‘Not a shiny new toy’: How ofi’s new Singapore site will lead to ‘holy grail’ localised innovation
Ofi is a new Olam operating arm that focuses on the food products and ingredients aspects of the business, covering the five major areas of dairy, cocoa, coffee, nuts and spices across the entire value chains of these from farm to manufacturing.
The firm recently launched a new solutions centre in Singapore, highlighting that this actual physical presence in the region will play a very important role in its localisation strategy and allowing for product personalisation and customization to be accelerated.
“To truly appeal to consumers in a region, it is crucial to be able to understand what they want and the problems that brands need to solve to attract them whether it be in terms of innovation, application, sustainability credentials and so on,” ofi CEO A. Shekhar told FoodNavigator-Asia in an exclusive interview after the centre’s inauguration.
“We chose to base our centre in Singapore because of its strategic location – it is important to be close to market across various markets in a region, and Singapore is able to do this for us for the APAC region, as a small market but very important test market of how food trends will evolve and consumer tastes change.
“So this centre is not just a shiny new toy, it is a very central piece of our strategy here in APAC in order to provide localised, customised food and beverage products that will appeal to local consumers.”
When it comes to hitting the spot for APAC consumers, Shekhar also highlighted a ‘holy grail’ of characteristics that need to be met here, namely health, taste and convenience.
“What consumers want today is really that healthy indulgence and that full taste, flavor and authenticity whilst knowing what they are eating is good for them – and this alone is not always easy to achieve,” he said.
“Add to that their demand for having an a-ha moment in their food throughout any occasion, whether it be at-home, out-of-home or on-the go; as well as their need to relate to the concept of the food and how personal it is to them – this all shows an added need for both personalization and customization.
“So given this, it is clear that health, taste and convenience together are really the holy grail of obtaining consumer appeal, which again comes down to the need for a deep understanding of the consumer and requires that deep localized knowledge.”
Ofi Chief Innovation and Quality Officer Kamesh Ellajosyula added that on top of these stringent demands, APAC consumers now also want items that are unique and can provide them with a sense of adventure.
“Consumers have been caged in their homes a lot over the past few years, so food is another source of adventure for them,” he said.
“Our surveys have shown as many as two-thirds of APAC consumers want this, but want this in combination with healthier ingredients so things like lower sugar and salt, yet more flavor.
“So one of the ways we have learnt to innovate has been to use things like nuts and spices to replace salt yet increase flavor naturally, enabling the innovation of products with less E label ingredients and additives but yet having the taste they crave.
“Amidst all this there needs to be a good sense of where consumers are going, as it is now far less likely to be a lasting sort of occurrence, but more of a desire to try different things and just be very adventurous in their eating.”
With inflationary challenges affecting commodity costs all over the world, ofi looks to be able to offer more solutions to companies that need help with formulations and ingredients as well.
“So for products like beverages or confectionary that use cocoa for example, if a brand is having issues due to inflation and rising costs, we might be able to help them switch to more cost-effective ingredients such as a more potent type of cocoa that can still give the product the desired flavor and colour,” said Ellajosyula.
“This will help to manage application costs and all of that but still allow them to deliver a good quality product at the end of the day.
“All in all, given the current global situation, it really is all about balance, and we also are looking to ensure that balance of all the areas including taste, health, cost and even the sense of adventure consumers are looking for.”