WITH its attractive GDP and population growth numbers, Asia is the target market for global industry players. For the food and beverage sector, the region’s diversity can be both a challenge and an opportunity. From the influential Gen Z in Southeast Asia, to the ageing population in Japan and the rising affluent consumers in China, manufacturers must be able to meet the wide-ranging needs of their chosen markets.
With presence in 14 countries in Greater Asia, IFF, a leader in taste and food ingredients, knows this diversity well, and has been helping customers understand the region’s complex demographic profile. Just this year, the company inaugurated a high-tech Singapore Innovation Centre to integrate its technologies, capabilities and expertise in its business divisions: Nourish, Health & Biosciences, Scent and Pharma Solutions. With the new hub, IFF aims to better support Asia-based customers by accelerating their innovation and expanding co-creation capabilities to drive speed to market.
According to Michelle Lee, the Regional Marketing Leader, Greater Asia for IFF, the priority in Asia’s emerging markets is generally tied to product affordability. Among the growing segments in this market are ready meals, such as packaged foods, instant noodles, baked products, as well as yogurts and UHT milk.
Michelle Lee, the Regional Marketing Leader, Greater Asia for IFF
In Southeast Asia, IFF sees two rising trends, namely indulgence as related to the fun of bonding with family. The other is “travel with food”, a trend which captures the need of consumers to satisfy their cravings for authentic international flavours without having to leave their country. This trend is likely to stay on as consumers feel the pinch of recession, but do not want to compromise on their quality of life. Gourmet ready meals, barista quality drinks, and cooking aids can also give them the feel of luxury dining experiences in the comfort of their home. But consumers can benefit from solutions for quick meal preparations to cut cooking time and energy use, as well.
While in a developed market like Japan, the focus remains on health and nutrition, particularly on high protein drinks, functional foods, and products that support immunity.
In China, which has developed into many tier cities, the higher income middle-class is becoming more evident. “The market is going into the indulgence phase where they want to enjoy life because they are able to afford things and enjoy better foods. That tells me they have improved their quality of life,” says Ms Lee.
Most F&B brand owners have been successful in entering these different Asian markets through collaborations with companies which first and foremost have the capability to spot good trends.
At Fi Asia 2022, IFF’s Future of Wellness booth showcases its insights-led, end-to-end innovation capabilities, and an industry-leading portfolio of flavours and ingredients across categories.
Thriving at co-creation
For its customers, IFF utilises a framework enabling the analysis of current trends or situations and their short- and long-term impact on markets. The company tracks lifestyle and societal trends to identify consumer behaviour and habits, examine micro-trends, and validate these with their partners.
As a global company, IFF is in a good position to advise its customers on the trends as these occur – or are about to occur – in North America, Europe and Asia. Whether a customer is a trendsetter or a follower, they can benefit from IFF’s science-based tools, creativity and insights for product innovation, from conceptualisation to commercialisation.
IFF mostly engages in customisation since customers are often at different stages in their product development, and target different markets as well. Its expertise lies in texture, tonalities, and flavour profiles and solutions for taste improvement and shelf-life extension. It will assist customers with other requirements such as machinery to make sure product ideas reach fruition.
“This is our lifeblood,” explains Ms Lee. “We are a one-stop provider and offer end-to-end solutions. We know what consumers are looking at; we have the capability to predict what is to come, and we translate this knowledge into a new concept that we will showcase to our customers or partners. From there, cooperation begins. If we are unable to do it in Asia, we have a huge global network that we can rely on. We also help our customers expand to other markets.”
Plant-based fish fingers were among the products IFF highlighted at Fi Asia 2022.
Watching the plant-based trend
On plant-based, which is one of the fastest rising categories in Asia, Ms Lee cautions on the challenges as well as the need to study the market more closely. This comes from the uncertainty – within the industry – on whether plant-based will continue on its positive trajectory.
As the plant-based industry evolves, consumers are also becoming more knowledgeable about what they want from plant-based foods: nutrition, health and taste.
“We are still seeing some market challenges, so we need to understand what we are targeting, what the consumer’s pain points are, such as why they are not making repeat purchases. Having said that, Ms Lee believes that interested companies should explore the market further or wait and see.
But for customers that want to pursue the market now, IFF is ready with its innovative plant-based solutions, and the market knowledge. It has a portfolio of plant-based flavours, while its sensory partner screens through various flavour tonalities and flavour development areas, and texture experts recreate real-life meat textures.
“We are not trying to mimic meat, because if we start to think that way, the consumer would have meat as the benchmark, which we know that for all intents and purposes, is not to make meat alternative as a meat. We want to talk about healthier directions,” explains Ms Lee.
“We can offer nutrition, a high protein content similar to real meat. One of this is our SUPRO® MAX structured vegetable protein. To this we add a texturiser to lend the chewiness or meat-like structure.”
On the basis of health, Ms Lee says it is necessary to understand why the plant-based consumer wants to cut down on meat. If the reason is that they prefer to cut down on fat, then solutions with low fat and sodium can replace ingredients like MSG.
“This is the direction we follow, to be able to cut all the bad, and add in all the good.”
Besides meat, plant-based dumplings and chicken nuggets have been among best-selling products in Asia. With the right technology and ingredients, other products like succulent plant-based fish and other seafood can be developed.
Since raw material supply is still affected by global crises, food brands are seeking ways and methods to reduce their use of materials, or consider better substitutes. In recent months, the cost and availability of certain edible oils in particular have become a cause of concern for manufacturers. According to Ms Lee, for this, IFF has ingredient solutions for oil replacement and oil usage reduction – to help brands maintain their production, and in the long run, contribute to cost reduction.
While in efforts to cut waste and maximise resources, IFF carries out upcycling activities and food waste-reduction projects. The company has been a member of the Upcycled Food Association since 2019. It has been successful in extracting and utilising the rich essential oils in orange peels, which would normally be discarded. These oils are now used in their flavourings and botanical extracts.
Nurturing new talent
Aside from its customers, IFF has also been collaborating with universities to support talented individuals who have a place in the food industry. This is their way of giving back to society.
“We sponsor events that nurture young talents and mentor university students so they can use their knowledge to get early access and exposure to the industry,” shares Ms Lee. Through internships at IFF, students can understand what work entails and the skills that are necessary, such as understanding how to market a product, manage cost, and other technical competencies. “Sometimes they work on something that is so expensive that nobody can afford,” Ms Lee says.
The future of wellness
While the pandemic has changed many aspects of life and living, the future is always something to look forward to. Through better formulated food and beverage products that incorporate their ingredients and technologies, IFF sees itself as continuing to help consumers look after their physical, mental and emotional health for years to come. “When we design, we always have the consumer’s benefits in mind. The higher purpose is to do more good for the planet and for the people by applying science and creativity,” Ms Lee concludes.