Christian Philippsen, Managing Director, BENEO Asia Pacific shared his overview of what it means to be a functional food manufacturer in the region with AFB at the Food Ingredients Indonesia in October 2018.
Growth of Healthier Food and Beverages
“The key driving force in Thailand’s market is health. Diabetes is unfortunately on the rise, as is obesity, and these things are linked. When people create awareness, Thai people look for healthier products for a more balanced diet,” Christian said.
“Therefore, growth in Thailand is not only limited to organic food and drinks, but products with less sugar and fat content that are healthier for their diets and better for blood sugar management. People are willing to pay more for healthier products like functional ingredients.”
Thailand’s Organic Market
A report by Euromonitor revealed that Thailand is the world’s 43rd largest market in 2017 for organic packaged food and beverages worth US$15.6 million. The top three market leaders in terms of sales are Capital Rice, which singlehandedly captured 45.1% of the market, Green Net Coop, and Nature’s Path Food.
“Organic is in the spotlight at the moment because it is seen as something more healthy,” Christian said.
“It is not about wealth, but about the awareness of products. We conducted surveys across Asia and Thailand, and Thai people are very well aware of what they eat, what is healthy and what isn’t.”
Although Thailand’s organic market is expected to grow nearly 7% in 2018, this is slower than the expected double-digit year-on-year growth in the Asia Pacific region, averaging 13%. However, the country will still remain on course for moderate expansion, with a CAGR of 6.6% from 2017 – 2022, making it still an exciting market. “There are new market trends like slimming and beauty in Thailand that we don’t see in other markets,” he said. “The education of what is good for people makes Thailand a bit more advanced than other countries in the region.”
“The focus is not so much on organic products but the well-being of end consumers and what they are looking for,” he pointed out. “They are looking for better quality carbohydrates to replace sugar. They are looking for healthier products without compromising on taste and texture. Organic is one part of the growth but it is not the entire solution.”
The company has three lines that help end consumers control their weight and manage blood sugar levels, increase calcium absorption and other aspects that improve their health and achieve a balanced diet. That is why BENEO’s customers approach them to help develop new products, because manufacturers can replace fat and sugar with prebiotic fibers like Inulin or Oligofructose, and healthier carbohydrates like Palatinose™, which will be soon coming into Thailand.
“At the end of the day, consumers like to eat what tastes nice. This is especially true in Asia, where people are very conscious about their food. That’s why it is important to meet the taste and textures demanded by consumers.”
The first line of products consists of functional fibers Orafti® Inulin and Oligofructose, which are derived from chicory roots grown near BENEO’s production sites in Belgium and Chile. Primarily used for fiber enrichment, these functional fibers are typically used in dairy applications such as yogurt because their creamy texture resembles fat, while oligofructose can also be used to reduce sugar. These functional fibers are popular as they do not compromise on taste and texture.
The second line of products consists of functional carbohydrates, including Palatinose™, a high quality functional carbohydrate derived from the sugar beet. Also known as Isomaltulose, it is a natural component of honey and a healthy alternative to sucrose. Unlike sucrose, it has a low glycemic index (GI). This means it provides sustained energy over longer periods of time and does not create a spike in blood sugar when consumed, which is less taxing on the body. It is ideal for diabetics being fully and easily digestible, and has a mild sweet taste. Moreover, it is an easy substitute because manufacturers can achieve these benefits by simply swapping out 100 grams of sugar with the same amount of Palatinose™. Another of BENEO’s functional carbohydrates is Isomalt, which is commonly used in sugar-free hard boiled candies and the only sugar replacement derived from sugar beets.
Thirdly, BENEO has a range of natural rice ingredients, such as Remypure rice starch. Rice starch is characterized by very small granules that are much smaller than those of other cereals, tubers and roots, such as corn and potato, which makes them suitable for smoothing the surface of confectionery coatings. BENEO’s rice starch is ideally suited to mimicking a full bodied, fatty mouthfeel. It provides creamy textures and can even serve as a natural fat replacer. As an alternative to dairy or other grain ingredients, BENEO’s specialty rice ingredients perform well in lactose- and gluten-free products as it can also enhance the colour of confectionery coatings thereby doing away with the need for artificial colour coatings. These qualities make rice starch an ideal ingredient for clean label coatings. “People are looking for clean solutions for texturizing, and rice starch is one of the options we offer with nutritional benefits to end consumers.”
BENEO Asia Pacific
The regional head office in Singapore monitors 16 countries that are bordered by India, Pakistan, China, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand, except Laos and Cambodia. The region’s newest market is Myanmar. The company partners with local distributors who have highly experienced sales teams. “It is important to understand the local culture and history, and to build connections on the ground to distribute and educate our clients about our ingredients.”
Their local partners are in turn supported by a complete team in Singapore. There are specialists in regulatory issues and nutrition communication experts who translate clinical studies about the benefits of BENEO products into laymen language. The sales and marketing team help localize concepts for Asia, market researchers conduct surveys, and supply-chain experts manage imports and distribute products across the region. Most importantly, technical experts work with customers to develop Asian food products and recipes to suit local ingredients and taste preferences.
“We are moving towards regionalization because all our ingredients need to be a part of the Asian diet to help our end consumers achieve a balanced diet that will hopefully help them prevent or postpone the onset of diabetes by lowering our blood sugar levels.”
BENEO in Thailand
“We have been very successful in implementing all our ingredients in Thailand for more than a decade, and it is one of the most important markets for us in Asia.” This is a result of high consumer awareness and discernment between healthy and unhealthy food. “High quality products derived from natural sources can be slightly more expensive than lower quality products, but our functional ingredients have been proven through clinical studies and this quality is something people are willing to pay for it, just like with organic products. We know demand is there, and that’s why we have been so successful.”