In APMEA, Clean Label Goes Beyond Health

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Food safety is a central concern for clean label consumers in Asia Pacific, the Middle East and Africa


KerryDigest Fast Facts:
  • When shopping for clean label, products, consumers seek out different attributes depending on the region in which they live.
  • For consumers in Asia Pacific, the Middle East and Africa (APMEA), health and sustainability are a top clean label concern—much like in Europe and the Americas.
  • Unlike other parts of the world, food safety is also tied into the region’s clean label priorities, due to skepticism about APMEA’s food industry and regulations.
  • This presents an opportunity for local producers that can make health, sustainability and safety claims, as well as for imported brands that often are automatically regarded as addressing such concerns.
KerryDigest Full Scoop:

Although the growing demand for clean label foods and beverages is driven by consumers, we noted in our article on global clean label trends that there is no universal definition of the term. To better understand the preferences of clean label consumers in Asia Pacific, the Middle East and Africa (APMEA), we recently conducted research in 13 markets across the region. Our findings reveal that AMPEA consumers have similar concerns around health and sustainability to western consumers, and that their take on clean label also extends into food safety.

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For example, clean label messaging and product innovation in Europe and the Americas has often focused on improving health and wellbeing while also speaking to sustainability. Similarly, in APMEA consumers have growing concerns about healthy eating, and this is driving greater demand for food and beverages that will benefit both the environment and their  individual health.

But, because food safety concerns are higher in APMEA than some other regions—including problems associated with environmental pollutants—the clean label trend in APMEA has a more “protective” feel than the “proactive” approach taken in much of the rest of the world. In fact, our research suggests clean label as defined in the west is relevant to just the wealthiest population of APMEA, or around 10% of consumers. The unique priorities and risks faced by consumers in the region presents opportunities for new products that fit the unique clean label narrative in APMEA to emerge.

Addressing Food Safety

Regionally, food safety incidents continue to occur at an alarming rate, which has consumers in APMEA feeling fearful and scared. When, in 2008, around 300,000 babies in China fell critically ill from melamine-tainted infant formulas, it shook consumer’s confidence in local brands and food suppliers. In the past decade, consumer confidence hasn’t had much reason to recover, and food trust remains low. Just last year, South Africa experienced the world’s largest outbreak of the food-borne disease listeria, which resulted in more than 200 fatalities. Due to incidents such as these, skepticism remains high for the reliability of the food industry and the governmental systems that are designed to prevent these types of health risks.

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The continuing salience of food safety concerns has two major implications for cleaner labelling in AMPEA. Firstly, amongst consumers, the interest in clean label tends to be skewed towards higher-income groups, who have the financial means to shield themselves and their families against the lower-quality foods that may carry a higher risk of contamination. Secondly, amongst companies, there is a need to remember the context of elevated risk in which these claims are being viewed by consumers, which means food safety reassurances could be an important selling point.

Managing Health Risks

Weight management is another big area of concern within APMEA, and one that we’ve found clean label products are perceived as addressing. Part of this interest in health-improving products is due to increasing concerns around obesity and its effects. According to recent studies, 60% of the world’s diabetic population lives in Asia, including over 100 million people living with diabetes in China. The statistics are alarming in other countries as well. For example, it is estimated that obesity rates among women in Saudi Arabia will reach 78% by 2022 and in Malaysia around half of the adult population is currently either overweight or obese.

One way this is being addressed in purchasing decisions is the growing popularity of foods and beverages that offer low- and no-sugar claims, which are perceived as helping address the obesity problem. Similarly, monosodium glutamate (MSG), a popular ingredient in processed foods that is associated with negative health effects is also increasingly avoided and vilified by consumers in the region.

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. But in Saudi Arabia, according to our consumer research, a mother might consider a healthy breakfast for her children to be white bread with Nutella or processed cheese or a sugary cereal.

Protecting the Earth—and its Crops

APMEA consumers are also interested in ensuring that the environment in which food is grown is non-toxic, for both the health of the planet and the safety of food that’s produced. Environmental degradation such as water pollution and soil contamination is a growing concern: salt sold in this region appears to contain the highest level of plastic contamination in the world today. Furthermore, 20% of China’s total farmland used for agriculture is hazardously polluted.

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Consumers are aware of these environmental concerns, and their worries are growing. As a result, contamination- and pollution-free claims on packaged food and beverages are becoming more visible in markets across APMEA. Popular claims in the region include “pollutant-free”, “no borax”, “no cross-contamination” and “no pesticides”, among others.

Seeking Alternatives

Until consumers in APMEA are more confident about the safety, health and environmental effects of food and beverage products grown and produced in the region, one way of alleviating concern is to shop for products that originate in other parts of the world. In doing so, provenance has become a clean label shortcut of sorts, at least for consumers that are able to afford imported food and beverage products.

This is especially true in emerging markets including China and Vietnam, where imported food products remain a symbol of safety and quality. However, in markets with more stringent regulations and fewer safety and environmental concerns, such as Australia and Japan, locally grown food is trusted for both local consumption and export. As more efforts are undertaken to guarantee the safety and quality of locally produced foods, the reliance on important products may begin to dissipate.

To learn more about clean label in Asia Pacific, the Middle East and Africa, watch our webinar “Cleaner Label: Transparency, Health & Sustainability”, which offers to option to download an insights report. To discuss our new market-specific research, and opportunities to create clean label products, contact us.

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