Fruity future: Thai Coconut, TipCo, Zespri and more on the evolution of fruit-based innovation in APAC

By Pearly Neo

- Last updated on GMT

Fruit-based innovation and consumption formats in the Asia Pacific region are evolving far beyond the conventional.
Fruit-based innovation and consumption formats in the Asia Pacific region are evolving far beyond the conventional.

Related tags FNA Deep Dive Fruits

Fruit-based product innovation and consumption formats in APAC are evolving far beyond conventional use, with innovation spanning bakery products to alternative seafood, according to industry experts.

The consumption of fruits is by no means a novel practice given its known health and nutritional benefits, with the World Health Organisation recommending a minimum of 400g fruit and vegetable consumption daily – but the format of consumption most familiar to consumers is usually as a whole piece of fruit, a filling or as a flavouring.

In recent times, many food and beverage firms have begun looking closely at fruits as a more central component of their product innovation, particularly in the Asia Pacific region where many of these fruits of interest are native and have the potential to offer both a steady supply and cost savings.

One of these is Thai Coconut, which is one of the largest coconut suppliers and coconut product manufacturers both in Thailand as well as worldwide and has evolved from utilising coconuts not only for the coconut water or coconut milk to make beverages as has been commonplace for many years, but now to use coconuts to make a wide portfolio of items from snacks to plant-based seafood.


“Using fruits for innovation is definitely becoming a very big trend in this region, and I am not only saying that because we specialise in this area,” ​Thai Coconut Strategic Marketing Manager Sirikanya Pushpavesa told FoodNavigator-Asia​.

“For coconuts in particular, there was first a major trend and demand for coconut water as a healthier beverage, then coconut milk to replace dairy, and now the age-old practice of using coconut cream or milk for cooking is also gaining new life due to the plant-based trend as well.

“We have developed many relevant products, including a range of ready meals using coconut milk in green, red or yellow curries; then took it a step further to develop coconut chicken satay and then using the coconut meat to make plant-based calamari rings.

“The calamari rings work really well because coconut meat is naturally crunchy and chewy and of course white in colour, which are all characteristics that match real calamari. This is a market that is still growing, but the growth is happening very steadily.”

Coconuts are abundantly available in South East Asia due to the climate and also it being a traditional farming activity, hence it comes as no surprise that many firms in this region are keen to develop its potential.

Vietnam’s SokFarm is another example of a food firm that has taken coconut innovation to the next level, basing its entire product portfolio on using coconuts to make items from sugar replacements to vinegar and its unique Aminos soy sauce replacement.

“We make our Aminos from the fermentation of coconut nectar, and have developed this as a successful alternative to soy sauce with the similar savoury taste but the added benefits of being soy-free and 50% lower in sodium,”​ SokFarm CEO Dinh Ngai Pham told us.

“There is actually a huge market to target here given the popularity of soy sauce in the region but also rising consumer concerns over sodium consumption – we plan to look at all the markets using soy sauce from HORECA to food service and of course at-home cooking.

“Aminos is naturally salty as the area where we have our farm at the Mekong has been seeing rapid rises in seawater levels over the past few years, so we foresee even better supply from this angle, and as its popularity grows and the taste is recognised as being just as good if not better than soy sauce, we also hope for even better demand too.”


Asia has also seen a rise in consumer demand for better-for-you snacks that carry labels such as low-gluten or low-sugar, both of which conventional pre-packaged snacks like cookies would find it difficult to accommodate due to the need to use flour and sugar for both taste and texture purposes – but here, fruits may again offer an unusual solution.

“The rise in health consciousness amongst Asian consumers has also meant many of them seeking out ways to eat better, one of which is to boost their daily fruit and vegetable intake to meet recommended daily consumption levels,”​ Tropical Fruit Fusion Managing Director Sirida Nagadatta told us.

“So we took that demand into account alongside consumers’ penchants for snacking on a daily basis, and have attempted to make this fruit consumption more enjoyable and convenient for them via innovation.

“One of our main products is the Frappy Gummy line, where we have infused the gummies with a whopping 40% of fruit content which is the highest to be found in any gummy or confectionery as far as we know.

“The other is our Brownie Thins snacks line, where the main ingredient is banana – here, I do not mean that the brownies are banana flavoured, but instead that we have managed to completely utilise bananas as the main base of the brownies instead of flour or other grains or beans which usually need added sugar and additives to improve the taste and texture.

“By using bananas as a base and just adding chocolate then baking, we have found a balance between the required crisp texture of a brownie and acceptable sweetness due to the banana’s natural sweetness.”

Watch the video below to find out more.



Drink developments

Within the drinks sector, fruits are already very widely used whether as juice or as a flavour, but there are still some major changes happening in this part of the industry.

For one, the demand for healthier options is now driving products with higher fresh fruit juice content to grow much faster than sugar-sweetened cordials or mixed products, which has caused many brands to re-evaluate their product development strategies.


“This has become very apparent especially after the pandemic, where we saw significantly more consumers and customers seeking healthier drinks and asking more questions about our juices,”​ Leuchar Pisitthakarn, Interim CEO of Tipco, one of the largest juice brands in South East Asia, told us.

“The point is always made to us to ensure that the products are less sweet and to not use cane sugar or sweeteners – which essentially means an increased need to rely on the actual fruits for the product to taste good.

“This is definitely something we have done, in addition to developing different product sizes to help consumers looking for juices in various formats, such as 180ml to 200ml serve sizes for those who want a single serving, or our large family sizes for those focused on sharing.”

One of the firm’s newest launches in respond to this trend has been a 100% juice range dubbed Tipco Select Zero; as well as the Tipco Fruity Mix range that focuses on added functionality with high vitamin A and C content.

Ice cold commitment

The rise in popularity of fruit-based innovation can also be clearly seen in the frozen category, most significantly when it comes to dessert innovation.

“There is definitely a rise in demand for fruit-based innovation and using these as a main ingredient, especially in ice cream and smoothies – this can be clearly seen in all these new concepts that pop-up with fruit or veggie-based products,”​ House of Pops CEO and Co-Founder Mazen Kanaan told us.

House of Pops Watermelon
House of Pops sees fruits as an increasingly important ingredient and flavour in the frozen desserts space. ©House of Pops

“This is a trend that is directly related to consumer needs, where consumers today are demanding healthier, better products that help them attain their individual goals, and fruits are naturally a part of that journey as an excellent source of vitamins, minerals, and fibre.

“In the ice cream category, there’s definitely still a lot of white space on healthy ice creams offered in different formats [and this is where fruits are able to fill that niche], especially considering that in addition to consumer trends we also see local authorities [in the Middle East for example] being far stricter on food regulations.

“These regulations are gradually guiding local suppliers, manufacturers and food concepts towards healthier offerings [which again] can be met by fruit-focused and health-focused innovation.”

Thai Coconut is also looking to capitalise on the growth of the frozen desserts category, by fusing the demand here with the rising demand for coconuts and other tropical fruits in markets such as China.

“We have developed a range of fruit sticks that will be made using 100% fruit content, and shaped to look like the actual fruit it is made of too,”​ Pushpavesa said.

“This will ride on the popularity of local fruits such as mango, coconut, durian and pineapple, and we have made every effort to keep these to no more than 120kcal per stick so it can still serve as a healthy, satisfying dessert.

“Right now these ice sticks are doing well in Thailand, but we have plans to export to China soon given the high interest in our tropical fruits there.”

Getting the word out

Whilst the demand for fruit-based innovations as a whole is definitely on the rise, there still remains many hurdles before the industry can truly see a major boom, particularly as this new wave of innovation tends to require higher cost.

“Using real fruits is going to have higher costs than say, using flavouring and sugar to make a gummy jelly – there is not much way around that right now especially with logistical challenges,”​ said Nagadetta.


“As such, the demand may be high, but in terms of consumers willing to really pay a lot more for 100% real fruit products, it is still considered something of a niche market, though the rise in health consciousness has definitely helped.

“That said, we can see that consumers all over the world today are much more open-minded to more types of fruits and more types of innovations, and in Asia we have the advantage of being close to a lot of the ‘exotic’ fruits that are garnering a lot of interest, so that is something to be grateful for.”

In addition to the innovation aspect, new research has shown that there is also a strong need to incorporate fruit information and education into consumer lives, particularly those of children.

“Zespri partnered with the University of Auckland to conduct the world’s first intervention study investigating the relationship between fruit, vegetable and children’s mental wellbeing,”​ Zespri Core Products Innovation Manager Dr Paul Blatchford said.

“Amongst the findings were that increased exposure to the diverse fruit and vegetable options available locally could lead to higher acceptance and improvement of diet quality.

“Interestingly, the heightened awareness of healthy eating from the home-based interventions [run during the study] also prompted parents to choose more low-fat, low-sugar food options for their children.

“Zespri plans to now conduct larger scaled clinical trials, starting from China, to build knowledge in less-explored areas of nutrition and understand the tangible benefits of fruit and vegetable consumption on well-being.”

These findings come closely after Zespri’s launch of its Fruit Pillbox​ earlier this year, developed based on the Nudge Theory in hopes of increasing APAC’s currently low fruit consumption.

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