The food and beverage markets in the Middle East and Africa are contrasting in many ways, but there is a unifying element that the industry cannot ignore, and that’s the growing interest in health and wellness, and the demand for F&B companies to provide better and more nutritious products.
In the GCC, particularly the UAE and KSA, which lead the region’s F&B sector, such products as cereals, value-added dairy, meat-based products, as well as fruits and vegetables are the most consumed goods, according to the latest report from Frost & Sullivan. While working to become more food-secure, in the GCC over 70% of products consumed are imported.
Food Manufacturing Journal – Middle East recently talked to Kerry about today’s F&B landscape in MENAT. Contributing to the interview were: Victoria Sweiss, Senior Marketing Specialist, Kerry Middle East, North Africa, Turkey (MENAT); Aanchal A Kumar, Business Development Manager, Kerry; DrAoife Marie Murphy, Nutrition Scientist, Kerry; and Omar Lechuga, Research and Development Director, Kerry Middle East, North Africa, Turkey (MENAT).
How would you describe the typical Middle Eastern / North African consumer?
Our region is going through a period of increased awareness and change. Due to local government agendas with regards to health regulations, and an overriding wave of localisation initiatives, consumers are demanding products tailored to their tastes and health needs. There is a constant dynamic between health, indulgence, convenience and safety. And these factors mean different things to consumers depending on the country and the category being considered.
Over the past two to three years, what health trends have become apparent in the Middle East? North Africa?
Consumers in the Middle East, North Africa and Turkey (MENAT) were already proactively approaching health and wellness, even before the global pandemic. They were looking to products with added functionality and clinically proven health benefits. In 2019, the functional food and beverage market in MENAT stood at more than USD9billion, growing at a CAGR of 2.8% between 2014-2019.
Definitely we see an increased interest in “better for you” products. These are products that have been reformulated to make them healthier. Examples include low calorie, low fat, sugar-reduced products. This rising interest is both due to consumer demand as people become more health-conscious, as well as regulations around sugar, fat, and salt that are being implemented across the region. We also see an increase in “good for you” products which have an added ingredient that offer more health benefits. Examples are yoghurt and dairy products with added protein or probiotics. Other foods consumers in Saudi look to for added health benefits: fruit and vegetable juices, snacks like nuts, chips and even cookies, and dietary supplements. And 66% rank breakfast as the best time to consume foods with health benefits. The type of benefits consumers in the region are seeking is ever changing or evolving due to the global pandemic. Right now we can expect demand for more “good for you” products as manufacturers adapt to meet consumer health needs.
In both these regions and Turkey, is there apparent change in consumer behaviour /eating habits / choice of food, due to the COVID-19 pandemic?
Yes. For example, according to Kerry MENAT Proactive Health Proprietary Consumer Research conducted in July 2020, more than 78% of consumers in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) said they would buy more healthy lifestyle products as a result of the global pandemic, and 83% of the Turkish population seek more locally produced products. Consumers recognise that poor lifestyle choices are something that increase the risk of disease and illness, especially in later life. Without a vaccine, reliance on nutrition and health products has surged.
We see specific areas of health benefits rise in importance versus others that were perhaps important before the global pandemic. COVID-19 has intensified consumer demand for immune health products across these regions. Consumers understand that having a weak immune system leaves them vulnerable and can increase their risk of infection and contracting other diseases. Over the last few months, consumers have been actively looking for products, in particular food and beverage products, that offer them immune health benefits. For example, Google trends data shows that searches for the term “boost the immune system” rose by 88% in KSA early 2020 and ‘immunity’ rose by 83% in Turkey. Brands will need to be mindful of the degree to which they deliver on health claims as consumers today want transparency and brands they can trust. In fact, 59% of KSA consumers are likely to buy healthy lifestyle products with claims based on scientific data.
Obesity in both children and adults has been one of the region’s problems especially in the GCC. Are you aware of any new research suggesting a decline/increase in the rates of lifestyle diseases in this region?
According to WHO Regional Strategy on Nutrition (2010-2019), half of the eastern Mediterranean region’s adult women (50.1%) and more than two in five men (43.8%) are overweight or obese. WHO’s target is to reduce obesity in children and adults by 35% by introducing nutrition labelling schemes that support healthy choices, and monitoring the food environment, including nutritional quality, food prices and marketing practices. Nutrition is a key indicator of health. Ingredients like salt, fat and sugar drive obesity and non-communicable disease, with 54% of KSA consumers saying they are concerned about heart health.
Are GCC consumers particular about ingredients in packaged food products?
There is increasing awareness of this but there is still a long way to go and educating consumers needs to play an important role. For example, all restaurants in KSA were required to display the calorie count on their menus around the beginning of last year. This is considered very progressive, given that even in Europe this is not required today.
Educating consumers about the healthy amount of calories to eat depending on their age, weight and nutritional and health needs will help drive this powerful policy to have a meaningful impact on consumers. It helps that consumers themselves are aware and proactively seeking to avoid chronic diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, among other increasingly common health conditions.
Are there developments in regulatory standards/guidelines for health products that you would like to talk about?
Currently, government health regulators in Turkey and Saudi Arabia are focusing on fat, sugar, calories and salt, which may drive demand for healthier food and drink formulations in foods for adults and children alike. In Nov 2018, the Saudi Food & Drug Authority (SFDA) launched their Strategy of Regulating Healthy Food. As part of this strategy, food producers will sign agreements where they commit to voluntarily reducing the amount of sugar, salt and fat in in products.
The strategy includes a new standard for salt limit guidelines for food and a draft standard with upper limits on added sugar in some foods. Additionally, SFDA prohibits the use of partically hydrogenated oils (source of trans fats.)
In 2018, the Turkish Ministry of Health, in collaboration with the food industry, launched the ‘Cooperation Platform for Reducing Excessive Salt Consumption', which published a salt reduction plan for the food industry. 'Low/no/reduced sodium' claims are present in 3% of Turkish food and drink launches, up from 1% in 2015. As part of a new regulation, from the 2019-2020 school year, schools in Turkey will only be able to retail foods bearing a government-approved logo as part of a government scheme to offer healthier choices for students. This should help raise awareness of healthy eating among children.
Please share solutions available from Kerry to help food and beverage companies develop healthier products in these regions.
Kerry offers two leading ingredients with scientifically substantiated immune health benefits. Wellmune®, a natural food, beverage and supplement ingredient, is the only yeast beta glucan supported by over a dozen published, peer-reviewed clinical studies that’s proven to strengthen the immune system. There is growing interest in the role of the microbiome in immune health, and an increasing awareness of the specific benefits of probiotics. GanedenBC30® is a leading spore-forming probiotic. It is supported by more than 25 published papers and has been shown to support the link between digestive and immune health and better protein utilisation.
Additionally, Kerry offers a wide range of plant and dairy proteins, dietary fibres, sugar and salt reduction solutions to deliver optimum nutrition through healthy lifestyle products. According to a Mintel report, Middle Eastern consumers are health conscious, but are likely to be attracted to products that balance health with taste.
One of our key solutions then is TasteSense™, a clean-label natural flavour portfolio of taste solutions that balances nutrition in products where sugar- salt- fat-reduction occurs, where alternative dairy is used, and fortification is involved. The objective: meet evolving consumer demands while retaining the taste and textures they love. To be specific, TasteSense™ delivers consumer-preferred taste where plant-based ingredients, fortification, natural and artificial sweetening agents (stevia and high intensity sweeteners) are added. It is highly versatile in a variety of food and beverage applications. It optimises the taste, aroma and mouthfeel of food and beverage products, improving overall consumer taste appeal.
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