Healthy Ageing APAC Summit 2018

Healthy ageing product innovation does not follow the typical F&B business model: Nestlé China's research deputy

By Tingmin Koe

- Last updated on GMT

Evaluating public health cost reduction is a crucial part of the nutrition science and public health driven business model. ©Getty Images
Evaluating public health cost reduction is a crucial part of the nutrition science and public health driven business model. ©Getty Images

Related tags Ageing Public health Health economics

Product innovation for the ageing population should not follow the usual food and beverage business model, according to the deputy manager of the Nestlé research centre in Beijing.

Yu Kai shared the company’s insights at the Healthy Ageing APAC Summit, organised by NutraIngredients-Asia and FoodNavigator-Asia.

One crucial difference, is that manufacturers would need to consider the impact on health economics when innovating products for healthy ageing. 

“In terms of food and beverage, most of our consumers are young people, so our typical business strategy starts from consumer insights, and then we develop our business strategy and service, and we see the impact."

“But for ageing consumers, we found that it is a different story... It is very important to find a bridge between food and health. So our strategy proposed, is what we call the nutrition science and public health driven model.”

Under this model, manufacturers would need to: 1) find the difference in consumers’ nutrition intake and recommended requirements, 2) produce clinical evidence, 3) improve food quality via food technology and nutrient profiling, and 4) evaluate the extent of reduction in public health cost.

Poor diets – the No. 1 health risk

The current life expectancy in China is 76.3 years, but individuals may need to spend their last 10 years battling against ill health or disabilities.

Poor dietary habit is the number one health risk in China, Yu said. High systolic blood pressure, tobacco smoking, and air pollution are the other top factors that contribute to ill health.

Fortunately, studies have shown that changing dietary habits even after the age of 60 could prolong an individual’s lifespan.

Yu cited a study conducted in US and Europe, which showed that elderly who followed the World Health Organisation diet recommendations closely could expect to live for two more years.

“So the conclusion from this study is very obvious, that is one is never too old to eat healthily,” ​he said

Commenting on the findings, he urged the food industry to take up the important role of helping the public to live a healthier life by producing more nutritional food.

“You can gain longer life expectancy just by having a better diet. This is why we focus very much on diet and nutrition in terms of our business and research strategies.”

A case study

Yu shared that Nestlé China is already following the nutrition science and public health driven model, and saw heavy participation from government institutions and academics.

For instance, the firm is collaborating with Chinese centre for disease control and prevention to find out the dietary behaviour of consumers in their 40s.

This is the first step of the model, intended to observe gaps between the consumers’ nutrition intake and the recommended nutrition requirements.

The firm also works with academics to conduct clinical trials, and to establish scientific evidence of certain health claims. Some partners include the Peking University Third Hospital, and Huadong Hospital which is affiliated to Fudan University.

It also engages the Peking University China Centre for Health Development Studies to conduct a health economic study for the cost effectiveness of developing nutrition products for cardiovascular health.

Branding needed

Besides adopting an entirely different business model, businesses would need to differentiate their ageing products from other types of products.

For Nestlé, their “Yiyang” dairy product is an example.

“Yiyang” milk powder clearly stated its target audience as consumers aged 50 and above.

The milk powder tins also come in different packaging colours, with each providing a specific health benefit, including heart, brain, digestion and mobility benefits.

Moving forward 

For society to age healthily, individual efforts alone will not suffice, Yu cautioned.

Commitment from the government is crucial.

A classic example is Finland’s North Karelia Project that was launched in 1972, where the government worked with WHO to push for lifestyle changes in the citizens.

A national “Quit and Win”​ campaign was also held to reward individuals who have quit smoking. 

All-cause mortality rates dropped as a result.

In particular, coronary heart disease mortality rates declined the most, decreasing 79% from 1971 to 2006.  

Commenting on the project, Yu said that “a holistic intervention public-private collaboration is very important.”

In the case of China, the Central Government has previously come out with the “Healthy China 2030”, where it set the goals of: 1) raising life expectancy by nearly three years, from 76.3 years in 2015 to 79 years in 2030, and 2) lowering diseases-related early mortality levels, from 19.1% in 2015 to -30% in 2030.

Yu described this as the “most important policy for China”,​ as the policy was endorsed by President Xi himself, while previous health policies were signed by the Ministry of Health.

China’s population is ageing rapidly, with the median age to reach 50 years old by 2050.

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