According to internationally respected food trends expert Julian Mellentin, ‘naturality’ is the biggest trend in key Asian markets this year. Consumers are demonstrating a preference for what they perceive as ‘natural’ products, with an inclination towards fewer and simpler ‘wholesome’ ingredients that have a natural and intrinsic health benefit.
They are actively looking for products that are free-from chemicals or genetically modified and e-number additives, and showing a fondness for organic, ‘safe’ ingredients, equating their definition of ‘natural’ with ‘healthier’.
Recent high-profile scares in Asia, including baby milk scandals, have made Asian consumers especially concerned over the integrity of food and what features on product labels.
This demand has resulted in many local food manufacturers looking to natural solutions, prompting the growth of what has been coined the ‘clean labelling’ movement in Asia.
Recent statistics show that the number of products launched on a clean label platform in Asia increased from 1,235 in 2003 to more than 7,675 by 2013, and the numbers show no sign of slowing down.
Cleaner Labelling Compromise
The rise of the clean label movement presents food manufacturers with an opportunity for new products or the reformulation of existing ones with natural ingredients.
The down side is this can cause manufacturers numerous challenges as traditionally, products with fewer additives can lack the taste, visual and textural appeal of artificially modified products. However, with careful natural ingredient combination and an experienced partner, manufacturers can master the art of balancing technological issues with a cleaner label and a good taste profile.
Worldwide, manufacturers are making changes towards clean labelling, viewing the clean label movement not as a consumer fad or short-term trend, but as a long-term industry development.
Natural Baby Food
Steven Depolo, Miami, US
The baby food market is an especially sensitive market when it comes to natural ingredients. Protective parents are prioritising simple, natural ingredients in infant formula and baby foods, often with organic-certified labels.
A European study shows that 72 percent of consumers accept higher prices for naturally produced foodstuffs without additives. This is especially true for children’s products where 17 percent would pay a surcharge of about one third for more ‘natural’ baby food.
As a natural ingredient that is highly digestible, rice has proven itself in this stringent infant food market environment over the past few years, proving especially popular in the infant jar application, with 75 percent of all European product launches in the 12 months to the end of September 2012 containing rice starch ingredients.
Rice starches can replace artificial ingredients as a natural texturiser and qualifies for hypoallergenic, clean label, organic, as well as non-GMO products. In addition, test trials have shown that vegetable and fruit jars that contain food rice starch have improved product stability in terms of viscosity, syneresis control and shelf-life. The small particle size of rice starch also creates a creamy texture without any effect on the end product’s taste or colour.
Satisfying The Sweet Tooth
The natural trend is also gaining influence within the confectionery market. Nearly 10 percent of all confectionery launches between September 2011 and September 2012 used either natural or additive/preservative-free claims, or both, making ‘clean label’ related claims, the most popular assertion overall.
For example, titanium dioxide has long been used by confectionery manufacturers to achieve a bright white coating in products like sugar coated candies, gums or pastilles. However, as ‘naturality’ gains importance in consumer mindsets, the industry is looking to replace the chemical compound in white coatings. Rice starch can be used, offering a natural, clean label alternative with no undesired impact on taste or appearance.
Rice starches enable confectionery manufacturers to achieve exceptional whiteness in their products, without any yellow or grey tinge to the finished shine—a problem that often occurs when using other starches such as corn or wheat starches. Test trials have also shown that rice starch is extremely stable and will preserve the brilliant white colour of the end product for months.
Staying Ahead Towards Clean
Western Europe might currently dominate the global trend towards naturality, with 40 percent of new clean label launches taking place in the continent, but Asia is also performing well, sharing the same percentage as the US when it comes to clean label launches at 17 percent.
Consumer understanding of ingredients and their functions differs around the world, as does the ability to afford their benefits. With Asia’s rapidly growing middle class, projected to account for two-thirds of the world’s middle class population by 2030, more Asians are expected to seek healthier, additive-free, natural ingredients in the foods they purchase. The demand for food manufacturers to provide clearer, more transparent claims on packaging is also expected to increase.