Healthy and on-the-go, new developments in the South East Asian food market

FEATURED SPEAKER Industry Insights
The economic development of South East Asia is having a negative impact on consumers’ available time to share a traditional meal. Snacking and on-the-go options are increasing in the area but the strongly-ingrained concepts of holistic health and healthy ageing lead consumers to search for products that are indulgent and convenient but remain healthy. In this regard, cognitive health is of more importance than heart or waistline health which still remains high. As such, companies wishing to enter the South East Asian market should seek to develop products offering taste and nutrition in a convenient format. We talked to Mark Hughes, from FMCG Gurus, who details some of the results of their regional market surveys.


The South East Asian market is famous for its great cuisine full of flavors. What are some of the interesting consumer habits that you have seen in this market?
“When analyzing the food market within Asia, it is important to recognize that traditional dietary habits are changing. An FMCG Gurus survey of 7,000 consumers in the Asia-Pacific in Q3 2019 found that 13% of consumers skip breakfast three times a week, while 14% say that this is the case when it comes to lunch. A key reason for this is time-scarcity which is having an impact on traditional eating and drinking habits within the region. For instance, 45% of those in the region say that they are dependent on convenience food. This means that traditional culinary habits are changing and being replaced by processed food and snacking occasions, both in- and out-of-home. As such, consumers are seeking out products that offer health, indulgence, and convenience at the same time and without compromise.”

How is the snack market evolving?
“Consumers in Asia are seeking out more functional snacks that contain ingredients associated with offering a convenient health boost. For instance, 54% of consumers in the Asia-Pacific expect snacks to offer a nutritional boost. This is because meal-time fragmentation is occurring, with the concepts of meals and snacks becoming increasingly blurred. As such, consumers want snacks that can act as a genuine substitute for meals from a nutritional perspective. This is why for instance, 25% of consumers in the region say that they have looked to reduce their intake of chocolate over the last twelve months, whilst 52% say that they have made a conscious effort to switch from traditional snack products such as confectionery and chocolate to high protein/low sugar alternatives.”

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How are consumers embracing the concept of healthy aging/holistic health in South East Asia? What products are popular in Asia in this segment?
“Consumers in Asia are embracing the concept of holistic health and healthy ageing. Holistic health refers to consumers recognizing that all aspects of health are interlinked and should not be treated in isolation. For instance, a digestive health survey of 7,000 consumers conducted across the region in 2018/2019 found that 77% of consumers say that they recognize the link between digestive health and overall health. This means that consumers are looking to make changes to their diets and lifestyles because they feel it will improve all aspects of their health. Linked to this, consumers are also adopting the concept of healthy aging and are looking to make changes to their lifestyles to stay fit and active until as late in life as possible. This is driven by the fact that consumers can be concerned that current lifestyles will have an impact on health later in life.”

“As such, a total of 62% of consumers in the region say that they have looked to improve their overall health and wellbeing over the last two years, while 29% say that they have looked to educate themselves more about their health. This will result in consumers taking a more proactive approach to health maintenance and improvement as they embrace the two concepts.”

What are some of the distinctive trends you have observed in this market?
“Cognitive health is a major issue within the Asia market, especially amongst younger adults who simultaneously tend to have poor work/life balance and feel under pressure to succeed both personally and professionally. This is something that is having an impact on sleeping patterns and ability to relax and unwind which in turn, is creating feelings of stress. FMCG Gurus asked consumers in Asia-Pacific what areas of their health they would like to improve over the next twelve months. The research shows that 42% said their cognitive health, which was a more popular answer than heart health (36%) and waistlines (38%). This shows that health-conscious consumers are not just focusing on their physical health but also their mental wellbeing. The pressures of modern life will intensify for consumers in the short-term and with this, so will demand for products that help aid rest and recuperation and improve cognitive health.”

What opportunities exist from a product perspective?
“A total of 58% of consumers in the region say that they find healthy products positioned around on-the-go consumption to be of appeal. This reflects how major opportunities exist within the snacking and informal meal-time occasions market. Indeed, a total of 27% of consumers in the region say that their ability to lead a healthy lifestyle is hindered by the fact that they eat on-the-go regularly. As such, functional snacks will offer the biggest opportunity for industry players. Although dairy consumption per capita in Asia is lower than areas such as North America and Europe, a total of 59% of consumers say that they find spoonable yogurt positioned around health to be appealing. This shows that there is also opportunity within the dairy market to target more health-conscious consumers. The major winners within the industry will be those who can successfully position products around offering taste and nutrition in a convenient format.”

What are your predictions for the South East Asian market in 5+ years?
“Consumers in Asia are savvy when it comes to ingredients and are taking a greater interest in what is contained within food and drink products that they purchase. For instance, 47% of consumers in the region say that they regularly research different ingredients, whilst 43% say that they are aware of different protein sources. Whilst protein is currently the “hot” ingredient in the market, FMCG Gurus believes that there will be a major innovation in the market within the next five years when it comes to products fortified with ingredients such as dietary fibers, probiotics, and omega fatty acids, as well as an array of new and novel ingredients. This is because consumers will continue to seek out products that help address their physical and cognitive health and will want ingredient innovation to be at the forefront of new product development – especially in the on-the-go and snacking markets.”

Don’t miss Mike Hughes’ Regional Market Update on South East Asia at the Industry Insights Theatre on 4 December at 14:30.