Health and nutrition have definitely been at the top of everyone’s minds for decades now, but have been pushed to the forefront in the last couple of years. The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated this long-term trend, making consumers play a proactive role in their health as a whole. This encompasses the emphasis on self-care, and that looking after themselves and their overall well-being is of great importance.
They are also seeing how nutrition plays a part in keeping themselves healthy and disease-free, which is why the customers of today are more conscious of what they consume every day. Functional or fortified food and beverages that are also good for the environment will be their top choices when they go out to purchase these items. In fact, according to research, 80% of the population in Asia aim to eat healthier as a result of the pandemic.
As such, ingredients companies will have to roll out products that not only provide health benefits, but also appeal to all senses besides taste and texture. These should elevate not just the food product, but the consumer’s experience of eating nutritious food – something that is enjoyable and pleasurable.
Focus on immune and gut health
As a natural effect of the global health crisis, there is high demand for immune health food across the world, particularly in China. According to Kerry Global Consumer Research, 50% of participants have consumed immune-boosting products. In the APAC region, items that address issues caused by daily living, including fatigue, stress and anxiety, have gained popularity.
Omega-3 for immune function is an ingredient that is proven to support optimal immune health when taken alongside other vitamins. It was even found to improve respiratory and renal function in patients with COVID-19.
Blood sugar management is closely related to immune health and assists the body in fighting off infections and reduces the risk of chronic disease like diabetes. Ingredients such as Palatinose, Isomalt help lower blood sugar and insulin levels and make the body store less fat. The former, made from sugar beet plant, is a slow-release carbohydrate and is a great alternative to fast carbohydrates, which spike up the blood sugar. Isomalt can replace table sugar, keeping the sweetness level the same while making food and drinks healthier.
Besides immune health, digestive health has also taken a spotlight in the past couple of years. It only seems to be natural too as the gut is the center of our immunity, as explained by Peen Ern Goh, Dietitian and Nutrition Communication Manager at BENEO. About 70% of immune cells are concentrated in this system, which means that gut health affects our mental well-being, cognition and mood too.
There is an uptick in pre- and probiotics, which ingredients manufacturers have taken notice of, particularly the former as it promotes growth of beneficial gut microbes. Dietary fibers such as citrus fiber, is sugar- and fat-reducing and incorporated in condiments, dressings and fruit-flavoured drinks.
Probiotic strains that are more resilient to harsh processing and high temperatures are also on the rise. In particular, spore-forming variants that offer better protein utilisation will be seen in food products, particularly probiotic teas. Chicory root fiber nourishes natural gut microbes and promotes better bone health too.
Emphasis on holistic health
Ingredients that benefit more than one body system are gaining traction, as these can help achieve a cleaner label, which is all the rage these days. Created from marine lipids, Omega-3 also reduces the risk for metabolic syndrome – high blood pressure and sugar, high cholesterol or triglyceride levels and excess body fat. The DHA variant blocks the path towards diabetes and supports cardiovascular health as well.
Another ingredient that’s targeted at the prevention of heart ailments are carotenoids. Lycopene, in particular, is anti-inflammatory and has the highest antioxidative effect in the category. This product, when in combination with phytoene, phytofluene and carnosic acid, can be utilised in ingestible skincare, supporting nourishment of the skin from within.
There is also opportunity in ingredients that can boost overall nutritional content and improve product quality, such as stablisers. Gellan gum, incorporated dairy and plant-based dairy alternatives, provides suspension at a low cost. Featuring a silky mouthfeel which mimics the texture of dairy, this can provide recovery for those who are lowering sugar consumption. Pectin is another variant that is made from citrus peels and is a great stabiliser as well.
Moving forward, the ingredients space will continue to see the market’s proactive stance on health. Exploring solutions based on plants and other natural resources will be on the rise, keeping in mind sustainability and traceability. Keeping as close to nature as possible and showing that the item is minimally processed will be on trend too.
Overall, the market will become more competitive as consumers put precedence on quality ingredients that are backed by research and science. Food producers that highlight these healthy ingredients on their labels will have the edge as consumers will be empowered to make better choices.