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 opportunity for food manufacturers to lead a healthy movement by providing the products and services that consumers want and need.
Cleaning up 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 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 labeling system that prevents suppliers from being misleading, with 62% of Australian consumers indicating they are interested or extremely interested in natural foods according to a 2015 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, based on consumer research commissioned by Beneo.
The research showed that 94% of Indonesian and 91% of Thai respondents consider natural products as better, while 74% of Indonesian and 81% of Thai respondents actively look for natural products when making food purchase decisions.
Clearly, there is 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 recognizable 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 fibers differ significantly from man-made resistant starches or dextrins like so-called ‘soluble corn fiber’ or ‘soluble gluco fiber’ that 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 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 glycemic ingredients that do not help consumers in their effort.
Carbohydrates such as Palatinose (isomaltulose), isomalt or chicory root fibers have been proven to reduce the blood glucose response of food and beverage products.
They can replace high glycemic ingredients fully or partially while maintaining taste and texture.
Scientific studies have also shown that prebiotic fibers support weight management in the long run, with a particular focus on managing calorie intake.
Food producers can lower calorie count by lowering sugar content in product formulation by applying functional food ingredients such as sugar replacers (such as isomalt) or prebiotic fibers (like inulin and oligofructose).
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% of consumers in Indonesia and 80% in Thailand consider fiber as an ingredient that can help improve their digestive system.
For many people, enhanced bowel function resulting from a more optimal fiber intake means a noticeable improvement of gastrointestinal health and general well-being.
By applying prebiotic fiber into their products, food manufacturers can help consumers secure an increase in fiber intake and improve their digestive health while maintaining eating habits.
Create and innovate in manufacturing
Consumers are also 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.
Story by Christian Philippsen, Beneo Asia Pacific MD