Demand for convenient product formats skyrocketing
Convenient product formats were already on the rise prior to 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic pushed the popularity of these even higher after it caused a sharp rise in needs for products that could be easily prepared at home.
“Convenience has been the biggest driver behind product innovations particularly in sectors such as the ready-to-cook (RTC) category,” Tyson Foods APAC Vice President Commercial Lee Yeong Sheng told FoodNavigator-Asia.
“The demands for this have definitely been driven by COVID-19 when everyone had to work from home and cook at home – it’s one of those trends that was born out of necessity but is now here to stay.”
Even moving forward into 2023 as things continue to open up and some semblance of normalcy returns to global markets, Lee believes that consumers are unlikely to want to relinquish the convenience of semi-prepared foods that can help them cut short time spent on preparation in the kitchen.
“As more consumers go back to the office, it is unlikely that they would want to spend more time cooking dishes from scratch,” he said.
“Quite the opposite actually, as this happens and free time grows sparser, they are more likely to seek out options that can be consumed on-the-go and are also easy to prepare.”
Tyson is well-known for its RTC chicken products available in various formats from nuggets to drumsticks, and Lee is confident that the convenience trend will be a great boost for the firm moving forward into the new year.
“The rise of the convenience trend drove quite a bit of growth in the overall frozen foods category [over the past few years] due to the nature of these being easier to prepare, but what has been even more prominent was the increased demand for variety and different ingredients and formats,” he said.
“We have definitely seen parents and officegoers looking for more types of convenient choices to fill lunchboxes e.g. chicken strips to make a tortilla or plant-based spicy nuggets for a spicy meat-free kick.”
More than just sustainability talk needed to convince consumers
Sustainability is another industry trend that has been on the rise for several years now, and remained very much in focus all throughout and now past the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic – but with something of an evolution now, as consumers are no longer satisfied with mere numbers and promises.
“The key to providing credibility and increasing trust in sustainability initiatives is very much visibility, as consumers, regulators and other industry players all need this visibility to be confident that sustainability strategies and initiatives being invested in are really being efficiently implemented,” Thai Union Group Director for Sustainability Adam Brennan told us.
“Providing visibility will require the analysis of data by a dependable and trustworthy third party – for Thai Union, as a large part of our business focuses on seafood, we have invested in partnering with the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership (SFP), an NGO that is renowned for its work in establishing sustainable seafood chains globally.
“To step up the credibility and provide increased visibility for our sustainability work, we decided to provide SFP with all the necessary supply chain data it needs to be evaluated with its revered Seafood Metrics system – a first for Thai Union, and possibly the most extensive verification process we have ever undergone.”
Brennan added that although this was no easy feat, the firm has found this move to be a crucial one in order to avoid suspicions of greenwashing – or bluewashing in this case - as consumers are now so familiar with the term sustainability that merely making commitments can no longer cut it moving into 2023.
Similarly, F&B giant Nestle opted to release more in-depth information regarding its sustainable energy switch in Australia, announcing details about the source and type of energy it was switching to rather than merely announcing a 100% renewable energy commitment.
“Nestle Australia has made a renewable power purchase agreement (PPA) for 10 years [with wind farms] in New South Wales to generate enough electricity for all of Nestle’s sites,” Nestle Oceania Director of Corporate Affairs & Sustainability Margaret Stuart told us.
“This will cover the functions in all of our six Australian factories, two distribution centres, three corporate offices, 20 retail boutiques, and laboratory to use only renewable energy, and wind energy will be our sole focus for this for now.”
Similarly, the firm has been more open this year with regard to the hurdles it continues to face in terms of developing sustainable packaging to replace plastic for the Asia Pacific region compared to markets in the west.
“Our biggest challenge in developing sustainable packaging materials in our region is humidity as moisture can affect product quality,” Stuart added.
“In these instances we still need to use packaging materials which have a higher moisture barrier to prevent moisture entering the pack, an approach that is widely used in humid areas.
“Heat is also a concern for shelf life because it affects the quality of the product, [so] we need to conduct extensive trials locally when adopting new packaging materials to ensure it is fit for purpose in our environment.
“Shelf life also needs to be validated using worst case scenarios for both temperature and humidity, as well as continued use of refrigerated distribution systems for products that may be sensitive to heat.”
Inflation, price hikes and continued uncertainty driving affordable product popularity
Although the packaged food and beverage sector emerged from COVID-19 relatively unscathed compared to sectors such as foodservice or hotelling, the remaining effects of the pandemic in addition to global geopolitical conflicts such as the Russia-Ukraine war had wreaked havoc on economic stability and resulted in inflation in most countries.
This has in turn resulted in price hikes for most daily items including food and beverage products, and caused most consumers to now increasingly seek out more affordable, value-for-money purchases.
Most companies have posted less optimistic outlooks for 2023 as a result even with positive performances throughout 2022, for example with Nestle in Malaysia predicting continuing challenges into 2023.
“We continue to contend with tough market conditions defined by high commodity prices and energy costs, in a challenging and volatile global environment,” Nestle Malaysia CEO Juan Aranols said.
“Adding to this, the Malaysian Ringgit has depreciated to its weakest point against the USD in many years, further compounding the impact from imported commodities.
“[That said], Nestle is also are making sure to do our part and offer product value for money – in fact, I feel that the F&B industry as a whole needs to be mindful about this, and continue to ensure the affordability of F&B products.”
This situation is not unique to Nestle, with many other companies finding themselves in the same boat and finding product affordability an increasingly important business strategy, such as Carlsberg which has traditionally been very focused on premiumisation.
“This year saw a rebound for Carlsberg’s mainstream beer products with a 32% growth, as opposed to continuous downturns over the past few years, showing how consumers are seeking out increasing value for their money,” Carlsberg Malaysia MD Stefano Clini said.
“But affordability does not just mean cheaper products as our premium products also saw a 41% growth - The fact that premium is continuing to grow after all this clearly shows that this strategy is right and it is working.
“We can see that consumers are polarised between getting both discounts and affordable luxury, so the ongoing inflation is actually another reason we are going to continue focusinng on premiumisation into 2023 so that they get their good value for money.”
Alternative proteins rapidly moving to unique new sources
Whether in support or opposition, there can be no doubt within the food sector that alternative products are carving out a significant portion of the protein market and rapidly moving the category from niche to common, even if not totally mainstream just yet.
Within this, plant-based protein has been the first sector to make an impact commercially, with many early players focused heavily on using common commodities such as soy and wheat as base ingredients.
But as the industry evolved and realisations dawned that these were not necessarily providing the desired health and environmental benefits with maximum efficacy, newer firms have been increasingly focused on looking away from the most common agricultural crops - i.e. wheat, soy, corn, rice, barley, oats - in their innovation, and this is a trend expected to continue into 2023.
One such player is China’s Haofood which uses peanuts as its base ingredient, hoping to not only ride on peanuts’ increased sustainability credentials but nutritional benefits as well.
“Peanuts are more sustainable than many other crops such as wheat and soy not only from a farming point of view, but also because it is a nitrogen-fixing crop that can improve soil quality,” Haofood CEO Astrid Prajogo told us.
“Adding to this, we also figured out how to use the byproduct of peanut oil production to make our plant-based meat, which gives it the added sustainable aspect of upcycling.
“From a nutritional viewpoint, the peanut-based alternative also contains high levels of vitamin E which is good for skin, and many female consumers are keen on this for the functional benefits – and this is something that is definitely going to remain on-trend in China and many other markets in 2023 and beyond.”
Taking things a step further, Australia’s Leaf Protein Co has developed technology to utilise the RuBisCo protein that is found in virtually any leaf as an ingredient for all sorts of plant-based innovation.
“We have seen that many big food companies that make snack foods are very interested in creating products that are healthier, e.g. with less sugar or salt and RuBisCo protein actually can help here as it has various functionalities from binding to gelling to solubility and more,” Leaf Protein Co Co-Founder and CEO Fern Ho told us.
“This enables it to act as a natural clean label additive that gives various functions, and can be utilised across many types of products from snacks to plant-based dairy and plant-based meats.”
Industry recognition of the value of this is clear, as the firm has already secured agreements with many big names including Mondelez, Nestle, Vitasoy, v2foods, vEEF and more, all of which are awaiting its pilot prototypes, expected to go live in 2023, so as to work on incorporation and E number additive replacement.
Spicy flavours making a kickback
Diving more deeply into specific flavour trends, 2023 is also likely to see the launch of more spice and spicy-oriented flavours in various products from snacks to sauces.
According to flavours specialist expert McCormick, spicy flavours are seeing a revival in popularity across many different product categories with many consumers on the lookout for more sensorial consumption experiences.
“Spicy may in essence be a flavour, but to the consumer it is also a multidimensional, multisensorial experience that enacts physical reactions including heat to the food,” McCormick APAC VP for Flavour Solutions Betty Juliana Tan told us.
“As such, it is not just chillis to make spicy snacks but also other sources of passive heat like pepper, paprika or ginger as the focus is on heat.”
It has always been well-known that Asian consumers have a propensity for spices, but in addition to the traditional use of these in culinary dishes, this spice preference is now extending further into more ‘modern’ consumption occasions such as snacking and expected to grow even further in 2023.
“We are seeing several major food hosts or bases that can serve as ideal canvases for heat such as plant-based proteins, sandwiches and chicken, with the top five herbs and spices here are ginger, garlic, cinnamon, turmeric, and black pepper,” she said.
“The new wave of spicy flavours is also recognised as a microtheme called Spicy+, where consumers are demanding not just spicy across multiple categories but also a variety of spices, so regular chilli won’t cut it but there must be multiple options to choose from such as Carolina reaper, jalapeno, habanero, ghost pepper and so on.
“This Spicy+ trend can also be seen in flavours such as different types of regional heat that can showcase different cultural identities and also provide different intensities of heat – so Malaysia and Indonesia for example could have snacks with two different types of sambal chilli local to them that appeal to different consumer groups.”