The experts came together at the Healthy Snacking Session of our latest Growth Asia Interactive Broadcast 2021 series, organized by FoodNavigator-Asia and NutraIngredients-Asia. [Watch again on-demand here.]
The jury consisted of Mars Wrigley General Manager Asia Patrick Gantier, US Daiey Export Council Technical Director for Food Applications Martin Teo, Dole Packaged Foods VP and MD APAC Aashim Malhotra, Eat Real International Sales Manager Yumi Chan, AI Palette Head of Innovation Salomi Naik, and Sweegen Director of Business Development Imtiaz Chaglani.
The session was hosted by FoodNavigator-Asia and NutraIngredients-Asia, Editor-in-Chief Gary Scattergood, and included a keynote discussion with Gantier and a sponsorship presentation by Teo.
The panel agreed that snacks in general, and healthy snacks in particular, are rapidly on the rise in the Asia-Pacific region, especially as many consumers have developed the habit of eating many small meals during the COVID-19 lockdowns and snacking all day.
“Meals have changed a lot today as consumers are now looking for more fragmented meals as they prefer to eat in front of screens, and also after meal cuts,” Gantier told the audience.
“When it comes to healthy snacks, portion size adjustment is a very important strategy for Mars Wrigley as it not only meets consumer needs but is also a great way to provide the same snack experience to consumers around the world more allowable amount.
“For a company like Mars, where many of our products are big icons, it is very important to us that everywhere we are present, standardized quality is a very important part of the equation for us and we have bite-sized products already seen some good results in Asia.
“A major trend in Asia when it comes to healthy snacks is that consumers are still on the go – much less during the pandemic, but still considering the number of convenience stores in the region – and being Asian consumers looking for ultra-fast, practical snack solutions. “
Naik agreed, stressing that today’s consumers are looking for options that blend well with a busy lifestyle.
“Asian consumers are pretty time hungry. So if they are looking for snacks, they will be looking for products that will give them the health benefits they are looking for but also fit into their fast paced lifestyle, ”she said.
“COVID-19 also had a significant impact” [on the context of convenience] depending on location – in general it has spurred online buying, but when looking at markets that have been badly hit by the pandemic, like India, people want to buy products that are easy to store and have a longer shelf life to avoid being in the store; whereas in places that open up like China, products that are suitable for social occasions and larger groups that are good for sharing are preferred. “
Nutrition and taste
The foundation of healthy snacks is consumer demand for healthier products that can be consumed for benefits, especially additional nutrients.
“The main health benefits consumers want are nutrient-dense products like protein and fiber, but at the same time they don’t want to consume large portions to get these benefits, which makes healthy snacks an ideal solution,” said Naik.
“There is also a growing awareness in Asia of products that are good for the gut and are associated with immunity, such as the benefits of prebiotics and probiotics.”
Teo added that adding functional ingredients like macronutrients and antioxidants to snacks has become a popular way to make healthy snacks for many manufacturers today, urging more companies to prioritize clean label and product taste as a strategy to attract consumers.
“Clean label is an important way to convince consumers, and it’s also important not to forget the taste aspect,” he said.
“The taste still seals the deal when consumers do [make their snack choices], and there are lots of things to consider here, from balance to full body taste to mouthfeel, texture and more, but it’s critical because in the end, consumers will be more willing to get healthy when manufacturers offer them great tasting products can. “
Chaglani also highlighted clean label as an increasingly important trend for healthy snacks in the region.
“There is increasing demand for clean label in APAC, where we have seen a 22 percent increase in the use of natural sweeteners over the past three years – this shows that consumers are moving to clean label and natural solutions and are proactively looking for better ones Products and manufacturers are responding to this demand, ”he said.
In addition to convenience and nutrition, the panel of experts also concluded that localization has become the key to healthy snack innovations in order to gain consumer adoption across the various countries of the Asia-Pacific region.
“Asia itself is so big and local tastes can change every 100 kilometers, so there is not a single type of consumer in the region, as the products for North Asia vs. South Asia vs. ASEAN vs. Australia have to be adapted differently – New Zealand, ”said Malhotra.
“At Dole we take a ‘glocal’ approach to innovation and when it comes to localization the strategy is to get as close as possible to the source of the local ingredients we use, which essentially means going straight to the market and develop locally.
“Where we previously had a few production facilities in the regions and transported products in full, we are now moving to outsourcing research and development and knowledge to local partners in order to produce locally. Understanding the space and then co-producing it in the local countries is very important in understanding what consumers want.
“It is also important to be flexible, and even if it is the same product that is sold in India and China, it must be analyzed how this product can be adapted to the different locations, be it based on the recipe or ingredients, flavors or anything else, and remember that it is not necessary to imitate the product in other markets. “
Gantier agreed, adding that although Mars is very focused on delivering a unified experience to consumers around the world, regional research and development centers still exist to accommodate local flavors.
“Our portfolio consists of around 80% globally standardized products and around 20% adapted local variants,” he said.
Chan added that when it comes to ingredients, understanding the market and what types of ingredients would work is also important.
“Eat Real has products made from chickpeas, lentils, quinoa and vegetables, but when selling specifically in the Chinese market, we know that due to consumer acceptance in the area, only quinoa would work,” she said.
“Perhaps in India, where chickpeas are so common, the chickpea would be a good option, but this is different in China, where chickpeas practically do not exist in this way.”
Nevertheless, meeting consumer demands in the production of healthy products remains a major challenge, especially when it comes to producing products with a sufficiently good taste.
“Trying to compare products to what many generations of consumers are used to is a huge challenge,” said Malhotra.
“Take, for example, an Indian consumer in India with a sweet tooth that has been sharpened for many years and give him a sugar-free product and try to explain how it’s healthier but not the intense sweetness he’s used to – it’s very difficult and it took a lot of trial and error, research and development and market research to find out how closely the formulations match the sensory properties that consumers are used to.
“It also requires re-establishing the products with trading partners and educating consumers and finding the best natural sugar alternatives that fit.”
Chan added that customer loyalty also requires specific strategies, especially in a market like China, which is extremely dynamic and changing very quickly.
“Product lifecycles are getting shorter and shorter and brands all need to innovate quickly to stay relevant,” she said.
“For us as a snack brand, we’ve worked with the University of Cambridge to find the“ perfect crunch ”and mouthfeel, and we’re always looking for the“ food mood ”of consumers where people eat according to their emotions, z a relaxing snack in case of stress or a detoxifying snack in search of beauty. “
Gantier emphasized that innovating healthy snacks also needs to take into account the power of e-commerce as more consumers spend more time online.
“The online boom is booming, shopping has changed and now we need to figure out how impulse buying works through e-commerce, which is very different from physical retail,” he said.
“There is also an urgent need to find the balance between slightly different portfolios for different channels – for example, selling Snickers bar-by-bar is good for the convenience store format, but not for e-commerce, so we have to now now Rethink the way we think about products, product sizes, etc. to accommodate this new omnichannel development. “