That’s according to Regina Moench-Pfanner, chief executive of ibn360, a sustainable food consultancy, who noted that the difference between urban and rural diets has been fast diminishing through growing urbanisation in the region.
Speaking at an event in Singapore organised by FIA, an industry representative body, Dr Moench-Pfanner said that Southeast Asia suffered from the double-burden of under- and over-nutrition, which could lead to both stunting and obesity.
With low-income populations tending to make purchasing and consumption decisions based on price, more so than taste and health, certain processed foods could improve nutrition statuses.
“It all boils down to the ingredients used in the food item and who is eating the food – given differing phenotypes and nutritional needs,” she said.
Moreover, she added, it is the responsibility of the food industry to implement a food-based strategy to redress the energy balance in diets.
Such a strategy should be modelled on government strategies from the early twentieth century, when mass-fortification helped eradicate major public health issues in industrialised countries. Though instead of focusing on staple food fortified with single nutrients, it should look towards processed foods re-engineered to promote health, and help close the nutrient gaps in modern diets, Dr Moench-Pfanner suggested.
This would work best if a neutral platform for shared research were established which would help develop standards for improving health-promoting processed foods. This would include looking at opportunities along the value chain to improve inputs, processes and outputs, she said.
Dr Moench-Pfanner also proposed an entrepreneurial incubation platform to attract interest from start-ups—in particular, towards innovation along the supply chain. This could include a “food hackathon”, whereby food scientists, chemists, packagers, technologists and marketeers come together to address current nutrition challenges.