Healthy Ageing APAC Summit 2018

Food reformulation: Industries warned against searching for all-in-one ‘miracle food’

By Tingmin Koe

- Last updated on GMT

Dr Kalpana Bhaskaran (from right), Sarah Hyland and Anke Sentko were speaking at a panel discussion with Gary Scattergood (second from left), editor-in-chief of FoodNavigator-Asia and NutraIngredients-Asia in the Healthy Ageing APAC Summit.
Dr Kalpana Bhaskaran (from right), Sarah Hyland and Anke Sentko were speaking at a panel discussion with Gary Scattergood (second from left), editor-in-chief of FoodNavigator-Asia and NutraIngredients-Asia in the Healthy Ageing APAC Summit.
Reformulation experts have warned food and beverage manufacturers against seeking to create ‘wonder foods’ in an attempt to solve Asia Pacific’s growing health challenges.

Speaking at our first Healthy Ageing APAC Summit in Singapore, organised by both FoodNavigator-Asia and NutraIngredients-Asia, Dr Kalpana Bhaskaran, domain lead of Applied Nutrition Research at Temasek Polytechnic, said cost, incompatibility between different ingredients, availability of production facility and transparency are some of the potential challenges.

 She was taking part in a panel discussion at the summit along with Anke Sentko, vice president of regulatory affairs and nutrition communication at Beneo, and Sarah Hyland, founder and director of Shyland, on the topic of “Refocusing on reformulation: What do consumers demand, and can industry deliver?”

Dr Kalpana highlighted some seemingly unachievable demands, such as a call to create ice cream with increased fibre, functional ingredients and a memory booster, while also being low in sugar and containing all natural ingredients.

“They want everything under one food, and I say it is not possible. Some people think we should have a miracle food you know, and they want it to be be anti-ageing, to prevent Alzheimer …”

She elaborated in an interview with NutraIngredients-Asia and FoodNavigator-Asia about some more of the potential challenges.

“This involves identifying the right functional ingredient and assessing their physiological effects; developing a suitable food matrix, taking into account bio-availability and potential changes during processing and food preparation, consumer education, and clinical trials on product efficacy in order to gain approval for health-enhancing marketing claims.”

For instance, while companies could produce prototypes in their facilities, they themselves or the contract manufactures may not have the required scope to scale up the production.

Second, companies would need to consider the production cost incurred, and whether consumers are willing to pay for a highly nutritional product. That comes with a greater health price, she said.

“Cost is definitely what they need to be mindful of. With each ingredient that goes in, the cost increases.”

Third, knowing basic properties of different ingredients is crucial in product innovation.

She said that there are a handful of companies that want to produce coffee with high calcium, an infeasible task in reality, as caffeine in coffee prevents calcium absorption.

However, some companies “are not even informed” ​about such interactions.

Another example, is to mix traditional Chinese herbs (such as ginseng) or Ayurveda herbs with minerals and vitamins, a rising trend in South East Asia, according to Dr Kalpana.

In these case, she highlighted that there is a lack of efficacy trials to prove the effectiveness of such formulations. As such, it is not known if these ingredients will complement or work against one another.

“It (developing novel products) is a multistage process that requires input from commercial, academic and regulatory interests, with a critical need to achieve acceptance by the consumers.”

“Businesses that want to succeed in this market will have to find new ways of conducting management, in particular in identifying critical technologies. These strategic options are quite uncharacteristic for the traditional food industry.”

Types of reformulated products

The panel revealed that while different product reformulation demands have surfaced in different countries, sugar reduction​ ranks high on most countries’ agenda.

In the case of Singapore, Dr Kalpana shared that sugar reduction in beverages and desserts a popular move, so is creating food catered to individuals with dysphagia, which is growing in demand since 2016.

“This is not as easy as we thought, as we need to tackle swallowing disorder…and most Dysphagia patients are in their 60s and 70s have poor mobility, diabetes, which becomes a big challenge.”

As for Australia, most reformulation involves categories such as pasta sauce and breakfast cereals, said Hyland.

From her experience, Sentko shared that reformulation demand spreads across all food categories. Some popular demands include fibre enrichment, fat replacement and sugar reduction for dairy, bakery and desserts.

She reminded delegates that ultimately, the reformulated food would need to meet consumers’ taste expectations because “without that, it is useless.”

Besides meeting consumers’ demands, she highlighted the need to make the products easily noticeable, which included regulators allowing better on-pack communication.  

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