The middle-class population in the ten countries of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) will increase to 100 million by 2020 from 52 million in 2010, according to a recent report The Potential of ASEAN Revisited.

This growing affluence has a significant impact on the food industry in Asia with DBS estimating global food demand will more than double by 2020 and Asians will be consuming nearly 80 per cent as much food as Americans, up from the current 45 per cent.

ASEAN’s rapidly changing demographics mean that in addition to the need for more food, the region’s fast-growing middle class is demanding a wider variety of food and a higher level of assurance of the safety and quality of the products they are eating.

The Agricultural and Development Economics Division of The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations believes the “rapid economic and income growth, urbanization, and globalization are leading to a dramatic shift of Asian diets”.

According to the Australian Society of Agronomy , this ‘shift’ is characterised by six key trends:

  • Reduced per capita consumption of rice; 
  • Increased consumption per capita of wheat and wheat based products; 
  • Increased diversity in the food groups consumed; 
  • Rise in high protein and energy dense diets; 
  • Increased consumption of temperate zone products; 
  • The rising popularity of convenience food and beverages. 

 FIA Executive Director Bev Postma said that the region’s food supply chain is adapting to cater to the changing needs of ‘tomorrow’s consumers’.

“Asia’s increasing affluence is having a significant impact on diets across the region. People’s tastes are becoming more diverse and they have less time to spend preparing meals at home. This means people are demanding a wider variety of food products and turning to innovatively-packed and served food that can be eaten outside the home, or on the run.

“The free flow of products across the region, and more widely across the globe, is essential in ensuring the availability of a wide variety of safe, high quality food products that meet the changing needs of Asian consumers while respecting traditional values and tastes.

“According to McKinsey, only 12 per cent of food is currently traded between countries, leaving local supply chains exposed to production and supply constraints and limiting the availability of certain food products in some countries.

“It was on this premise that the ASEAN Food and Beverage Alliance (AFBA) was formed. AFBA brings together the collective knowledge and expertise of key food industry leaders in the region who will work with the ASEAN Secretariat and other key stakeholders to help promote food policies and standards that facilitate the trade of safe, accessible and high quality food across the region,” she said.

Ms Postma added that ASEAN’s efforts to promote food trade are extremely important for the overall economic development of the region.

“The food industry in ASEAN plays a vital role in the region’s economic development – it employs more than four million people, through 300,000 companies - 95 per cent of which are small and medium enterprises (SMEs).

“Efforts to stimulate the free flow of food products across the region, and more widely across the globe, is therefore critical to the overall economic development of ASEAN.

“As a vehicle dedicated to driving the harmonisation of food standards, AFBA will help remove technical barriers to trade and promote a collaborative approach to achieving sustainable growth in the food sector which will play a big role in making ASEAN a globally competitive force,” she said.