Thais keen on switch to healthier diet
ALMOST ALL consumers in Thailand (99 per cent) are interested in improving their diets and a majority (82 per cent) are happy for products to be reformulated, provided that taste is not compromised, according to a new report by Food Industry Asia (FIA) and research firm IGD.
The first of its kind in Thailand, the report titled ‘Healthier Product Reformulation in Thailand’ surveyed both consumers and food and beverage (F&B) businesses to better understand industry efforts on delivering improved nutrition through reformulation, as well as consumer behaviours and perceptions of products that have been tweaked to become healthier.
Thailand is facing a double burden of malnutrition, leading to a rise in obesity and non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as diabetes and heart diseases, now the top cause of death among Thais. In light of this, the Thai government and food industry have been actively working to improve the health of its population with efforts ranging from the clear display of nutrition information to physical activity action plans. However, the report also highlighted that reformulation can provide significant support in this area without relying on the change of consumer behaviours.
Matthew Kovac, Executive Director, FIA, said, “Thai food companies have been supporting the national health agenda through greater product innovation – 88 per cent of companies surveyed have embarked on reformulation to improve the nutritional value of their products and five per cent have already completed their plans, thus bringing about positive changes to the landscape in Thailand.”
The industry’s efforts are in sync with consumers’ perception of and receptiveness towards reformulated products as eight in 10 agree that companies should be actively working on this. However, consumers remain unwilling to compromise on taste for health benefits, with 82 per cent of respondents indicating that they are willing to accept reformulated products if companies can retain the existing flavour profile.
As a result of the increased demand for healthier products, there is strong commercial incentive for companies to invest in reformulation. However, the report also found that more can be done in conjunction with the government as 82 per cent of companies felt that greater fiscal incentives would help to encourage research and development (R&D) activities.
“In order for us to accelerate the industry’s efforts, multi-stakeholder collaborations will be crucial in driving greater R&D activities for new product development and reformulation,” Kovac added.
Susan Barratt, IGD’s chief executive, said: “At IGD, we work closely with industry players to help them meet the needs of the public through our research and best practice. The results of our recent joint study with FIA highlight the importance of health to Thai consumers, who are calling on companies to play a part through their reformulation efforts.
“We believe there is a substantial opportunity to enhance healthier product development and address key challenges facing the industry. The research provides insights into how the industry and government can work together to achieve this, and I look forward to seeing how they can inspire change among consumers.”
The report also found that consumers are paying greater attention to the quality and taste of products: 94 per cent of respondents indicated that the quality of products was important when selecting food and beverages, while 80 per cent felt that taste was crucial. The clear display of nutritional information on packaging (83 per cent) was also featured as one of the top three drivers of product choice.
The industry’s reformulation agenda has shifted: While F&B companies previously focused on the removal of trans-fats and reduction of calories, current efforts are now geared toward salt and cholesterol reduction, removal of artificial colours/flavours/preservatives followed by the addition of fibre, vitamins and minerals.
While the challenges for different nutrients may vary, maintaining the taste profile of products and budget limitations emerged as the top concerns for businesses. Consumer acceptability was also identified as a key challenge for the industry.