More than half of consumers (52%) in Asia, the Middle East and Africa (APMEA) always look for cleaner labels when shopping, but clean eating in the East is very different from the West, according to new research released by Kerry today.
The ‘Cleaner Label: Safety, Health and Environment – The New Narratives’ report – based on market analysis, expert interviews and a survey of 4,000 shoppers – found that claims relating to food safety are more important than health and sustainability claims for APMEA consumers.
“The cleaner label movement is quickly gaining ground in APMEA, but the vast majority of research still relates to Europe and the Americas where the trend first took off. We commissioned this study to gain a better understanding of consumer priorities in APMEA. What’s clear is that clean eating is very different in this region, so it’s crucial that F&B brands localize their cleaner label strategies to succeed here,” said Mr. John Savage, President and CEO, Kerry Asia, Middle East and Africa.
The report identifies four key trends:
Safety concerns dominate
According to the research, claims about the elimination of ingredients that are thought to be harmful rank as the three most important claims by APMEA consumers, with ‘no artificial additives/preservatives’ in first place, followed by ‘no pesticides/pollutants’ and ‘no antibiotics/growth hormones’ respectively.
Kerry’s report also finds that this is consistent across all categories. For Snacks, Soups, Sauces and Dressings, Meat and Fish, Dairy, Beverages and Bakery, Confectionery and Cereals, the claim of ‘no artificial additives/preservatives’ ranked as the most important for APMEA consumers.
“A lot of countries in APMEA have histories of high-profile food scandals due to poor food processing and handling and malpractices, so it’s not surprising that food safety trumps health and environmental claims to be the top cleaner label priority in this region,” said Mr. Savage.
“Our research has found that whilst health and sustainability are also beginning to drive shopping and consumption behaviour in APMEA, they both operate in the context of food safety. F&B brands must take this into consideration when communicating with consumers here,” he added.
Fat reduction tops the health agenda
The report also reveals key differences in healthy eating priorities between East and West. While the Western narrative around healthier eating has shifted from fat reduction to carbohydrates and sugar reduction, the ‘Cleaner Label’ report reveals that fat still remains the top health concern amongst APMEA consumers in most markets except Australia and South Africa.
More than half (53%) of APMEA consumers admit that they would pay a premium for products with no/low-fat claims, and consumers in the region as a whole rank low/no fat as more important than claims about low/no sugar across all categories. Desire for weight management in order to improve appearance is one of the key drivers of this trend, with two in five APMEA consumers saying that they associate healthier food with food that makes them look better. This is a particularly strong message for consumers in South East Asia, with more than 50% of shoppers in the Philippines and Thailand associating healthy food claims with benefits for their appearance.
The other major reason why fat reduction claims are so important in the region is that obesity – and obesity-related diseases like diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and certain types of cancer – are an increasing health concern. 41% of consumers in Asia Pacific are overweight or obese, up from 35% in 19901.
Environmental issues need to be personally relevant
In terms of environmental claims, ‘sustainably-sourced’ ranks not far behind ‘reduced fat’ in terms of its importance to APMEA consumers and is in the top 10 cleaner label claims by importance for APMEA consumers.
However, the report finds that this is, in part, due to perceptions about the health benefits of sustainably-sourced products, rather than being solely motivated by environmental concerns, as more than half of respondents in APMEA (55%) say that they are likely to purchase sustainably-sourced food because they believe that it is healthier for them.
Significant regional variations in attitudes to provenance
The final out-take from the report is that provenance has become a shortcut for many consumers in APMEA to judge all three cleaner label priorities – safety, health and the environment.
The trust that consumers place in local provenance, however, varies greatly from country to country, with Japan (43%), Australia (38%) and Turkey (26%) topping the list of countries where consumers trust local provenance as a mark of food safety, compared to China (3%), Saudi Arabia (7%), India (7%) and the majority of Southeast Asian countries, where consumers have very little trust in the safety of local produce.
“Provenance is an increasingly important cleaner label message across the region, but the disparity in how much trust consumers place in local produce means that brands need to take a very nuanced approach – promoting local ingredients and production in some markets, whilst focusing on international sourcing in others where this is considered to be a better sign of safety,” said Mr. Savage.
When consumers in the region do buy food products made from local ingredients, this is mainly driven by a desire to support local communities (31%), followed by assurances that it is safer than imported produce (26%), a perception that local produce is healthier (22%) and the belief that local produce is cheaper (21%).
“As consumers in the region become more educated about health and the environment, the impact of cleaner label on purchase decisions in APMEA is only going to continue increasing in years to come. The surest route to success is for brands to frame their health and environment benefits in the context of food safety,” said Mr. Savage.
“However, in this region in particular – where ‘unhealthy’ ingredients, like fat and sugar, underpin a lot of traditional dishes – it is also critical that the quest for cleaner label doesn’t compromise taste. The F&B brands that are best placed to succeed will be those that can satisfy consumer demand for safety, health and sustainability, whilst preserving their traditional tastes,” he added.
1 Obesity in Asia reaches epidemic level, Nikkei Asian Review, 2017, https://asia.nikkei.com/Economy/Obesity-in-Asia-reaches-epidemic-level