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The outlook for functional food tech in Southeast Asia

2019-08-09 11:16 Friday

Food and Southeast Asia go hand in hand. From the appetite-inducing delicacies on the streets of China, Cambodia, Malaysia and Thailand – just to name a few – to the haute cuisine eateries that serve fine dining quality cuisine with a dash of authentic local flavors.


Yet, there is pressure on the region's food systems to produce 70% more food to feed a population of 10 billion people globally by 2050. By then, the population of Southeast Asia is expected to reach 700 million and its food demand is estimated to increase by 40%.

Many experts say that it is imperative to achieve food sustainability and reliability, without expanding crop or agricultural land all while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Can functional food and nutraceuticals help citizens achieve these aims?


The technology involved in producing and growing these products is gaining ground in the region where scientific engineering of food has taken its people on a long pathway to increasing its availability, access and quality.

Growth in nutritious, content-rich food

Southeast Asia's growth is fuelling an increased demand for nutrition, protein and functional food and drink products. According to the World Economic Forum, the expanding middle class in the region is leading this increase, along with the rise in health awareness and changes to patterns of food consumption.

The percentage of the urban population within Southeast Asia is expected to grow to around 65% from the current 48%.

Buyers will become more open to non-traditional food as their incomes rise, experts predict. As they alter their lifestyle decisions and product choices, so too will their diet. There is a vast potential for supplements, functional foods and high-value nutritional products in Southeast Asia.

Food products that supply nutritional benefits beyond those of regular food already encompass many areas, such as: nutraceuticals (e.g. dietary supplements), functional foods (e.g. energy boosting, probiotics, health foods and sports nutrition products), and ‘high-value' agriculture products (e.g. organic and fair-trade goods).

Based on a recent survey by market entry analysts Nielsen, Vietnamese consumers consider health to be among their top 2 concerns, while 90% are concerned about the long-term health impact of artificial ingredients. Some 89% of Vietnamese are willing to pay more for foods that promote good health.

Moreover, 88% of Vietnamese consumers bought new products on their last grocery shopping trip, compared to 76% in Thailand, 72 percent in Indonesia, and 68 percent in Malaysia. All these indicate the openness and interest of domestic citizens to new products.

Southeast Asia governments are also increasing their focus on investing in preventive health and clinical health measures while encouraging healthy food innovation, production and technology. They have organized numerous health food summits, and functional food summits take place there every year.

Local initiatives dot the map

Between 2016 and 2017 there was a notable increase in non-animal sources of protein being consumed in the region. According to a 2018 report by KPMG and CSIRO, daily protein consumption in Southeast Asia has grown by 50% over the past three decades, contributing to an alternative protein market expected to be worth US$5.2 billion by 2020.

For example, Singaporean food-tech start-up, Life3 Biotech, aims to create functional foods which utilize natural, plant-based ingredients. They recently developed a meat substitute product that resembles lab-grown meat and tastes like chicken. Life3 Biotech's plant-based protein “Veego” is hoping to start production in the near future.

Singapore is also home to Alchemy Foodtech which combines food tech, biotech and medtech to develop foods that can help prevent and manage diabetes. In Indonesia, the likes of TaniHub, eFishery and Jala have all set their sights on developing sustainable methods of sourcing and selling organic food products.

The Island Nation is also fast becoming a hub for functional foods with the establishment of the Clinical Nutrition Research Centre in 2014. The center aims to pursue research in understanding how food may be used in disease prevention and to research senior nutrition and anti-aging.

The growing market for functional food in the Asia-Pacific region – projected to be valued at US$5 billion by 2026 – has drawn the interest of startups looking to tap into this vast potential.

Around the world, there is a shift in the manner in which urban populations consume food – whether it is organically sourced, or GM. Today, food technology is fast becoming a mainstream focus as people in general want to know more about the products that they consume, what ingredients they contain, and what benefits they can bring consumers.

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