An APMEA Perspective On Cleaner Labels: More than Just Health
In recent years, “cleaner labelling” has been in the spotlight as health-conscious consumers become increasingly mindful of the impact the foods they eat have on their health.
Although the demand for cleaner labels is driven by consumers, there is no single definition of what the term constitutes. However, the perceived “cleanliness” of foods and beverages across categories continues to rise in importance amongst consumers and this trend is apparent in Asia Pacific, the Middle East and Africa (APMEA). According to Cargill proprietary consumer research, 8 in 10 consumers are at least somewhat likely to seek out “cleaner label” products even though they are uncertain about what the term means.
In light of the increasing importance and diversity across markets, we conducted a research in 13 markets across APMEA. The research findings revealed that AMPEA consumers’ have similar concerns around health and sustainability just like the West; however these concerns are within the context of food safety. The unique context of risks faced by consumers in the region presents opportunities for new narratives around clean labels in APMEA to emerge.
Broadening the Cleaner Labels conversations for consumers in APMEA
Clean labels in the West has often focused on improving health and wellbeing while being sustainable. As consumers become increasingly aware of ecological footprint of their food and what goes into their bodies, they want to ensure that the food they consume will benefit both the environment and their health. Similar to the West, there are growing concerns about healthy eating among consumers in APMEA and this is driving greater demand in food and beverages that are perceived as healthy.
However, APMEA’s unique context means that “eating healthier” is just one aspect of cleaner labelling. When we compare the difference in consumer perception about cleaner labels in APMEA with those in the Americas & Europe, it becomes apparent that health and sustainability concerns in APMEA occur alongside continuing concerns around food safety. In fact, Cleaner labels as defined in the West, will be relevant to less than the top 10% of the populations of AMPEA countries by income groups. This indicates that the cleaner label trend in APMEA differs from the proactive approach taken by consumers in the West and points to a protective approach instead.
Looming food safety concerns in APMEA
Regionally, food safety incidents continue to occur at an alarming rate and have left many consumers fearful and scarred. When 300,000 babies fell critically ill from melamine-tainted infant formulas in China, it shook consumer’s confidence in local brands and food suppliers. Just last year, South Africa also experienced the world’s largest outbreak of the food-borne disease Listeria, which has led to more than 200 fatalities. Due to these incidents, there is growing skepticism among consumers about the reliability of the food industry and governmental systems which were intended to protect them from these types of health risks.
The continuing salience of food safety concerns has two major implications for cleaner labelling in AMPEA. Firstly, among consumers, the interest in cleaner labels tends to be skewed towards higher-income groups, who have the financial means to shield themselves and their families against lower quality foods which have higher risks of contamination. Secondly, among companies, there is a need to remember the context of elevated risk in which these claims are being viewed by consumers. Therefore, cleaner label claims need to simultaneously address food safety risks.
Managing health risks and protecting my environment
Weight management is a big area of concern that we’ve found cleaner labels addressing in the region. Obesity has become an increasing concern across many countries in the region and the consequences of it are significant. According to recent studies, 60% of the World’s diabetics were accounted for in Asia in 2016. In China alone, over 100 million people have been diagnosed with diabetes; this means that one in four diabetic patients worldwide reside in China. Other global studies also highlighted that it is estimated that obesity rates among women in Saudi Arabia will reach 78% by 2022.
With an increase in lifestyle related diseases, low and no sugar claims are gaining increasing popularity among consumers. Like sugar, monosodium glutamate (MSG), a popular ingredient in processed foods, is also increasingly avoided and vilified.
However, healthy eating remains highly polarised both within and between markets. For example, in Australia, 1.3 million consumers have stopped drinking packaged juices because of high sugar content. While in Saudi Arabia, according to a mother we spoke with, healthy breakfast for her children includes white bread and Nutella three times a week, and processed cheese with bread or sugary cereals on the remaining days.
APMEA consumers are also interested in ensuring that the environment of their food sources is non-toxic. Environmental degradation such as water pollution and soil contamination, is a reality for consumers in APMEA. There is an urgent need to reduce the risk consumers face from the environment. For instance, Asia is a hotspot for plastic pollution and salt sold in this region contained the highest level of plastic contamination in the world today. Furthermore, 20% of China’s total farmland used for agriculture is hazardously polluted. Contamination and pollution-free claims on packaged food and beverages are also becoming visible in these markets. These claims include pollutant-free, no borax, no cross contamination, no pesticides among many others.
Navigating through the cleaner label priorities in AMPEA
Provenance has become a shortcut for consumers in APMEA to address all three Cleaner Label priorities – safety, health and the environment. The meaning and relevance of provenance can differ from country to country. In emerging markets like China and Vietnam, imported food products remains a symbol of safety and quality. In other markets like Australia and Japan, locally grown food is trusted for both local consumption and export. There is also a rising movement across the region to take pride in local produce.
The Cleaner Label Movement Becomes the New Norm
The future direction of the cleaner label movement is guided by ever-evolving consumer demands, needs and trends. As consumers continue their quest for ‘cleaner’ food and beverages, so will the cleaner label movement. There are many ways to define cleaner label and therefore many solutions and opportunities for innovation among food ingredients manufacturers. With consumers changing their perceptions about cleaner labels, how can manufacturers react and respond?
Watch the recorded webinar and listen to key speakers as they explore the full landscape of cleaner labels in APMEA. A downloadable insights report will also be available. For detailed, market-specific information and data, contact APMEA@kerry.com.