As lifestyles change and consumer awareness of the importance of healthy living grows, consumers today are increasingly seeking food products that offer a balanced nutritional profile. Nevertheless, many find it hard to follow a restricted diet or change their eating habits. As such, there is an incredible opportunity for food manufacturers to lead a healthy movement by providing the products and services that consumers want and need. In this article, BENEO Asia Pacific Managing Director Christian Philippsen takes a look ahead and brings us through what we can expect of Asia’s food industry in 2017, highlighting the major trends shaping the region’s food sector.
Cleaning up our labels
Naturalness and transparency are key for today’s consumers who increasingly want to know what goes into their food, as well as how it is made. When reading food product labels, shoppers these days are more discerning when choosing products that meet their requirements, and many are seeking ‘natural’ attributes that can be verified.
Australia has led the charge in this area by implementing a new country of origin food labelling system that prevents suppliers from being misleading, with 62 percent of Australian consumers indicating they are interested or extremely interested in natural foods according to a research survey carried out by Healthfocus International.
Similarly, consumers in Asia continue to rank statements such as ‘no artificial ingredients’, ‘no preservatives’ and ‘contains only natural ingredients’ high on their choices in decision making, confirmed by consumer research commissioned by BENEO. The research showed that 94 percent of Indonesian and 91 percent of Thai respondents consider natural products as better, while 74 percent of Indonesian and 81 percent of Thai respondents actively look for natural products when making food purchase decisions.
Clearly, there’s a broad trend towards simplicity in food item choices. Manufacturers cannot ignore the fact that consumers are increasingly focused on ‘all things natural’ including clean label and recognisable ingredients, for example, inulin and oligofructose are ingredients made by nature and are obtained via a gentle hot water extraction method from chicory root. These chicory root dietary fibres differ significantly from man-made resistant starches or dextrins like so-called “soluble corn fibre” or “soluble gluco fibre” which are synthesized by treating starch or glucose syrup with heat and acid respectively.
Maintaining a healthy weight
Weight management continues to be a key concern for many consumers around the world, with surveys in Asia indicating a growing self-awareness and self-consciousness among respondents of their own weight. According to the World Health Organisation, a reduction of sugar consumption cuts the risk of overweight and obesity. However, when implementing this tactic/approach it is often ignored that effective weight management needs to go hand in hand with blood glucose management. Lower insulin levels are beneficial for the lowering of the risk of non-communicable diseases such as type II diabetes and obesity, however more often than not sugars are replaced with high glycaemic ingredients which doesn’t help consumers in their efforts.
Carbohydrates such as Palatinose™ (isomaltulose), isomalt or chicory root fibres have been proven to reduce the blood glucose response of food and beverage products. They can replace high glycaemic ingredients fully or partially while maintaining taste and texture.
Scientific studies have also shown that prebiotic fibres support weight management in the long run, with a particular focus on managing calorie intake. Indeed, oligofructose-enriched inulin (Orafti® Synergy1) and oligofructose have been proven to have beneficial effects on energy balance, as they help to reduce spontaneous caloric intake in those who consume a non-restricted diet.
There are various ways to maintain a healthy weight. But for many consumers the most effective way in weight management is cutting down on calorie consumed.
Food producers can lower calorie count by lowering sugar content in product formulation by applying functional food ingredients such as sugar replacers (e.g., isomalt) or prebiotic fibres (e.g., inulin and oligofructose). Being soluble and having a mild sweet taste yet with only half the calories of sucrose, chicory root fibres inulin and oligofructose are ideal sugar replacers as they help to cut down on calories while maintaining taste and texture. At the same time, they add valuable prebiotic fibre content to the product. Also, with half the calories of sucrose, isomalt is the only sugar replacer derived from beet sugar and thus has a sugar-like sweetening profile.
Enhancing digestive health
More consumers today recognise that the way they look and feel is closely related to their digestive health. Many are now prioritising products that promote digestive health in their food purchase decisions. The same Southeast Asia survey also revealed that 74 percent of consumers in Indonesia and 80 percent in Thailand consider fibre as an ingredient that can help improve their digestive system.
The European Commission approved an exclusive health claim for BENEO’s prebiotic fibre inulin improving digestive health. Chicory root fibres are fully fermented in the large intestine and short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) are formed by the selective fermentation through beneficial colon microbiota. SCFAs are known to have a stimulating effect on bowel movements by improving the number of bowel movements per week, without triggering diarrhoea. In addition, due to the growth of the colon microbiota, prebiotic fermentation of chicory root fibres stimulates bowel movements in a mild and natural manner.
For many people, enhanced bowel function resulting from a more optimal fibre intake means a noticeable improvement of gastrointestinal health and general wellbeing. By applying prebiotic fibre into their products, food manufacturers can help consumers secure an increase in fibre intake and improve their digestive health while maintaining eating habits.
Create and innovate in manufacturing
Today’s consumers are knowledgeable about nutrition and savvy when it comes to choosing and buying food items. The demand for functional ingredients that provide credible and scientifically backed health benefits to overcome the most important concerns such as weight management and diabetes will continue to grow. In addition, consumers will increasingly read labels before making purchasing decisions to ensure food products comply with their understanding of natural, simple, and clean label products. Successful food manufacturers will be those that strive towards offering innovative products that can satisfy consumers in their demand for both naturalness and nu sound substantiation.