 22000 (ISO 22000 + PAS220) & GMP Certified Company
- Neelikon colours are: Halal, Kosher, ISI & Non-GMO certified
- Neelikon is REACH compliant
- Neelikon is committed to supply best quality colours, meeting legislative and statutory requirements by adapting good manufacturing practices consistently
What were the challenges in the initial days of the business? How did you overcome them?
Initially, after our promoter/ MD Mukund Turakhia’s graduation from UDCT (Now BUDCT at Matunga, Mumbai) as a chemical engineer, we started the production of food colour Sunset Yellow with indigenous technology contribution from our in-house technical team. Today, apart from purity of the food colour, we look for other parameters like level of subsidiary dyes, metallic content, dyes intermediates etc. At that time there was no concept of purity of raw materials. After entering in this business, our challenge was to cater to the Indian market as well as to manufacture quality product complying with international norms like the US FDA. For the same, we worked hard to develop our indigenous technologies to manufacture colours complying with US FDA Norms.
When we started manufacturing, there was no awareness in the Indian market about quality with respect to purity. There were many challenges, being an Indian manufacturer in the global market, we have to depend on other countries for feedstock. In those days, it was challenging to get the raw material [irrespective of quality]. After receiving the raw materials, the second task was to manufacture the product from available raw materials and there was no choice for selection of raw material supplier. Initially, we had to face many problems due to lack of awareness about the quality of raw materials. We were not aware about the right quality of raw materials. After gaining experience, we started our in-house facility to process raw materials procured from the market to get the right quality as per our expectations. The next challenge was to market the finished product. The physical appearance was a major parameter to confirm that we have manufactured the product. In order to cater to the local Indian market, the product needs to qualify as per BIS standards and for the same, we have developed our in-house analysis facility. To comply with the specifications by global bodies like the US FDA, JECFA and Japanese FDA, we have to manufacture the product and test it before they are dispatched. A majority of the FDA testing was done by sophisticated analytical instruments. To get command over analysis, we trained our manpower, procured instruments and developed our sophisticated instrumental analysis facility. One of our strong point is from day one i.e. since the inception of Neelikon, we treat our customer feedback/ complaints as suggestions for progress. Every customer’s complaints/ suggestions are evaluated properly at our organisation irrespective of our business [whether for 1 kg order/ 1000 kg order]. Quality improvement based on the feedback from any customer is not only maintained for a particular customer but passed on to all of them.
Water soluble dyes were originally produced as fine powders. The customers complained about the these colour powders due to the problem of dusting. We overcame the problem by offering some of our products in granule form.
So, if we look back on our business before 1990, there were only chemical test methods for evaluation of food colours. Today, Neelikon analytical laboratory is well equipped with sophisticated instruments like:
- Inductively Coupled Plasma [ICP]
- HPLC chromatographic Systems
- Color matching spectrophotometer
- Particle size analyzer
Which industry is more challenging as far as manufacturing colours are concerned? Why?
All are the same. Since the end use of the colour is for human consumption, it is our duty to make them aware about correct selection and application of colour with respect to quality.
Colourants are mainly used to impart a distinctive appearance to pharma dosage forms. There are many types of pharma formulations which need to be coloured such as tablets, tablet coatings, capsules (hard gelatin, soft gelatin), liquid orals, tooth pastes, ointments etc. The purpose of colouring varies with different formulations. Colouring may be required to increase the aesthetic appearance, prolong the stability, produce standard reparations or for identification of a particular formulation. Colour psychology says that the colour of the product may also influence the efficacy of the therapy.
Colours are important in many pharma applications. Pharmacists consider colour and shape as the most important attributes for patients to identify medications. Coloured tablets significantly reduce medication errors.
Thus, the prime priority of colourants is to increase the aesthetic appearance of the product, so we can say that the colourants are the cosmetics for pharma formulations.
Give details of your manufacturing plants (capacity, products, markets etc).
We have two manufacturing units situated at Dhatav which is 130 km away from Mumbai. We have a total of 13 plants and produce more than 70 products.
What percentage of your revenue comes from pharma business? What is your global share as far as pharma grade colours are concerned?
Our present revenue in India from pharma is approximately 20 per cent.
How will you differentiate Neelikon from its competitors?
In line with our Prime Minister’s goal of ‘Make in India’, we are a proud Indian manufacturer competing with the best in the world. We compete against world class producers from the US and Japan. We consider our competitors as our strength. Healthy competition is always good for all in the industry and of course, for our customers who will get a world class product and service.
What are your expansion plans? Do have any pharma industry-specific expansion plans?
Expansion is a continuous activity at Neelikon. We have plans to further expand in 2016-17 with new manufacturing plants for some of our fluorescent dyes and cosmetic dyes as also increasing the capacity of ETP, warehouses and sales offices. In the market there is an increasing awareness to use quality food colours and customers have started enquiring about the impurities present and its effects on human beings, especially children.