Food Science and Technology Association of Thailand (FoSTAT) advisor and Food Innovation Regulation Network (FIRN) Chair Professor (Emeritus) Pavinee Chinachoti said that managing the innovation and commercialisation of foods is far more complex than jumping into the relevant projects, as many local firms tend to do.
“This is even more so when it comes to managing the innovation of foods for health aspects, even if these are not functional foods – a combination of industry and academic knowledge is required to help any such venture succeed,” she said.
Speaking at the Food Ingredient Asia Conference 2019 held as part of the recent Fi Asia Thailand 2019 event in Bangkok, she added that many local firms have misunderstandings about the industry, which tends to lead to unsuccessful commercialisation attempts.
“Many tend to feel that as long as the product they aim to commercialise has not been used as a food before, this means it is automatically unique and a great business opportunity, for example using insects as food,” she said.
“They fail to understand that this might not resonate especially with consumers in the Western world as they may find it strange, and it is hard to know how they will react.”
Another major mistake local firms or academic researchers working on food innovations with commercial objectives tend to make is to wait for research results to materialise before working on the commercial aspects, as they tend to think of this as ‘the easy part’.
“They tend to see marketing and production as being easy, but it really is not. Even if both the research and commercial aspects are all being done by the same company, if there is no early preparation and collaboration, things will still be difficult,” said Prof Chinachoti.
“In an academic setting, this is even more prominent. Beyond Thailand, even in the United States there is only one university that earns any money at all from the industry based on its food innovation - that is the University of Florida, because a professor there developed Gatorade 25 to 30 years ago.”
Within research, many Thai food innovators also fail to understand that especially with novel foods and ingredients, human trials will be required to get approval from the Thai authorities.
“Many Thai companies tend to feel that in vitro and animal tests are good enough, but this is not so - human trials are definitely also needed,” she said.
Worse yet was when it comes to market research, as this tends to be even more overlooked, especially by companies that feel their product is ‘good enough’.
“It is important to be [confident] in your product, but market research also needs to be done. Many companies always have this ‘my product will sell itself’ mentality, which [may not be so in the real world],” she added.
Overall, she stressed the importance of having a cross-functional team available to ensure the highest probability of commercial success.
“This team would comprise people from marketing, legal, operations, research and so on, and they must all be involved from the very beginning of the project,” emphasised Prof Chinachoti.
Even more misunderstandings for making claims
For companies that wish to make health claims for products, even more industry misunderstandings were highlighted.
“A very big mistake firms in Thailand make is to assume that whatever is used traditionally can also be claimed – many ancient plants and botanicals are said to be able to have health properties, but these still require study and validation before any claims can be made,” Prof Chinachoti said.
“The other thing is that they assume the process of making health claims for food is very easy, but it is actually even more difficult that than for drugs. In drugs, the symptoms, diseases and effects are clear, but in food, we are looking for small biomarker changes in healthy subjects which are harder to see.”
She also highlighted that most companies always aim to make functional claims for their products, but were unaware of the other types of claims that can be made with much less hassle.
“An example here is positive and negative nutrient content claims – this can be more easily proven as long as you can show your product has a certain level of the nutrient [for which the claim is to be made].”
“It is not necessary to always make functional claims – of all, this is actually the hardest type.”