Instant value with healthy, non-MSG noodles in China

By Kacey Culliney

- Last updated on GMT

Driving instant noodle success: Take out MSG and develop healthier products, Mintel research director says
Driving instant noodle success: Take out MSG and develop healthier products, Mintel research director says

Related tags: Ramen, Monosodium glutamate

Developing non-MSG, better-for-you instant noodles will surge market value in China’s commoditised market sector, according to Mintel research director.

China’s instant noodle market was pegged at RMB 60.5bn (US$9.6bn) in 2011, up 27% since 2006, Mintel data showed, and is set to hit 3.9m tonnes by 2016.

But the research group’s recent report has revealed that it is a slow growing market sector due to“lowered consumer enthusiasm”and a lack of new product development (NPD).

The report championed product innovation as essential in re-stirring market interest.

Matthew Crabbe, research director for Asia Pacific at Mintel, said “the market has reached a stage where is it commoditised…and invigorating new consumer groups needs to be a focus”​ for manufacturers.

Crabbe told FoodNavigator-Asia that there are huge market opportunities at the healthier end of the market.

Development in value-added, premium instant noodle products is in its infancy, he said, ensuring plenty of scope to “rejuvenate popular interest”.

Demand for ‘something better’

Research showed that more than half (58%) of Chinese consumers tend to avoid MSG (Monosodium glutamate), an ingredient widely used in the instant noodle sector, according to Crabbe.

“It’s a cheap and easy ingredient to use and it means that manufacturers can use cheaper flavours,”​ he said, but one that is an increasing concern to consumers.

“Another attitude we identified was that 37% of consumers consider noodles junk food,”​ and 57% would more likely buy low-calorie noodles.

The survey detailed that health concerns are an increasing priority among Chinese consumers, with around three-quarters claiming to actively choose healthy noodles, for example those low in salts, fats and non-fried.

It also found that a large chunk of Chinese consumers try to avoid noodles with artificial ingredients (72%) and would prefer noodles containing natural ingredients.

Manufacturers need to be focused on developing non-MSG noodles, with healthy, good quality ingredients while lowering fat, salt and sugar levels to create healthier products, Crabbe said.

“This is a very good opportunity for manufacturers to stand out from everyone else,”​ he added.

Regional flavours

Adapting local flavour applications should also be a key strategy, he noted.

The Mintel report suggested that beef is the most popular flavour, with 64% of consumers surveyed stating it as a favourite, followed by spare rib (51%), pickled vegetable (45%), spicy (43%) and seafood (41%).

“New flavours, particularly those from different regions, are a natural driver of consumer trial and therefore engagement,”​ Crabbe said.

There has been a “spark of creativity creeping back into the market,”​ but more needs to be done by way of NPD or adapting current products and extending ranges, he said.

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