It does not seem to long ago that food seemed to serve a rather innocuous function. It satiated your hunger. Nothing more. Nothing less. Medicines were to be taken when ill. The diet reverted quickly back to its roots as soon as illnesses vanished. Functional foods made their appearance into the stage relatively recently and have been growing rapidly. Functional foods appeared to fit quit snugly in the space between foods and medicines. But now there seems to be significant influence that New Generation Foods are exerting on conventional foods leading it to evolve in unique and fascinating ways. It is an extremely interesting exercise to witness these changes as they play out right in front of us. This article attempts to analyze the factors leading to these changes and its impact on the industry.
Foods fulfilling their basic function of satiating hunger and providing nutrition has failed to capture the imagination of the consumer today. Increasingly consumers seem to ask the question, “What more does it do?”. Consumers are increasingly making their buying decisions based on a satisfying answer to the aforementioned question. A myriad of benefits are sought by consumers today ranging from antioxidants to vitamins and minerals. The behaviour is also not limited to a small section of society but is gaining mass following.
Healthy foods comprised traditionally of a special segment in cooking shows sandwiched between culinary delights. But a quick analysis of the food based programming reveals the extent to which health has come to the forefront of the discussion. A vast majority of the shows runtime is now dedicated to foods with a significant upside to the consumer’s health. Even traditional cuisine shows which do not explicitly offer healthy eating increasing talk about healthier alternatives, ingredients and fortifying agents. This is an observable case of art imitating life as most consumers today are equally conscious of these factors.
Think of the last time when you saw an easy cook meal or instant noodles or biscuits that did not end its commercial with at least a cursory mention of its nutritional ingredients or positive health impact. Makers of Food and Beverage products have acknowledged the consumer’s push towards healthier foods and is addressing it with a wide range of products.
Nutritionists and diet specialists are looking to provide the nutritional needs through interventions into the basic diet components and not purely as supplements. The philosophy seems to be one of not wasting any of the diet components unless they serve a specific nutritional purpose. Keeping with this the traditional recipes are seeing ingredients replaced by more suitable ones. In many cases entire meals are replaced with more fortified meals. Diets, ingredients and recipes are increasingly being tailor-made by nutritionists to suit the age, health, profession and profile of the consumer.
THE BLURRING OF THE INDUSTRY LINES
Food and beverage manufacturers are today increasingly pushing the envelope between traditional and new generation foods leading to a blurring of the lines between the two categories. This trend is only likely to continue further as awareness and availability of new generation foods among the consumers increase. This adds another growth driver to the already rapidly growing industry.
WHAT MORE DO WE NEED TO DO?
With the backdrop of these changes, new generation food makers need to rethink the way they look at the market. The blurring of industry lines will need to be acknowledged and made a part of the industry personality. The products will need to be perceived as a part of the regular diet rather than a supplement to be consumed over and above the regular meal. Product innovation will hold the key to the future and will need to be in lockstep with the increased awareness and expectations of the consumers. Any company that can stand up to this challenge stands to redraw the market reality.
Vivek Acharya Principal Consultant, SynCore Consulting Group