Filipinos getting more health conscious but want further support from food industry to improve diets

A new report from Food Industry Asia (FIA) has revealed that although 81% of Filipinos believe that following a healthy, balanced diet is their own responsibility, they also want more support from the industry. Among this support, they want more visibility of reformulated food and beverage products, increased communications that outline the benefits of these products, and clearer nutrition labels.

The report ‘Healthier Product Reformulation in the Philippines’, is the first of its kind for the country, and it surveyed both consumers and food and beverage (F&B) businesses. The report aimed to better understand behavioural trends and perceptions of solutions geared towards delivering improved nutrition such as reformulation and product labelling.

According to the report, health consciousness among Filipino consumers is increasing, with 56% of those surveyed claiming that they mostly maintain a healthy diet. While most consumers (99%) have shown some interest in adopting healthier eating habits, eating more fruits and vegetables (4%) and reducing the intake of salt (34%), sugar (3%), and fat (32%) have been identified as key areas to improve their diets.

However, a majority (79%) of consumers also believe that food companies should voluntarily change their product formulations and recipes to help consumers make – and stick – to these healthier choices. In line with this, three-quarters (76%) of Filipino consumers have indicated their receptiveness towards the addition or removal of ingredients and the use of alternatives to make a product healthier.

Commenting on the findings, Sabeera Ali, manager of public affairs for FIA, said it illustrated the level of acceptance towards the reformulation of products in the Philippines. More importantly, the findings also highlight the opportunity for the industry to create a healthier food environment for consumers, which is where the majority of the industry has started to shift towards.

“Against a backdrop of growing concerns over obesity, non-communicable diseases like diabetes, and COVID-19, product reformulation is already well underway in the Philippines to encourage healthier food choices and behaviours. Our findings show that 70% of companies surveyed have embarked on reformulation to improve the nutritional value of their products.

“With consumers getting more health conscious, there is now a great opportunity and incentive for the industry to invest in reformulation and drive consumer choice by providing healthier food products,” said Ali.

While the commercial incentive to reformulate is strong for the industry, the report also found that more can be done in conjunction with the government – 94% of companies felt that greater fiscal incentives would help to support research and development (R&D) activities.

This highlighted the need for multi-stakeholder collaborations to drive more R&D activities for new product development and reformulation, according to Elizabeth M. de Leon-Lim, chairman and president of the Philippine Chamber of Food Manufacturers Inc. (PCFMI).

de Leon-Lim said, “Multi-stakeholder collaborations are crucial in accelerating the industry’s current efforts when it comes to healthier product development and reformulation. They provide the opportunity for food and beverage businesses to work together and share technical know-hows as well as success stories to encourage further R&D.

“Such collaborations also mean that the industry can work alongside the government to address some key challenges when it comes to reformulation, and strengthen the use of existing data on nutritional studies from the government. With the report findings highlighting how consumers want the industry to play a part in their dietary and consumption habits, it is important that we all work together to drive product reformulation in the Philippines forward.”

The report also found that:

  • Consumers are paying greater attention to the quality and taste of products: 90% of respondents indicated that the quality of products is important when selecting food and beverages, while 87% felt that taste is crucial. The clear display of nutritional information on packaging is also important to 79% of respondents when making a product choice.
  • Maintaining product taste and texture was identified as the top reformulation challenge: While the challenges for different nutrients may vary, maintaining the taste profile of products while reducing sugar and fat emerged as a top concern for businesses. Budget limitations were also identified as a key challenge for the industry.
  • The industry’s reformulation priorities have shifted: Food and beverage companies have become more focused on increasing wholegrain, protein, dietary fibre, sugar reduction and salt reduction when reformulating products – as opposed to previous priorities on reducing trans-fat, saturated fat, and energy.