Speaking at the Trends and Innovation Conference held as part of the Food Ingredients (Fi) Asia Thailand show in Bangkok, Food Science and Technology Association of Thailand (FoSTAT) President Asst. Professor Dr Anadi Nitithamyong said that the local food industry was changing at a rapid pace.
“As urbanisation increases, the role of processed foods in the market is also increasing, and people are becoming more reliant on these, especially in big cities like Bangkok,” she told the floor.
“This, and other industry challenges such as rising health awareness and a changing population demographic and preferences, have led to a wealth of opportunities to disrupt and redefine the food industry.
“The aim is often to enhance nutritional and functional properties of food with social and environmental responsibility, which has given rise to the ultimate goal of ‘smart eating’ – This refers to diets that are a combination of well-being and sustainability.”
Achieving this successfully will require a good deal of innovation within the industry, and within this area, Professor Nitithamyong identified product reformulation, the modernisation of traditional foods and personalisation as some of the key areas to pay attention to.
With sugar tax in Thailand ‘moving to a higher tier soon’, she emphasised the rising importance of innovating to reformulate high-sugar products, most commonly using non-caloric, intense sweeteners such as stevia or aspartame.
“Reformulation of sugar-sweetened products tends to be in response to health trends, and in an effort to divert away from the sugar tax,” she said.
“Many brands in the local market are looking to apply for the Thai Front-Of-Pack healthier choice logo, and are reformulating towards achieving this.”
Reformulation is more than just about sugar though – she emphasised that more focus also needed to be placed on salt/sodium replacement.
“More innovation is needed when it comes to salt/sodium reformulation,” she said.
“This is not as straightforward as it is for sugar. It is more complex because apart from its use as a flavouring, it is also a key preservation agent in many foods.
“There has been talk about a sodium tax being in the pipeline although we hope this will not go through, but so far innovations in this area have not gone beyond changing the structure of salt to be more soluble so the taste is stronger and less amount is needed.”
Thailand is home to an enormous number of traditional and local businesses, and Professor Nitithamyong called for a more modernised approach to innovating the marketing and presentation of these products to move them forward.
“Many local food items can modernised in terms of their packaging and functions, for example traditional coconut sap sugar can be made into syrups, coconut sugar vinegar, seasonings and many more,” she said.
“When a traditional product undergoes innovation to be modernised in this way, this will increase the value of these foods as well as their potential and value for export.”
The personalisation of food products and diets was also expected to be another major area for innovation in the industry, especially when it comes to total dietary advice solutions for consumers.
“Currently, many are already offering dietary advice in this line by assigning a diet after conducting a blood test – in future, a more advanced regimen can be expected when this assessment is done based on the genome,” said Professor Nitithamyong.
“Innovations such as AI software could also be brought in to analyse information and make even more specific recommendations, and this is where the food industry is likely to benefit, as it is likely that there would be high demand for products manufactured based on specific requirements.”
She added that innovation was also needed when it comes to personalisation for specific demographics as a whole, such as for the elderly population, where special modifications need to be made to food texture to prevent choking and aid swallowing.