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02/08/2022 – Innovation focus / Thaifex-Anuga Asia / Sustainability / Plant-based / Clean label / Event / Thailand

Formulating the future – THAIFEX-Anuga Asia 2022 insights

Plant-based, Sustainability, and Clean Label products dominated the exhibition floor and speaker platforms alike at this year’s THAIFEX-Anuga Asia – Thailand’s top food expo, and one of the region’s largest. Food & Beverage was there in Bangkok to capture the action, including insights into the industry’s change-driving dynamics and delicious innovations.


“After two years, we’re finally back to business and back to face-to-face meetings,” exclaimed Mathias Kuepper, MD of Koelnmesse Pte Ltd, organiser of the recently held THAIFEX–Anuga Asia in Bangkok.  The first international-scale trade fair for the F&B industry event in South East Asia in two years, the show has long been renowned as the region’s largest and most prestigious F&B industry events. 


The leading trade fair welcomed more than 51,500 trade visitors – emanating from 111 countries worldwide – over the course of the five days. Alongside providing a platform for over 1,600 exhibitors (with over half of those being international firms) to showcase their products and solutions, the premier trade show also highlighted the most salient and fast emerging trends shaping the F&B industry today, as well as the dynamics set to transform the sector in the years to come.


Plant- based pioneers


An annual growth of 46 per cent (CAGR, 2018-2021) was recorded with food and beverage launches with a plant-based and premium & indulgent claim, and accordingly companies both small and large showcased plant-based products in their droves at the show, with a number of recently established companies also entering the market. Among those were Vudhichai Group, whose diverse business activities encompass construction, property, healthcare as well as food, and who has just set up Absolute Plant to penetrate the lucrative plant-based segment.


Meanwhile, V Foods (Thailand) Co, the manufacturer of food and beverages owned by former Bangkok Governor Apirak Kosayodhin, continued to expand its offering with the launch at THAIFEX-Anuga Asia of another seven products in its plant-based line. “This market has been growing fast over the last two years. Luckily we started before many others because the market is now very competitive,” he remarked. 


Indeed, such comments were echoed by Lee Yeong Sheng – VP for Commercial at leading protein producer Tyson Foods Asia Pacific. Speaking at FCCThailand speakers night, he observed that “Plant-based is not new to many parts of Asia – soy has been a staple of many people’s diet across the continent for many decades. However, we’ve recently seen a strong regional adoption of more Westernised, new-generation types of plant-based protein.”

 

This dynamic prompted Tyson Foods to launch its first plant-based brand – First Pride – in Asia last year. Featuring bamboo fibre, soy protein and wheat protein, First Pride is already available in Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore, and includes a range of plant-based foods such as Larb Bites, Spicy Fried Chicken, Crispy Nuggets and Popcorn Bites. The next step for First Pride is to enter into the plant-based ready meal segment in Thailand with ready-to-heat products like Spicy Thai Basil Chicken with Quinoa Rice, Penne Pomodoro with Chicken; and Chili Con Carne and Mexican Rice. Alongside this, the firm will launch a range of plant-based sausages, including the Thai Northern-style Spicy Sausage and the Spanish Chorizo. Meanwhile, positive feedback from consumers will be buoying a wider roll-out to multiple markets across the region soon. 


The plant-based trend is reinforced by THAIFEX-Anuga Asia’s recognition of CPF (Thailand) Public Co Ltd’s Meat Zero – Thailand's No.1 and first variety of ready-to-eat and ready-to-cook plant-based meat alternatives – at its Taste Innovation Awards this year. Meat Zero employs CPF PLANTTEC Innovation, which allows plants to mimic animal meat taste and texture, while remaining cholesterol-free, with good protein and fibre content. Meat Zero's product range encompasses nuggets, burgers, bologna, and various ready meals, which are also packed in eco-friendly packaging. 


In terms of what it takes to really penetrate the plant-based category, Mr Sheng said this would hinge on three prerequisites: “The first is ‘category awareness’ – educating consumers about plant-based and alternative proteins,” he asserted. “Secondly, when it comes to food, taste is what matters the most – be it plant-based or animal-based protein. Coming up with delicious tasting protein is what will ultimately win over the consumers. In the case of plant-based, I think this will focus on creating more authentic representations of flavours from around the world.”


The third factor, he tells us, concerns affordability: “I may know about the plant-based alternative, I may have tried it and discovered that it tastes good, but if it’s still two-to-three times more premium than traditional protein, then only limited penetration into the category will be achieved,” he explained. “But when this holy trinity comes together, we will see the real rise of alternative protein. And based on what I’ve seen over the past 12-24 months, we’re not too far away from observing bigger adoption of plant-based across the region – we’re already seeing a lot more global Quick Service Restaurants, as well as a lot more local chains, now offering plant-based protein on their menus.”


Health-led innovations


There were, perhaps unsurprisingly, a flurry of new products with health claims on show at THAIFEX Anuga Asia, emanating from numerous trends in the health space. “The priority for everyone throughout the pandemic has been to stay healthy, and food obviously plays a key role in that,” noted Ms Irene Kersbergen from Innova Market Insights. “We see companies taking different strategies with respect to health-led innovation – be it a case of removing components that are bad (sugars, fats, sodium, for instance) and/or adding elements that are good (pre- and pro-biotics, for example, and protein) and claims on products that are very clear – for example, ‘immune health’.” 


One example of the functional trend is Ms. Organics Co Ltd’s Fermenthe’ Kombucha with Honey. This THAIFEX Taste Innovation Award winner is a sparkling fermented tea with good bacteria and yeast, and a hint of honey. This functional beverage contains EGCG, DSL, B1 and B2 that can improve your Digestion, Detoxification, Liver Function and more.


Another award-winner was KCG Corporation Co Ltd for its various butter blends. The firm’s Allowrie MCT butter is made with coconut oil that contains medium chain triglyceride (MCT), which is beneficial to health. It is a keto-friendly product and free from milk powder. Meanwhile, the company’s Imperial HEMP Spreadable Butter and its Allowrie Garlic Butter with HEMP Oil are both made with hemp oil – a good source of omega 3, 6 and 9.


Beyond such innovations, a more holistic wellbeing trend is emerging. Sleep-related issues, stress and anxiety were – for obvious reasons – elevated throughout the pandemic, prompting many companies to launch products with ingredients or formulations acting as mood boosters. 


And in-between those two health-focused trends is the move towards products with a pared back list of ingredients – so-called Clean Label – alongside more natural offerings and especially organic. Around half of consumers globally consider the absence of additives and use of only natural ingredients to be at the heart of ‘clean’ eating. Indeed, such considerations come in ahead of organics and sustainability for consumers.


Within the realm of organic, Bioagri Co-op – Italy’s pioneering organic food co-operative that established itself as a non-profit organisation and set out to promote such produce even before the organic movement came into being – was in full force at THAIFEX-Anuga Asia this year, buoyed by the skyrocketing interest in organic extra virgin oil, balsamic vinegar, pasta, preserves, purees, cheeses, meats and more (read more on page 36).


Sustainability under the spotlight 


Sustainability is today front-of-mind when it comes to making food purchases, and this was reflected on the exhibition floor at THAIFEX-Anuga Asia. For instance, Kim Steppe, CEO of Blue Elephant International Group, said his company – which sells food ingredients and ready-to-cook products under the Blue Elephant brand – had recently adjusted its packaging to become more environmentally friendly. Within a broader market context, in the five years ending 2021, launches of food and beverage using upcycled ingredients rose at a CAGR of 63 per cent, while there was a 20-per-cent jump in products using recycled materials, 46 per cent for products with water-saving claims, 30 per cent for products carrying carbon emissions claims and a 35-per-cent increase in the number of palm oil-free products launched over this period.


When it comes to farming, “sustainability is increasingly the driver of change”, remarks Dr Hermann Klein Hessling, a representative of the Asian Food & Feed Insect Association (AFIA) – a regional organisation that helps to organise and support the sector. Dr Hessling went on to highlight “the challenges of deforestation, extreme monoculture, cropping, extensive soybean farming, overfishing the oceans, as well as the options and possibilities we have to try to overcome and compensate in a way that can bring us back more into a circular type system.” And this, he said, is where the expanding insect sector has “found a very good position”.


“Regarding the alternative protein sector, and insects in particular, over the past three to five years – certainly in Asia – we have see some very good developments. Compared to the US and Europe, we’re still a little behind, which is very interesting, because historically and culturally, we have a very strong culture of insect growing. There are around 20,000 small stakeholder insect farms in Thailand alone – that’s truly remarkable. But now, we are trying to bring such activity to a higher, more organised level to address the need for volume capacity.”


Certainly, exhibitor Hargol is doing its bit with regards to this, having developed the world’s first commercial-scale grasshopper farming operation in Israel (read our Q&A with the company on page 68). In a similar vein, Kokoonic Co., Ltd is focused on making Eri silkworms, in the company’s own words, “the new sustainable economic livestock”. The company’s THAIFEX Taste Innovation Award winning signature product Eri Silk Pupae Powder has a protein content of 60-65 per cent, as well as being rich in HDL, LDL-lowering good fats, dietary fibre, vitamins and minerals. It is a high-quality alternative protein and can be added to any recipe or manufactured with a wide variety of food products.


Such preparations are clearly the key to marked growth in the segment, according to Dr Hermann Klein Hessling, who highlights a certain level of resistance to insects – sometimes referred to as the ‘yuk factor’. “From the research that we’ve seen, we observe that in certain cultures clearly it helps when you process the insects,” he opined. “Prepared as an ingredient like flour, it then becomes part of another dish. Then the acceptance level is significantly higher.”


NSL Foods Public Co Ltd – Thailand’s leading bakery producer for supermarkets and convenience store chains – provides an excellent example of how insect powders can be successfully incorporated into a product. The firm was this year recipient of a Taste Innovation Show Award for its Wholegrain Bread with Cricket Protein. Made from cricket protein, unbleached wheat flour and mixed wholegrain, each slice of the bread has 7g of protein as well as being a source of fibre.

 

In terms of conventional proteins that already have a greater level of acceptability universally, Tyson is one of the world’s largest protein providers, with pork, beef and poultry comprising a big proportion of the company’s offering. “While we are seeing the growth of alternative protein worldwide – and are indeed engaged in this segment of the market – it is also forecast that by 2050 the requirement for protein would have actually doubled from the level it’s at today,” advised Lee Yeong Sheng, VP for Commercial at Tyson Foods Asia Pacific. “Animal protein will therefore remain a key source in meeting that demand, so we’re focused on delivering that in an ever more sustainable manner.”


A new era of accuracy and efficiency


Automation and Industry 4.0 are buzzwords across the length and breadth of the F&B production and processing value chain today, with recent advancements in robotics and AI meaning that many of the tasks previously requiring the dexterity, delicate touch, or common sense of a human operator can increasingly be performed by all manner of machine or computer. Given the growing scarcity of labour, wage inflation and the difficulty in recruiting workers – a problem particularly acute in food production and processing operations the world over – many businesses have ramped up their automation strategy in recent years, as they strive to remain competitive. Oftentimes, such technology can perform the task in a more effective way, and more rapidly than its human counterparts. 


While end-to-end production line automation is now commonplace, and collaborative robots are now moving further into the mainstream and across the value chain, perhaps one of the more surprising tasks in which robotics is lending a hand – or rather a nose – is in the area of smelling. THAIFEX-Anuga Asia exhibitor MUI Robotics is a leading developer and manufacturer of so-called ‘electronic nose’ products and services. Alongside applications in agriculture, chemical, automotive and other market segments, these ‘robots with human sense’, as their creators refer to them, are increasingly proving of use in a number of food & beverage applications. Remarkably, the portable e-nose is equipped with gas sensors capable of simulating a human nose and the entire mental process of human classification, recognition and olfactory imprint of odorous emission.


Elsewhere at the show, Emerson’s new GO real-time 4G/5G tracker was selected as one of the Top Innovative Products of 2022 at the THAIFEX Anuga Asia trade show. Using cellular technology, the GO real-time 4G/5G trackers can monitor in-transit conditions such as temperature, location, light, and humidity. To help ensure connectivity, the trackers can connect using multiple modes (Cat-M, NBIoT, or GSM) and have an in-use life of 20 days of operation. Combined with Oversight – Emerson’s cloud-based online software platform – trackers can be configured to notify users in real time via text or email if any deviation of temperature-sensitive conditions arise during shipment.

 

Certainly, by eliminating often costly mistakes and thus waste in the food value chain, such innovations could prove significant in the ability of businesses to keep costs down.


Inflationary pressures will drive further innovation


And keeping costs down is today more important than ever, given that food is no exception when it comes to the significant inflationary pressures that currently pervade. “In animal protein, we’re seeing that animal feed prices have gone up significantly – for example, soy bean meal,” observes Tyson Foods Asia Pacific’s Lee Yeong Sheng. “The cost of protein is definitely rising, and we’ve therefore had to work a lot harder to see how we can offer good quality products and actually manage the inflationary pressure to minimise the costs that would otherwise have been passed through to consumers.”


Fortunately, innovative practices and technology that reduce waste (be it raw materials, energy, water, or time) also serve to create more efficient and profitable businesses for those adopting such practices, signalling that sustainability will remain the dish of the day on tomorrow’s menu.


The show’s not over quite yet


While the trade event itself may have now concluded, the show is not over quite yet: You can still obtain quotes and information from all the exhibitors until December 2022. Search for companies and brands via the following link: https://event-reg.biz/OEM-2022-koelnmesse/onlineexhlisting.aspx


Furthermore, the Future Food Experience+ and Live-streaming Sessions by exhibitors remain available to access for free, offering a glimpse into what’s new and trending across the F&B world. Access the videos here: www.facebook.com/thaifexanugaasia/videos


THAIFEX-Anuga Asia returns to Bangkok from 23–27 May 2023. More details here

Latest issue – Vol 3/22
– Innovation focus
– Thaifex-Anuga 2022 Insights
– A brave new world of work – Working life redefined
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