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Asia Pacific: Culture affects healthy eating outlook, FNI finds

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Consumers in Asia are far more likely to be interested in healthy eating than those in the western world, according to a survey commissioned by Ingredient Communications and conducted by market researchers Asia Opinions.

Researchers asked 600 consumers in Asia and 700 in the western hemisphere, including Australia and New Zealand, about their views on a range of nutrition issues.

Richard Clarke, director of Ingredient Communications tells Food News International more about the east-west eating attitudes.

FNI: Why are Asians more keen on healthy eating than the westerners?

Clarke: Although it is a generalization, I think that culturally and historically, people in Asia have always associated food with wellness.

Conversely, I believe that many people in western society have been slower to wake up to the benefits of a healthy diet.

It is only relatively recently – perhaps the past 15 years – that consumers in countries such as the UK have begun to appreciate the benefits of healthy eating.

In many Asian countries, by contrast, this is something that is ingrained in their heritage and is learned from a very early age.

Food and beverage companies in Asia understand and appreciate the culture of wellbeing that underpins the people’s lifestyles.

Therefore they create products which enhance this, rather than work against it.

FNI: How did the western diet affect Asian’s health-consciousness concerning what they eat and drink?

Clarke: The westernization of Asian diets is positive in one respect.

It reflects rising living standards and increased affluence.

A higher standard of living is always a good thing.

However, on the downside, the popularity of some western foods such as cheeseburgers and pizzas, which tend to be high in saturated fat, pose a health risk if they are not consumed in moderation.

FNI: Do you see a trend of westerners eating more Asian food in their effort to be healthy?

Clarke: Westerners in many countries have enjoyed and loved Asian food for decades, with Chinese, Indian, Japanese and Thai cuisines particularly popular.

However, Asian food is often associated with indulgence.

This means that people will eat an Asian meal as a take-away on a Friday night, or on a visit to a restaurant with friends for an evening out.

When it comes to healthy eating, much of the focus in the west is on reducing consumption of sugar, salt and saturated fat, regardless of the nationality of a dish.

It is worth noting, too, that much of the Asian food available in the west is actually quite different from what you would find if you visited the country itself.

Often, it is the case that the authentic food served in a country is much healthier than the version served in the west, which is sometimes sweeter, fattier and saltier in order to cater for western tastes.

Perhaps there is a good opportunity for Asian food companies to help westerners create Asian meals that are more authentic, and therefore in some cases healthier.

However, old habits die hard, and shifting consumer tastes and preferences might be difficult in the short term.

FNI: Could you explain on the importance of ‘glocalization’ for food manufacturers?

Clarke: Glocalization means that it is fine for larger food companies to have a global outlook.

It makes them more efficient and helps to keep their costs down.

But it is important that they adapt their products to local tastes.

In a country where there is a greater interest in healthy eating, it makes sense to ensure your product sings this message loud and clear.

In other markets, however, it is possible that the driving factors of consumption is different.

It could be that convenience is more important, or price, or enjoyment, or a combination of any of these.

The key point is that it is fine to think global, but remember that it is important to cater for specific local tastes too, hence ‘glocalization’.