Seeking a mindful panacea

Today’s consumers are putting the food and drink they buy under intense scrutiny. Looking at aspects such as health, naturalness, transparency and sustainability, Innova Market Insights has summarised this selection as making “mindful choices.” It’s a hot trend, but what exactly do consumers want? And how does this drive product development? Dr Kevin Robinson spoke to Julien Bonvallet, Brand Manager of Hi Europe & Ni, to find out more

We all want to stay healthy — and the fact that our diet and lifestyle have a decisive influence on this has reached the minds of the vast majority of consumers. However, it’s a bit like smoking: knowledge alone does not make us healthy.

Obesity and diet-related diseases are still on the rise and, for some people — possibly because of laziness or a lack of free time — healthy nutrition and exercise are still marginal issues. The odd fat-reduced yoghurt from time to time and grabbing a “diet lemonade” are felt to be completely sufficient.

Others celebrate a healthy lifestyle, exercise, eat a balanced diet, avoid carbohydrates and pay attention to possible intolerances, whether diagnosed or not. For these consumers, there is now a huge range of products on the market: from vegan, gluten- or lactose-free products to sports nutrition, dietary supplements and superfoods. And although these groups of people were the original drivers of evergreen trends such as “free from” and “clean label,” these categories are often no longer wide ranging enough for increasingly conscientious consumers.

Because “mindful choice” implies more than just mindfulness in terms of our own bodies — the desire for “good for me” products — this trend also stands for healthy food and beverages that have been ethically produced in the broadest sense. Thanks to the networked world, access to background information or like-minded people has never been easier, which is an ideal starting point for diligent consumers to be able to make informed choices.

Functional food on the rise

Just a few years ago, certain chocolate manufacturers added “an extra portion of milk” to score points with consumers. Buyers now clearly understand such statements to be simple marketing tools and now expect food-related health benefits to go much deeper.

Healthy eating is a widespread aspiration: in the IRI European Shopper Survey 2017, half of the participants stated that they were guided by health and well-being when shopping for food. However, the results also showed that very few actually manage to prepare fresh food themselves every day or to consume the recommended five portions of fruit and vegetables and/or sufficient amounts of dietary fibre and protein.

Functional foods are the ideal solution — and mindful choosers tend to take a more holistic approach to health, asking: What can I do to improve my intestinal well-being? How can I take in more valuable amino acids without consuming too many animal-based products? How can I detoxify my body?

To the same extent that the demand for food and beverages with added health benefits has increased, so too has end customer desire for taste, texture and convenience. A protein-enriched smoothie is ideal if the manufacturer can successfully mask the off notes of the added protein and retain the mouthfeel of a normal smoothie. Bread made from 100% whole wheat is perfect … but only if the baker manages to keep the crumb structure open and the taste mild.

Showcasing many novel health ingredients, Hi Europe & Ni will demonstrate how the industry is responding to consumer demands: innovative wholegrain flours allow the production of baked goods that are rich in dietary fibre and also deliver in terms of taste and texture.

Microalgae are not only rich in nutrients and proteins, they also help the body to eliminate environmental pollutants; some extracts even manage to do so without the typical fishy taste and green colour.

Functional fibres such as oligofructose have a prebiotic effect and, at the same time, help to reduce the sugar content in products. Polyphenol-rich plant and herbal extracts derived from green tea or turmeric can now, thanks to comprehensive R&D efforts, easily be added to various applications, offering optimised bioavailability, convenience, taste and the assurance that the ingredient’s health benefits are fully attainable.

Much more than clean label

The “clean label” category has developed significantly since its inception approximately 10 years ago. In the beginning, the claim dictated that the list of ingredients should be easy to understand and free from “chemical” sounding names or E-numbers. Conscious consumers now demand much more than a clean overview of the ingredients and want to know: Is the product of regional origin or organic? Are the raw materials GMO-free? Is there an additional health benefit?

For the industry, these requirements are both a challenge and an opportunity. The abundance of innovative ingredients with which manufacturers can reformulate their recipes — without adversely influencing taste, texture and, of course, pricing — and a growing supply of organic or GMO-free raw materials also involve a risk of overloading a label.

Anything that’s even remotely “inflammatory” can significantly affect consumer confidence. It’s therefore recommended that companies clarify which label or benefit is most appropriate for their target group: the fact that the raw materials for their potato crisps are from sustainable farming may be less relevant to a buyer than fat reduction information.

And for dietary supplements such as antioxidants, the natural origin of grape seeds, avocados or citrus ingredients may be a much more important issue than a GMO-free label.

It’s all about sustainability

At a time when climate change is a regular topic on the evening news and when photos of plastic waste in the sea are conquering social media, sustainability and environmental protection are key issues for the food and beverage sector.

The German retail giant, Edeka, is currently testing reusable plastic cans for its sausage and cheese counter and has started “smart branding” loose fruit and vegetables by laser to avoid using labels and plastic trays.

However, such solutions are not quite so easily implementable for processed foods and/or nutraceuticals because of strict safety regulations: packaging components or printing inks must not contaminate the product and a dry packed atmosphere must be ensured.

Here too, however, packaging technology now offers solutions that meet both legal requirements and satisfy the mindful chooser, such as yoghurt cups made with calcium carbonate (reducing the plastic content by 50%) or dietary supplement containers made of biopolymers. The long-term goal is to move away from finite recycling towards materials that can be recycled indefinitely without loss of quality.

Sustainable packaging is also a central theme in the Expo FoodTec pavilion and in the Expo FoodTec Content Hub presentations and lectures at Hi Europe & Ni.

Another important cornerstone is raw materials from sustainable and ethical sources. For companies, it is of paramount importance to check the provenance of their ingredients. Next to purity, high quality and the absence of contaminants, sustainable farming and processing are crucial, as are socio-economic considerations.

Even if conscious consumers cannot practice this until completion, a change is already under way: for example, 53% of consumers in the EU currently opt for organic end products (according to the previously mentioned Shopper Survey). Furthermore, a 2017 study on the snacking habits of millennials showed that new products with sustainability and traceability claims exceeded all other new product categories.

One thing’s for sure, responsibility and sustainability will become increasingly important for consumers in the Western world in the coming years. The Future of Nutrition Summit, which takes place on 26 November, one day before Hi Europe & Ni starts, is dedicated to the developments that will shape and change the industry in the coming years.

Important components of the one-day summit are innovative and commercially viable solutions that cope with the world’s limited natural resources and the risks associated with climate change and a growing population. Savvy companies are tackling this challenge and focusing on new developments — from lab-grown meat to edible packaging and smart labels.

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