The summit, organised by NutraIngredients-Asia and FoodNavigator-Asia, is bringing together business leaders, policymakers and academics to debate how the industry can meet the food and nutritional challenges brought about by the region's rapidly ageing population.
Francis Tan, financial economist from United Overseas Bank, outlined the scale of the challenge.
In the context of ASEAN, Singapore has the oldest population as compared to neighbouring countries, recording a median age of 40.6 years old, while median age of ASEAN is 29 years old.
He said the proportion of people who are over 65 years old and under 15 years old would be the same very soon, leading to significant economic and social changes.
Tan also cautioned that an ageing population did not necessarily mean a more affluent society, pointing out that nations such as Thailand, China, Japan and Korea risked “getting old before they get rich.”
Nevertheless, guest-of-honour Mr Amrin Amin, senior parliamentary secretary from Singapore’s Ministry of Health said ageing population is also creating opportunities for business growth and innovation.
He outlined how the Singapore government had partnered with food firms to drive product reformulation and increase consumer demand for healthier food options.
“Consumers everywhere are becoming more health-conscious…this presents major opportunities for food and beverage industries to innovate and come out with healthier range of products that are both tasty and healthy,” he said.
For instance, the Health Promotion Board (HPB) has worked with manufacturers to reformulate products, including high protein and calcium fortified soy beverages.
“Market share of Healthier Choice Symbol (HCS) products has grown over the years, from 15% in 2012 to 24% in 2018,” he added.
In order to support food companies in their innovation efforts, the board has introduced the Healthier Ingredient Development Scheme (HIDS) last year.
A total of 45 million dollars has been set aside for the scheme, to help companies improve food quality, such as healthier cooking oil, whole grain rice and drinks lower in sugar. The grant focuses on providing end-to-end support, including product development, marketing and promotional efforts to increase acceptance of healthier products.
In the last two years, HPB has doubled investment to create consumer demands for healthier products. One initiative is “Eat Drink Shop Healthy Challenge”, where consumers are awarded with buying healthier food. A total of 120 retailers and 3,000 food and beverages outlets took part in the challenge.
The authorities are also partnering local food research centres to develop healthier food, including working with Singapore Polytechnic Food Innovation and Resource Centre in developing innovative food targeted at the seniors, including food thickeners.
In his welcome speech, Gary Scattergood, editor-in-chief of NutraIngredients-Asia and FoodNavigator-Asia underlined how demographic changes were intrinsically linked to new business opportunities.
“Consumers are increasingly aware that that the nutrition and health choices they make today will affect their quality of life in older age, so we will also be hearing about the benefits of reformulation, fortification and new novel ingredients that have immense potential to help reduce the alarming rises in non-communicable disease, such as diabetes and obesity, across the region.”
The two-day event is also hearing from Nestlé, Blackmores, Nutri Co and Swisse, alongside the Japan Anti-Ageing Society and Singapore’s Clinical Nutrition Research Centre.