Natural Foods: Natural Medicine For Your Health Featured

Consumers globally are becoming more aware of health and embarking on the health and wellness trend, and ironically we seem to be going back to the basics—unprocessed and natural—for the ultimate health products. Ben Boonlai, director of Medifoods (Thailand), spoke with APFI in an interview and shared his company’s innovative concept of creating functional foods from rice, the staple of all Asians.

Introduce your company to APFI’s readers.

Medifoods is a relatively new company that was established six years ago. We’ve been in the rice industry for more than 30 years, but for the last six years we’ve been focusing on innovation and sustainable programs to develop a new concept of functional foods to do with rice, and this new company works with organic farmers and chemical-free rice farms to achieve this. Because rice is hypoallergenic, it allows you to claim many positive clean labels, such as allergen-free, gluten-free, lactose-free, or cholesterol free.

Medifoods’ concept is that we believe food is medicine; if you do not take food as ‘medicine’ now (in terms of a healthy diet), you might need to take medicines as food in the future. In today’s world, the prevalence of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, obesity, or even high blood pressure is already high, and steadily rising every year. These make it all the more important for us to watch what we eat.

The company believes that people should consume more rice and rice products as this basic ingredient can be used to easily make functional foods (i.e. rice protein products, rice powder, rice flour, rice oil, etc.) for baby and elderly food applications, sports nutrition applications, or to simply support consumers with existing NCD conditions.

Why did you decide to go into this market?

We entered the market based on our personal belief and desire to provide truly natural, functional, and sustainable foods to help consumers enjoy the true nutrients in foods and avoid NCDs.

Cancer is another disease that is seeing a rising prevalence around the world, and this has been attributed not only to poor diets, but also the consumption of overly processed foods. With the health and wellness trend, consumers are looking for more natural solutions, minimally processed foods are the rave now.

In providing these, manufacturers should also be mindful of where they source their products from. Sustainability should be the basic fundamental concept of any food business, I believe, for success in the long-term. I think humanity needs manufacturers who are very caring about consumers and the environment, and who can use their knowledge in the proper way. It’s a corporate responsibility to provide proper support to consumers, to society, to farms, to the next generation.

Do you believe this responsibility is something all manufacturers should have?

Yes, I think this responsibility is very important. We cannot continue living in this world only to achieve something short-term, something only for our benefit, or for money. Everyone needs money, but I believe there are many ways to gain this with a good attitude, and through caring for others and the environment.

If we don’t have this attitude, ultimately we will be the ones suffering from the consequences of irresponsible behaviour, even if we played no part in it, because we are all a part of a society. There must be someone somewhere who starts having this belief and acting on it.

Are the products that you have meant for everyone and anyone?

Yes. The principle for our products comes from rice, which a lot of consumers, especially in Asia, consume as their staple carbohydrate. With the advancing technology today, we can produce nutraceutical products from rice, such as those to help reduce triglyceride or cholesterol levels in the blood. This can benefit diabetics or people with chronic kidney disease, or even those with elevated blood pressure levels.

With rice that is natural, organic, chemical-free and pesticide-free, you can make all sorts of foods that can be catered to everyone, such as baby foods, beverages, or just everyday foods.

Are your products already out in the market?

We have already begun marketing in a few regions like Europe, Australia and China, but we’re taking our time to introduce our novel foods to consumers. With novel foods, it is imperative to do this gradually so consumers understand fully what the product is and what it can do.

For example, a lot of consumers don’t realise, but there are actually three different types of oil meant for different cooking purposes. With deep frying for instance, you need an oil with a high heat resistance, so that it can be used for longer periods to fry foods with a crispy finish. Other oils can be used for deep frying too, but these would generally turn into trans fats which are not healthy; they increase your blood cholesterol levels and reduce high density lipoprotein (HDL) levels.

So as such, even oil has become more functional today, specific to certain applications. If consumers have this knowledge and use it right, the world can become a healthier place. Now it’s time to be more precise and functional.

Do you think the nutraceutical and functional foods markets will grow in the future?

Yes, I think consumers will look for more of these foods, but they will not just eat anything. With consumers being more aware of what is healthy, they will only select foods that will fit their needs and tastes. I see the trend moving towards personalised nutrition.

Just 10 years ago, technology was not as advanced and information was not that easy to come by. Today, all information about products and ingredients are easily accessible to anyone and everyone; the average consumer has become more knowledgeable about nutrition. Going at this rate, though perhaps in five years people may not be experts in nutrition, but they would have an even better awareness.

Awareness is the first step before knowledge. Once people are aware of the foods they are eating, they will become more conscious of their food choices, which will influence their health in time to come. This could possibly reduce the prevalence of NCDs worldwide.

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Asia Pacific Food Industry (APFI) is Asia’s leading trade magazine for the food and beverage industry. Established in 1985, APFI is the first BPA-audited magazine and the publication of choice for professionals throughout the industry with its editorial coverage on the latest research, innovative technologies, health and nutrition trends, and market reports.

Asia Pacific Food Industry is published by Eastern Trade Media Pte Ltd. The company owns numerous trade and consumer titles, including Asia Pacific Metalworking Equipment News and Industrial Automation Asia.

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