Bookings for these special fares remain opened only on Wednesday from 7am and lasted only for 77 minutes
Mumbai: In a bid to woo more passengers and celebrate its seventh anniversary, budget carrier SpiceJet, the third largest airline in the country, had offered a promotional fare of as low as Rs777 to the travellers across all routes, reports PTI.
However, bookings for these special fares remain opened on 23rd May at 7am and lasted only for 77 minutes.
The airline offers the travellers, who book their two-way tickets for its flight on Wednesday at a special base fare of Rs777 (excluding government taxes) to mark the seven years of its inception, a SpiceJet release said here.
Moreover, the travellers also will not have to pay fuel surcharge on the tickets booked under this special offer, it said.
The tickets booked under this special offer will remain valid till October, it said.
"Our mission is to become the country's preferred low-cost airline, delivering the lowest air fares with the highest consumer value, to price sensitive consumers. We hope to fulfil everyone's dream of flying," SpiceJet chief executive Neil Mills said.
SpiceJet, which is now owned by Chennai-based media baron Kalanithi Maran, began its commercial operations in May 2005. With over 17% market share in April, the no-frills carrier operates 274 daily flights across 37 destinations including two international routes.
Colours of the food can influence the perceived flavour, but what is alarming is the alacrity with which food colours are used for non-food applications and vice versa. How safe are food colours and how effective is the regulation in India?
Food colours are available as liquids, powders, gels, pastes. Colour additives are used to offset colour loss due to exposure to light, air, temperature extremes, moisture and storage conditions and also intended to correct natural variations in colour. But how safe are food colours and how effective is the regulation in India?
Colours of the food can influence the perceived flavour. Sometimes the aim is to stimulate a colour that is perceived by the customer as natural or sometimes it is for effect. Off-colour foods are generally considered inferior in quality and so colours are added. Colours can also protect vitamins and flavours that may be affected by sunlight during storage. Usage of colours can enhance the natural colour of a dish and introduce decorative colours to other foods.
Specialty food ingredients typically preserve, texture, emulsify, colour, help processing, and in some cases, add an extra health dimension to produced food. These ingredients are essential in providing today’s consumer with a wide range of processed foods. Such specialty food colours help maintain or improve a product’s sensory properties like colour, taste and texture. Plain food products are presented with a fun colour aspect with natural or synthetic colours.
Natural food colour is any dye, pigment or any other substance obtained from vegetable, animal, mineral that is capable of colouring foods or drugs. Colours come from variety of sources like seeds, fruits, vegetables, algae and insects. The desired colour tinge can be obtained by bearing in mind crucial factors such as pH, storage conditions and the basic ingredients. Grass, beet root, turmeric are some of the natural sources from which colours are extracted. However, natural colours may not be suitable for high-heat applications.
Synthetic food colours are also called artificial colours. These are manufactured by chemical reaction and are commonly used in food and pharmaceutical industries. Colours that are prepared from previously certified batches of primary colours are called as Blended Food Colours. Blends can be made available to meet specific requirements of a customer in terms of shade and strength. Some of the common food colours are Tartrazine, Sunset Yellow, Amaranth, Allura Red, Quinoline Yellow, Brilliant Blue, Indigo Carmine and chocolate brown.
Packaging of food colours is equally important to preserve freshness and the desired quality. There are even pre-packed colours available that can be directly used in the final product formulation.
While synthetic colours are produced by a chemical reaction, some organisations extract natural colours from plant material using a modern process like super-critical fluid extraction. Such colours have a high shelf life and also the composition turns out to be more accurate. For instance, Curcumin 95 is a common natural colour that is produced from turmeric.
Due to consumer concerns around synthetic dyes, there is a tilt towards promotion of natural colours. Natural colours, generally, do not need certification by regulatory bodies throughout the world. Certified, synthetic colours are popular because they are less expensive but they are also effective in giving an intense and uniform colour. They can also blend easily to give a variety of hues.
Some natural colours do end up giving an unintended flavour to foods. They have also been reported to give certain allergic reactions.
To ensure reproducibility, the coloured components are provided in highly purified form; for increased stability and convenience, they can be formulated in suitable carrier materials like solids and liquids. Some standard food colourings use both synthetic and natural colours.
Natural dyes from plant products are popular but they come at a price. High quality colorants for the food industry comprise colours, lakes and pigments. In some cases, specialty fluorescent colours are also used by the food industry.
Colours that are insoluble in water are made by a chemical process called Lakes. An Aluminium lake, for instance, is produced by adsorption of water-soluble dye onto a hydrated aluminium substrate rendering the colour insoluble in water. The end product is coloured either by dispersion of the lake into the product or by coating onto the surface of the product. Lakes are more chemically stable than water soluble colours and can also produce brighter and vivid colours. These are suited for products containing oils and fats or in products that lack sufficient moisture to dissolve colours. The more finely ground the colour particles in a lake, the more effective the colour. This means that a high colour value is obtained by using a lake with minimum particle size. This can also lead to substantial cost savings. However, standardisation of lakes can pose a challenge as minor batch to batch variations are common in pigments.
Before any new ingredient is used in food, it must undergo a risk analysis and shown to be safe at its proposed levels of use. In addition to this and for some categories of specialty food ingredients (e.g. food additives), it must also be demonstrated that there is a real technological need—if this need cannot be established, then the substance will not be authorised for use in the European Union.
Food colourings are tested for safety by various bodies around the world; different bodies can have different views.
Amit Bharadwaj, CEO, Ajanta Colours says, “We are not into making natural colours because they are costly and even the Western countries are groping to address problems of stability with such colours. Most users are callow about the application of natural colours”. He adds that the innovative efforts are limited by the fact that manufacturers have to comply with the permitted list of colours stipulated by regulation. “As far as India is concerned, we are strong as a country that can manufacture colours. We have to meet the BIS (Bureau of Indian Standards) in India, but we also need to follow the regulatory requirements in countries to which we are exporting the food colours. Whether it is natural or synthetic, the key thing is to meet the desired specifications of the product as stipulated by regulation. Even if there is a tilt towards natural products, if the desired specifications are not met, then this serves no purpose”, he concludes.
Srinivas Tilak, director, Mayur Colours says,” In Western countries there are a huge number of food colours that are available as compared to India. In India the regulatory restrictions are severe in that there are only few permitted colours like Tartazine, Brilliant Blue and Sunset Yellow. Within this framework, manufacturers dilute the colours using a base like Sodium Chloride. During the earlier days, pulverized sugar was used as the base”.
Organisations like the Mumbai-based Neelikon believe that it is important to develop a product anticipating potential regulatory changes and keeping in mind the need to excel in quality and purity standards. In food products, more than the purity (dye content), it is the impurities that are important says Satyen Turakia, Director-Marketing, Neelikon.
Colours & Controversy
Food colours have also been the subject of controversy in the West; for instance, Cochineal and carmine (also called carminic acid) are derived from an American insect. These colorants are used to impart a deep red shade to fruit juices, strawberry milkshakes and candies. Some synthetic colours have been reported to cause attention deficit hyperactive disorder in children. There have been number of studies on this subject. While the results have not been conclusive, they have certainly not been reassuring too.
“We are living in a world that is dictated by global norms and regulation—more so when you have to export food items. This is the reason we are earnest about meeting European food standards, KOSHER and OSHA certifications”, says Vijay Nair, marketing manager of Ahmedabad-based Nova International. He adds that Nova is in the forefront in meeting FCC (Food Chemicals Codex) norms.
Satyen Turakia says, “The dye content is the value of colour in a product. It is measured in terms of percentage of the active component. We can have 92% active colour and balance 8% can comprise of Sodium Chloride, Moisture, impurities”. He further adds, “The impurities fall into four categories—Dye intermediates, Insolubles, Metallics and Subsidiary dyes”.
Dye intermediates refer to un-reacted dye that remains in the end product. Insolubles refer to water insoluble contaminants. Metallic refers to lead, arsenic, mercury, iron, nickel and cadmium. Subsidiary dyes are generated due to secondary reactions between parent components of raw materials. So long as the non-active components are within permissible limits, they are okay. This shows that the chemical reaction has been able to control the production of non active components.
Mr Turakhia adds, “If we have 99% active colour and 1% is the lead contaminant, then this can be a serious hazard. But if we have 90% active colour component and balance are non active components like sodium chloride, metal, moisture, etc within the limits, then this is a safer proposition. We can dilute such a product with sodium chloride and make it as a product with 20% dye content”.
The key challenges according to Mr Turakhia are the increasing levels of complacency in China and India as compared to Western Europe, Japan and USA when it comes to regulatory compliance. “Unscrupulous suppliers end up spoiling the brand image of India by supplying inferior quality products. As far as India is concerned, there are no barriers with regard to food colours as there is no one to check the quality control, manufacturing facilities or competency of people involved in the manufacture of dyes. Purity of food colours have to be checked at the ppm (parts per million) level. But as is true with other industries, the enforcement of regulation is lax in India”.
What is alarming is the alacrity with which food colours are used for non-food applications and vice versa. Metanil yellow, which is not a food colour, is widely used in Mumbai and Gujarat for colouring food items and delicacies like Ghatia. The ubiquitous pan (betel leaf) is coloured with bright red/green non-food colours. In Jaipur, food colours are used for non-food application even though it is illegal. Moong dal (pulse) is glazed with Tartarazine, tea is given an artificial colour.
If there any casualties related to such indiscriminate use of non-food colours in food items, we do not know as there is no visibility in the mainstream media about such incidents. China, too, had grappled with milk adulteration, adulterated colours in pet food and tooth pastes in the not-too-distant past.
Mr Tilak adds, “This craze for natural colours is actually a Western influence. In reality, the natural colours do not disperse as well as the synthetic ones. They are also exorbitantly priced. The only natural colour that I know is Annato, the yellow colour that goes into Amul butter. Annato seeds are grown widely in Ratnagiri. They are similar to fenugreek seeds but have good colouring potential. Extraction of natural colours is done using oil or solvent.”
Adds Mr Turakhia, “Until two years back, there was a requirement for food colours to be sold with an ISI label. With that restriction removed, it has now become a free for all.”
“We made a few recommendations to the BIS but it has been five years, we are yet to receive a response, “says Mr Turakhia. “ Due to the lengthy process involved in getting new synthetic colours approved, we have kind of stayed away from new innovations”, he sums up.
The enforcement of regulation has to be stricter and the unorganised sector needs to be kept in check. Look at the irony of the situation. India has severe regulatory restrictions on food colours but also as many unscrupulous traders and trade practices. Some colours that are used during the Holi festival also get substituted as food colours. Now if this is not alarming, nothing else is. At the end of the day, no one has the right to play with the lives of others.
Whether one was in the morning or afternoon shift, the main purpose was in making the guests “feel at home”. The 37th part of a series describing the unknown triumphs and travails of doing international business
Our hotel was situated in the “old town” of Alexandria, where, some two hundred years earlier the first lot of settlers had come in to live. It was on the Potomac river and trading was brisk. In fact, there are some very old buildings and hotels in the area that can trace back the history, and are declared ‘national’ heritage and monument sights.
Besides, Alexandria, being part of Virginia state, was the gateway to Washington DC, the capital, and because of the space limitations, thousands of government employees always lived in the area. The town, therefore, was always buzzing with activity; it had a great variety of restaurants, sight-seeing historical sites, and the connecting link to cross over to Maryland state over the bridge on Potomac. Route No. 1 passed through the town!
One of prime jobs as the supervisor was to know the town itself; I did this best by walking around the area, road by road, after my shift was over during day time, making notes of restaurants, landmarks, etc. The hotel was one of the few that was all ‘suites’ and generally occupied by business travellers visiting DC and meeting the IT companies in Virginia. So, we catered to their breakfast and supper (dinner) needs and did not have regular lunch at our restaurant. The general practice, in business has been, all over the world that most have a “work-through-lunch”, having a quick sandwich, and a leisurely dinner! Of course, our restaurant catered to group lunches upon order, which is why, it was in the evenings when guests would come for booking tables, seek recommendations after mentioning the choice of food that they wanted to eat, and have our complimentary vans drop and collect them! Not only I went on these trips regularly, but drove the coach myself, to experience the work involved.
We had some 22 suites on the ninth floor, catering to Platinum members who were served complimentary breakfasts; there were times when we had run out of rooms on this floor because of high traffic of Platinum guests. We had to assign them to different floors, but yet they had access keys to the elevators that would take them to the Club floor so that they could enjoy the benefit for breakfast in the mornings and snacks in the evenings. Of course, there were days when the assigned in charge of the Club room failed to turn up and the front desk had to cover up this lapse, by taking over that additional responsibility too. In case we had a staff problem ourselves, we had to issue complimentary breakfast at our restaurant, by giving away the coupons! In the first couple of months, I had to undergo training of running the Club room as well in case of emergencies.
Attached to the front desk was a little kiosk that contained various items of sale for the guests. Essential items like toothbrush, paste, shampoo, soap (all kinds of toiletries) were in the suites on a complimentary basis. But the shop had all other items, including snacks, soft drinks, cameras, films, shoe polish, etc. Since I was a regular visitor to Wal-Mart, I found many items, such as umbrellas and eatables that were cheap, and we introduced them in our shop. We had cigarettes on sale also, but, because of government regulations and strict enforcements, we did not make a sale until we demanded and inspected a photo ID of the buyer that he/she was old enough to make the purchase! By keeping a strict control on the sales, and cash register, I was able to bring in a good turnover, soon after I took over.
Unlike the Courtyard, at the Sheraton Suites, all the associates at the front desk had their own little ‘banks’ for their operations. At the end of the day, i.e. their shift, they had to record the dealings and drop in the collection in the safety box, which was in the control of the accounts. There were surprise checks at regular intervals to ensure that the banks were not misused by the associate. In case of misappropriation, the person concerned was relieved of the duty.
When I joined the Suites, we did have an exclusive floor, designed for ‘smokers’ only. On some days, when we were sold out, we had no choice, but to allocate the rooms to non-smokers, who did not accept them, but when bookings were made, our sales operators were trained to clarify the position of this possibility on such days. We did our best to have the housekeeping do the special cleaning and spraying, but we did have trouble with guests, who were compensated in many ways for this unfortunate situation, arising out of total sell-out.
On the second floor, we had a gym, which was open always (accessible by the room key for the guest), but the swimming pool had its operating times, as, due to the Alexandria County regulations only a lifeguard, certified by them, must be present, when it is open to the guests. We could not, therefore, employ even the Olympic gold medallist, if he/she was not certified as a lifeguard by the county. This was the general regulations in most other places, as well.
The gym had a great number of items for the guest to use; but the selection and type of equipment was uniform for all the Sheratons of the same category, but only the number of units may increase, in relation to the size of the rooms in each location. It had nice and pleasant warm water during cold wintery months, while it was cold water for summer. In either case, however, in case of first thunderstorm, due to the possibility of lightening, we had to clear all the users out of the pool immediately.
There were emergency phones available at all important locations, such as above, in order to meet any contingency. Children were not permitted to use the gym unless they were accompanied by a responsible adult member of their family. As a matter of courtesy to the guests, we delivered USA Today every morning to all the occupants; the (Platinum) guests, staying in the Club level had the Wall Street Journal additionally. If someone wanted the Washington Post, they had to get it from the shopee at the lounge.
Whether one was in the morning or afternoon shift, the main purpose was in keeping the guests happy, comfortable and to make them “feel at home”. Every complaint was promptly attended to by the associate concerned and if the guest made difficult demands, the supervisor and/or manager took over the situation and resolved the issue. Guest commentary cards were not only collected, but serious follow up action taken so that such mistakes, if any, did not recur. We were repeatedly told that one unhappy customer is likely to talk about his/her experience to ten other prospective guests, which was detrimental to our interests. We had to remember that an unhappy guest would voluntarily talk about his/her bad experience, as against a happy one, who would only make a good recommendation, when he/she is asked for opinion!
All the front desk associates had to go through the first aid training programs and take part in other customer-related workshops that were regularly conducted by the Human Resources director. Krista and John from Courtyard had become part of the Suites, much to my liking, and Jodie Chang also joined us a little later to take over the sales manager.
I was getting well acquainted with the Geac System and as new associates joined, it became my responsibility to train them as well and take care of their needs until they were able to handle the work independently.
The rush for check-out would become very high just after breakfast in the mornings, as guests would be in a hurry to leave, catch their flights and so on. Yet, in the process of doing this job, we had to keep a good conversation with them and seek their comments on the Guests Commentary Cards; if they had confronted any small issues, they may have overlooked them. If this was not take care of during the check out process, they may be rightly tempted to write this down when they get a questionnaire about their stay, which was sent by emails. If we did not enquire about their stay and how they enjoyed it will also be considered as an affront. So, not only we learnt to remember the names of our guests, but also their likes and dislikes, particularly if they were becoming a regular visitor.
The guest commentary card was analysed at the national level and the corporate office would evaluate the reports, by a team of experts, and place the hotel ratings suitably. We had to remember that we were in competition with other Sheraton Suites, nation-wide, and we had to stand out as the best. Not an easy task, we were in good wicket.
We learnt to create a sense of belonging for the guests and we all went the extra mile to accomplish this feat, as far as possible.
AK Ramdas has worked with the Engineering Export Promotion Council of the ministry of commerce and was associated with various committees of the Council. His international career took him to places like Beirut, Kuwait and Dubai at a time when these were small trading outposts. From being the advisor to exporters, he took over the mantle of a trader, travelled far and wide, and switched over to setting up garment factories and then worked in the US. He can be contacted at [email protected].)