Insights from Food Vision Asia 2016

Food Vision Asia, organised by Vision Events and attended by Euromonitor International, was recently held at Grand Hyatt Hotel in Singapore from 27-29 April 2016. Food Vision Asia is the first of its kind to be held in Asia, signalling the potential of the region to the food industry. The event is packed with learning points regarding consumer trends, and innovation and marketing ideas. The order of topics of the various presentations were neatly organised in overarching themes. Two of the dominant themes were alternative sources of protein and personalisation which will be analysed in this article.

Consumer insights and behaviour: alternative sources of protein

Emerging alternative protein sources such as plant-based, marine and insect sources seemed to strike a chord with the audience. Interest in insect-based protein has been growing in the West where TIME Magazine had even named it the third big food trend to watch out for in 2015. However, availability in western markets has not gone far beyond shops selling novelty goods and internet retailing, and insects still have some ways to go before becoming mainstream food. Beyond the media coverage surrounding insects, many attest to its nutritional benefits where crickets, for instance, provide for an excellent source of protein and other minerals. In fact, there are some consumers in Asia, Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa eating them as part of their meals or as snacks.

Currently, common insects ingested include caterpillars, beetles and crickets. Unlike the case in western markets, insects consumed in its original form are common in many Asia countries. The main priority for players in the West right now seems to be to normalise the concept of consuming insects. Start-ups such as Chapul have been trying to entice consumers in the US who are open to consuming insects since its first launch online in 2012. Chapul created protein bars made with cricket powder to help consumers overcome their inhibitions by mitigating the visual image of ingesting insects. One of the many challenges for insect protein to take off is getting consumers to see insects as a nutritious and tasty source of food.

Fried caterpillar snack from Chang Rai, North Thailand

Fried Catepillar snack

Source: Euromonitor International

Given the relatively novel factor of alternative sources of protein, industry players in the supply chain are still hesitant if they are a passing fad. As a result, responses from the supply chain are still sluggish. A more promising picture can be observed among recent start-ups aiming to address the insect ingredients supply issue. Start-ups of the likes of Silicon Valley-based Tiny Farms have ambitions of reinventing the technology and operations of insect rearing. Hopefully, with new start-ups emerging to tackle this issue, insect rearing would be more economically viable and transparent to consumers. On the legislative side, the lack of clear regulations regarding insect production in big countries such as the US has kept the food industry pensive. Similar to insect protein, other alternative protein sources still require general consumer receptiveness as well as overcoming supply chain issues and legislation barriers.

Consumer insights and behaviour: personalisation

With increasing consumer interest in the personalisation of products (think Nutella’s ‘Name Your Nutella’ campaign or Magnum’s ‘Make My Magnum’), the emphasis on consumer personalisation is not surprising. Hyper-personalisation to the extent of one’s genetics was the cornerstone of Dr Ahmed El-Sohemy’s speech (Founder of Nutrigenomix Inc). He shared various intriguing examples to illustrate how nutrients can interact differently with individuals, depending on their genetic makeup to impact their health and performance. Dr Ahmed aims to step up personalisation by expanding the research of genetics and nutrition to everyday consumers. He believes that genetic testing for each individual consumer for personalised nutrition can lead to better outcomes.

So far, customisation and personalisation has been mainly focused on products’ taste, packaging and formats. Personalised nutrition could potentially have a profound impact on the way consumers make their dietary decisions by putting the onus of eating well in the hands of the consumers once again. However, though the idea of empowering consumers to personalise their nutritional diet may sound romantic, whether it would receive mass adoption is a point worth pondering.

Conclusion

From the conference, up-and-coming consumer trends in Asia can be reaffirmed; interests in alternative sources of protein as well as personalisation are growing. In particular, non-animal protein seemed to generate buzz among the delegates in the conference. From Euromonitor International’s Global Consumer Trends Survey, the percentage of respondents who check for protein content on food labels has more than doubled to 29% in 2015 from 12% in 2012. There is little wonder that food industry players are increasingly interested in protein. However, per capita consumption of fresh meat is likely to continue seeing healthy growth in the Asia Pacific markets, indicating that alternative sources of protein may still be in the early stages in the region. Nonetheless, it is inevitable that the nutrient will continue to be in the spotlight as companies prepare themselves for the same wave that swept the Western European and North American markets. Perhaps, one possible advantage the region has in the game is in insect protein, where some consumers in the region have already grown out of being squeamish about it.