According to Indian regulator FSSAI, market leaders such as General Mills, Hindustan Unilever, Patanjali, ITC and Cargill have voluntarily agreed to start fortification of their flagship wheat flour brands.
The commitment from major producers comes after FSSAI backed the fortification of meals served on government supported food programmes at the end of last year.
Products should begin to be seen in some stores by July/August and then nationwide by December.
This decision is the outcome of a series of meetings convened by FSSAI over the past two months with businesses, including medium and small industry players.
In a meeting with FSSAI CEO Pawan Agarwal, food industry associations the Roller Flour Millers Federation of India (RFMFI), Wheat Products Promotion Society (WPPS) and Society of Indian Bakers (SIB) conveyed their commitment to start fortification of wheat flour and other products such as biscuits, breads, rusks and cakes at the earliest opportunity.
FSSAI said fortification of wheat flour with iron, folic acid and vitamin B12 offers one of the most feasible and cost-effective strategy to combat anaemia and other micronutrient deficiencies that affect more than 50% of India's population.
India has a fairly high consumption of wheat flour, with an average per person consumption of about 200-250g per day.
FSSAI announced last December that government food programmes would be used as a vehicle for fortification, in particular the Integrated Child Development Services scheme and Mid-Day-Meal programme.
“Fortification is a cost-effective and reliable means of reducing micronutrient malnutrition,” said FSSAI at the time. “The goal is not to provide 100% daily requirements of micronutrients but rather ‘fill the gap’ between intake from other sources and daily micronutrients needs.”
At an open market level, guidelines are now also being issued for fortified packaged foods such as breads, biscuits, rusk and cakes.
Meanwhile, manufacturers and retailers have agreed to increase consumer awareness of fortification, including promotion of the national logo for fortified foods.
Members of the Retailers Association of India have committed to promote the logo of fortified foods and provide a separate shelf to display such products.
Agarwal said: ''Fortification Standards and a logo for fortified foods released by FSSAI recently, has provided a rallying point for food businesses to take up fortification on a large scale. With this we can see a lot of traction amongst the food businesses to undertake fortification of entire range of their food products on a voluntary basis.
"FSSAI has also established a Food Fortification Resource Centre (FFRC) to facilitate and support food businesses in their fortification efforts. I am reasonably optimistic that fortified staple food will soon be available in the open market and most states will soon switch over to using fortified foods in the government programmes.''