A Look at Food and Drink Trends in the Asia Pacific Region

Healthier alternatives, brand story, visual eating, changing lifestyles. These describe the four key food and drink trends in Asia Pacific that were revealed by global market intelligence agency Mintel, in the second offering of Food Industry Asia’s (FIA) Lunch Series held in Singapore on 16 March 2016. 

“The 2016 Food and Drink Trends explore how consumers’ evolving priorities, advancements in functional formulation, and the almost inescapable reach of technology will affect food and drink,” said Ms Avanthi Ravindran, Senior Trend and Innovation Consultant at Mintel South-East Asia and India. 

“The trends are the result of observations, insights and predictions of more than 100 Mintel analysts from around the world who represent a range of industries that include food, drink and food service,” she added.

Ms Ravindran’s presentation expanded on Food and Beverage Trends: What Will Shape the 2016 Global Market? From the 12 key global trends, Mintel pulled out four key mega trends that are likely to shape innovation in the Asia Pacific region in the coming year and developing further over the next three to five years. 

According to Mintel, the first key trend is about consumers trying to eat healthier and exploring a lot of alternative health products as many consumers now recognise the balancing act of achieving a healthy diet. From a product perspective, there is a clear increase in vegan or vegetarian claims in the last five years. Bakery, snacks, sauces and seasonings are emerging spaces for product innovation in this area. 

On the other hand, being physically active is equally important as following a healthy diet. The rising promotion and organisation of athletic programs showcases a parallel need for food and drink that helps consumers get acquainted with sports nutrition elements which is becoming more important to mainstream consumers who want to be healthier and fitter. These consumers tend to look for energy or sports nutrition benefits in their everyday products as well. From this key trend, Ms Ravindran noted that “companies should bear in mind that the mainstream segment is constantly expanding because more and more people are recognising the need to be healthier, as shown in the growing interest for these type of products. We need to continue to look for new sources and innovate.”
Consumers have been romanced by the stories products are telling about their origin, ingredients or inspiration. However, confusion arises when similar claims are being made by legitimately hand-crafted products as well as mass-produced food and drink.  The second key trend, called based on a true story, is a starting point and where the concept of "craft," "handmade" and "handcrafted" are picking up. Honest communication about a product also involves using technological innovation such as QR codes which carry information about the origin, ingredients and the processes that went with it. Big manufacturers can take a cue from the “think small” mentality and use that in terms of devising some strategies on how to give that story to consumers. The key thing is that consumers want to know.

“Consumers are really buying into the stories that brands are telling them: where it comes from, what is special about it, who made it and how exclusive the product makes the consumer feel. We are also seeing bigger manufacturers recognising the fact that consumers are wanting more of these original stories within the products they buy,” said Ms Ravindran. 

While flavour has long been the focus of innovation, our more visual and share-focused society calls for innovations that are boldly coloured, artfully constructed and sometimes just cool, according to research done by Mintel on this third trend. In this day and age, eating is all about how the food looks. Consumers are more active on social media and food is often the central element of posts, driving creativity at restaurants and at home that brands can tap into or drive.

“Going beyond this trend of eating with your eyes, we're talking about how people want to share their experiences and why they capture food. From a manufacturer's perspective, there is a lot of innovation happening with colour, shape and the element of playfulness in a product, which is something that consumers want,” Ms Ravindran noted. 

She added that while there is a lot of play on texture and appearance, there is also a health element to it. Chia seeds are an example of a new texture aspect that is visually appealing but at the same time it is a health ingredient.
There are two aspects within the fourth trend; changing lifestyles. First across age groups, more consumers are living in single-person households or occasionally eating meals alone. These meals for one require right-sized products and packaging as well as promotions that further erode any stigma of dining solo. While not an immediate issue but one for the future, Ms Ravindran noted that the ageing population is rapidly growing especially in Asia. She also emphasised the factors to consider when targeting one-person households and ageing consumers. These are nutritional needs, price and convenience, and portion size among other things.

The other side to this change in lifestyle is the growth of online shopping, applications and on-demand delivery services that are transforming consumers’ access to deals, niche food and drink products, and even full meals. With Internet penetration growing in South-East Asia, the development of new solutions within e-commerce is building. Physical stores can also experiment with online ordering, subscriptions or delivery, offering loyal customers convenience without sacrificing loyalty.

Ms Ravindran added that “E-revolution such as online shopping is going to grow further in the next few years despite a slower growth curve in Asia compared to what is seen in Western markets. Growth in internet penetration will lead to further development of this trend in Asia.”

In conclusion, Ms Ravindran noted that in terms of the healthier alternative trend, Australia is obviously quite ahead of the curve, but within South-East Asia, Singapore and Thailand are leading some of these developments, with other markets in the region following. Japan and Korea are also in the advanced space, and a lot more are being done in China and India. 

FIA Lunch Series

The “FIA Lunch Series” features speakers and panels on topics that are relevant to FIA’s priorities, and offers attendees opportunities to engage with these experts. 

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