Africa’s personal nutrition transition creating new opportunities

Consumers in Africa are taking a broader long-term view to health. They are increasingly looking for natural products and functional ingredients, and prioritising prevention over cure. This transition towards a more positive nutritional approach is creating challenges and opportunities for manufacturers - these implications were discussed and analysed during a recent Fi Africa webinar. 

Consumers around the world have become much more aware and concerned about what goes into their body. For many, the Covid-19 pandemic was the trigger for a re-evaluation of their diet and broader lifestyle, leading to more health conscious purchasing. Mike Hughes, head of research and insight at FMCG Gurus, provided some insights during this webinar into how consumer behaviour in Africa is
evolving, and what manufacturers need to do to tap into these trends.

“Habits are changing rapidly,” he said. “Globalisation and a growing middle class  have brought benefits to Africa, but also new health challenges such as the growing prevalence of obesity and digestive-related issues.” Hughes noted that 59 % of African consumers have become more conscious about their health over the last two years and that 77 % have actively looked to improve their health, underlining the level of pro-activeness in the region. 

Mike Hughes, FMCG

Delivering health boosts

Consumers are looking at everything in moderation, and looking for ingredients that can deliver a health boost. Research conducted by FMCG Gurus reveals that the number one health concern is boosting immune health, identified by 66 % of respondents as a priority.

Another key area is digestive health. “Recognition of the impact that gut health has on overall wellbeing is only likely to intensify,” said Hughes. A third key area of concern is mental wellbeing. High levels of uncertainty, stress and poor sleeping habits are helping to overcome regional taboos about mental health, and opening the door to new nutraceutical product possibilities.

These health concerns fit within a meta-trend identified by Hughes – the prioritisation of prevention over cure. “Health goals have changed,” he said. “Consumers are focused on disease management, and are seeking out products with active ingredient and health claims even if they do not have symptoms.”

FMGC Gurus research shows that consumers are most interested in products that target cognitive, digestive, and joint & bone health. Furthermore, consumers prefer functional and fortified products over supplements. In fact, 88 % of respondents said that they would prioritise functional or fortified products over supplements.

This is in part because food and drink products are more associated with being tasty and affordable, and being able to fit into daily diets. “The nutrition supplement sector needs to do more to convince consumers about the safety and efficacy of their products,” notes Hughes. 

Increasingly engaged consumers

FMCG Gurus research also found that over three-quarters of consumers in Africa have become more attentive to ingredient listings in the
past 12 months. “Consumers are educating themselves,” said Hughes. “It is crucial that brands work with consumers to avoid misinformation and misdiagnoses.”

And while consumers are increasingly seeking out functional and fortified products, sensory appeal is still critical. Taste cannot be compromised, which can present manufacturers with a challenge. For example, while consumers are keen to reduce sugar consumption - 56 % have tried to reduce their intake over the last two years – reduced sugar products are often associated with compromised taste and sensory appeal. Similarly, while consumers are looking to maximise their plant protein intake, Hughes believes that taste and cost will remain more influential than volume or the origin of protein.

Consumers in Africa are also cooking more from scratch and turning to fruit and vegetables on a more regular basis. Fruit and vegetables are associated with being natural, nutritious, tasty, and affordable as well as being better for the environment. This transition can also be seen in the snacking sector - some 57 % of consumers say they have switched from traditional snacks to high-protein, low-sugar alternatives over last 12 months.

Snacking will remain a key growth sector in Africa, in part because of changing mealtime habits and busy lifestyles. The key is that consumers do not want snacking to conflict with their wider health goals. 

Natural is key

Natural is a phrase that is important to consumers in Africa, and this will continue to drive demand for ‘free from’ claims and more streamlined ingredient claims. “Consumers want assurances,” said Hughes. “Some 84 % of consumers say it is important that food and drink is 100 % natural, while 83 % want their products to be additive-free. Associated with this, plant-based ingredients will also continue to grow in popularity.”

Demand for natural ingredients is likely to boost the botanicals sector. Consumers in Africa have long associated botanicals with having health and cognitive benefits, and are increasingly looking for products to help them through periods of stress and uncertainty. “The key in not to position your product as some magic bullet, but rather to educate consumers about how botanicals can be beneficial as part of an overall diet,” said Hughes.

Manufacturers should also be looking to fortify products.  While 44 % of consumers say they are following a diet around the avoidance or moderation of animal produce, some 61 % say they concerned that they are missing out on certain nutrients as a result. “This creates opportunities for fortification at a time people looking to maximise their intake of functional ingredients,” said Hughes. This could mean fortifying products with ingredients typically found in animal products such as vitamin B12, or boosting functional ingredients found in plants. Demand for personalised products is also likely to grow over the next five to ten years, as healthy ageing becomes a bigger concern.

This year’s Africa Food Manufacturing exhibition will take place between 29 and 31 May in Egypt. More information can be found here.