Asian trends rich pickings for European health foods makers

By Dominique Patton

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Amino acids, Nutrition, Asia

European food makers that want to catch the next health trend early
should keep an eye on Asia, the region that brought us green tea,
ginseng and soy, analysts from Mintel told a packed seminar at FiE
this week.

Asia, and particularly Japan, has long been the world's leading site of health food innovation and continues to generate new trends.

Between 2003 and 2005, around 13,800 new product launches in Asia-Pacific made health and wellness claims, a lower number than in Europe (22,096) but the same percentage of total new products (27 per cent).

Black foods, beauty foods and amino acids are currently among the most popular products for health-conscious consumers in Asia but none of these have yet been exploited on European soil, said analyst David Jago.

Black foods often include ingredients like black vinegar, black soybeans or black sesame, all with growing reputations for health benefits, especially in Japan. Foods with such a dark colour often contain more anthocyanins, isoflavones and minerals than more lightly coloured foods.

"These really fit into that ying-yang philosophy, and are typically protein-rich, strongly flavoured and suited to winter consumption,"​ added Jago.

One such product proving popular in Japan is an Itoen drink containing 17 kinds of vegetables and 15ml of black vinegar. Another is a black sesame paste available in China for stirring into hot water for a good start to the day.

Japan-based analyst Paul Yamaguchi has previously estimated the black foods market in Japan to be worth more than $500 million.

Jago believes the novel colour could take off in Europe too.

He is also waiting for amino acids, a common ingredient in a range of applications in Asia, to become more widely used in Europe.

"I wonder if amino acids are the final frontier in nutritional products. We've looked at the fats, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals, so is this the last area of basic nutrition to exploit in the West?"​ asked Jago.

While amino acids have long been formulated in sports and energy drinks, they are becoming more mainstream in Japan. Leading confectioner Ezaki Glico has launched GABA chocolates, claimed to help relax and unwind, while multinational cereal maker Kellogg's has introduced the first breakfast cereal for children fortified with amino acids.

"Companies like this could be the breach between east and west, providing a way of bringing amino acids closer to home,"​ said Jago.

Another area where Europe is lagging behind Asia is in beauty foods. Common cosmetic ingredients collagen and ceramide are regularly added to foods for skin health, and the antioxidant lycopene has also been used to make skin health claims.

For example, Nissin Food Products psyllium noodles with collagen contain 6.5g of psyllium fibre and 500mg of collagen. The product is also available as an instant soup.

Kagome's Vege-Care is described as a natural jelly drink for those worried about skin and eye health. An apple-flavoured vegetable juice, it contains 30 mg of lycopene (equal to nine tomatoes), 100mg of vitamin C, as well as vitamin E, dietary fibre, and rosehip/acerola.

Across the Asia-Pacific market claims overall tend to be stronger, with products containing green tea increasingly making slimming claims, such as in Nanyang Dairy Products' Green Tea Drink on the South Korean market.

In the Philippines, Mother's Best Apple Ketchup makes very strong claims for its flavonoid content, including "helps prevent heart disease, tooth decay, Alzheimer's diease" and several other serious conditions.

These kind of statements would not be possible in Europe but one example that European firms should follow is foods successfully targetting seniors, said Lynn Dornblaser, Mintel's director of GNPD.

Asian companies regularly market products specifically for the older generation, making their target consumer clear on the labelling.

"It is useful to look at how Asia approaches talking to seniors about products formulated specifically for them, without offending them,"​ she said.

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