Despite Asia’s relatively soft inflation rates compared with several other global regions, cost-of-living pressures are continuing to play a major role in shaping consumer preferences in 2023 and leading up to 2024.
In addition, travel resumption has meant changing day-to-day lifestyles and consumer values in terms of priority product attributes; all of which make for overarching shifts in key food themes in Asia Pacific.
The evolution of health-conscious eating
Consumers are prioritising holistic lifestyles, recognising the importance of a healthy diet for physical and mental wellbeing, and Asian consumers are no exception. The top two definitions of health selected by surveyed respondents in Asia are “mental wellbeing” and “having a healthy immune system” according to the Euromonitor International Voice of the Consumer: Health and Nutrition Survey.
This highlights the need for functional ingredients targeting the gut-brain axis and specific need states such as memory, stress, and sleep to provide consumers with products that can help them achieve their health goals.
Strong aversion to sugar and high carbohydrate/calorie foods is also an important factor to consider in Asia, partially driven by health conditions such as the high prevalence of heart issues: one in five Asians in 2022 was reported to suffer from high blood pressure.
Away from animals: Plant-based, cell-cultured and more
Globally, analogues for animal-based food are improving in terms of their spread across food categories, product development, penetration of market channels, and consumer awareness. The commercialisation of cell-cultured meat in the US is also a sign that meat analogues are fast developing beyond simply plant-based products, although plant-based meat and seafood substitutes in Hong Kong and Thailand, in particular, are showing strong positive forecast growth despite the latter having only established a sizable presence in 2021.
Technology and synergies with regulation will have a major role to play in the development of animal-based analogues in Asia. Particular challenges include price and taste, especially given the diversity of cuisines. However, with Singapore being a major hub for innovation (not just in the region, but also globally), it can be expected that further innovation will propel the industry forward. A recent win is Solein, a protein ingredient made via fermentation from oxygen, hydrogen, carbon dioxide and mineral nutrients. First launched as part of a menu showcase in Singapore in May 2023, it is promoted as “protein made from thin air”.
The evolution of snacking and eating occasions
Eating occasions and snacking patterns have been altered by global events. With the reopening of travel and formal workspaces, the out-of-home market is undergoing a resurgence.
According to the Euromonitor International Voice of the Consumer: Lifestyles Survey (fielded in February 2023), 46 percent of Asian consumers claim that they typically eat snacks at home, in contrast to 53 percent in 2022, 54 percent in 2021, and 50 percent in 2020. This highlights a marginal fall in home occasions. Nevertheless, there is stickiness to at-home eating occasions compared to pre-pandemic years.
Habits in ordering food to-go and the strengthening of digital and delivery infrastructures supporting remote consumption will remain relevant. This is predicted to lead to a decline in the percentage of the eat-in segment in Asia Pacific’s consumer foodservice industry, at least in the short term.
Premiumisation and affordability in food
Inflationary pressures continue to disrupt food markets in 2023, impacting both products of higher specific value and commodities as the cost-of-living crisis continues. In South Korea, the term “lunchflation” was coined, whereby lunch meals became increasingly expensive to consumers, who then reduced eating out occasions. Instead, many of them are now making the switch to instant foods from convenience stores that are more affordable. Even so, ready meals, which are perceived as offering specific benefits such as convenience and accessibility, are seeing steady price growth.
There is greater emphasis then, on what makes a product “premium” and motivates consumer spending. In developed markets in Asia, such as Japan, “locally-sourced or manufactured” ranks high as one of the most influential food and drink features in 2023, according to the Euromonitor International Voice of the Consumer: Lifestyles Survey, indicating expectations of quality and local expertise. In contrast, emerging market consumers in Asia, such as in India and the Philippines, favour attributes such as environmental welfare and organic.
The future of eating in Asia
Cost-of-living pressures will remain a short-term challenge for businesses to address, as prices continue to climb and food supplies are affected by severe weather volatilities, thereby driving the cost of commodities upwards. Price strategies and scrutiny of consumer habits will play out over the remainder of 2023 and into 2024.
Nevertheless, in Euromonitor International’s Voice of the Consumer: Lifestyles Survey, 36 percent of Asian consumers responded that they intend to increase their spending on groceries up to 2024. In contrast, only 13 percent of them said they intend to reduce their spending on groceries, pointing towards a larger acceptance of having to spend more on food.
Businesses will pay greater attention to premiumisation strategies to draw out value growth, such as introducing specific health benefits and features to their food products, and leveraging the plant-based trend. A long-term strategy will also involve studying consumption occasions, especially given the rapidly developing digitalisation ecosystem in both grocery and foodservice delivery.
(Source: Euromonitor International)