Trends and ingredient technology together meet consumer demands
Food ingredient manufacturers and suppliers are constantly under pressure to find the best ways to keep up with changing consumer trends – which starts with knowing what the trends are and how they play out in the local market. Sharon Bolel of ingredient supplier Sharon Bolel Chemical Marketing (SBCM) believes that technology is a vital factor in the success of this ongoing goal.
“Technology is providing a key to development in food ingredients that is enabling a far broader access to the benefits and trends that consumers expect from their food and beverage products,” she says.
Bolel adds that as consumer expectations have become more sophisticated, technology has enabled the industry to offer ingredients that can deliver on these trends: “Technology is allowing companies to be able to guarantee that their products deliver what they promise.”
Responding to SA trends
SBCM has identified a series of global trends that are relevant or becoming relevant to the South African market – and which the company is able to respond to, thanks to technological developments.
‘Proven’ is the first trend. Legislation is tightening all over the world as to what can be included in food products, and how it can be labelled. The same is happening in South Africa while at the same time, consumers are becoming more selective in their food choices.
According to Pick n Pay, their customers are savvier about food choices than they’ve been before – generally across the spectrum of income groups. They’re reading labels for ingredients; they’re considering different product options – and they’re expecting food choices on the shelves.
SBCM ensures that it is constantly aware of restrictions on food ingredients due to changing legislation, and that every ingredient it supplies is backed by proven science and technology, and more often than not with clinical data to support it.
The relaxation paradigm is a reaction to the energy drinks trend of a year or two ago and it sees the increase in the number of functional teas on the market, based on botanical extracts. While these may not be able to provide clinical data to back claims, there is powerful anecdotal data to support suggestions that the products will enhance relaxation. SBCM has a vast selection of botanical extracts that are used in a growing number of beverages that offer functionality.
The fruit and vegetable revival is strong in South Africa, as it is globally. “What we’re seeing here is the exciting technological development of ingredients, such as the Naturex company Overseal’s fruit and vegetable powders that enable the ingredients to be used instead of the produce, and still be labelled as containing the fruit or vegetable.
“Overseal’s patented technology ensures that its natural products retain the efficacy and functionality of the original fruit or vegetable. The company has also developed an advanced range of fruit and vegetable powders specifically for inclusion in infant and baby food products. For instance, these ingredients are so sophisticated that a baby food that contains, say, an Overseal banana powder, can claim to contain banana,” emphasises Bolel.
Healthy mind; healthy body is another global consumer trend that is big in South Africa, and one of SBCM’s strong focus areas.
“South Africa is a stressful environment. We have a high crime rate; economic uncertainties; and increasingly demanding lifestyles. Medical aids are recognising that stress is a major contributor to ill health. For instance, on its website, Discovery Health states that stress can cause and aggravate high blood pressure, heart disease, allergies, hay fever, asthma, migraines, irritable bowel syndrome, eczema, and psoriasis. It maintains that the link between stress and immune function is far reaching, affecting disorders ranging from the common cold, autoimmune diseases to HIV/AIDS, through to cancer.”
This is an area where SBCM has seen an upsurge in activity, primarily due to the increasingly popular range of functional ingredients from Naturex, for which SBCM is the sole distributor in South Africa.
“Naturex has a range of products called NATlife that is specially designed for the modern, urban, often frenetic, lifestyle – a lifestyle that can rob people of time to take care of themselves and ensure appropriate physical and mental balance.”
The NATlife health ingredients have specific properties that improve antioxidant levels, increase energy, facilitate weight management, and ensure general wellness. They include Powergrape, a natural energy booster extracted from Bordeaux grapes which improves the antioxidant and oxidative stress balance that’s associated with increased performance and reduced fatigue; Svetol, a slimming ingredient extracted from decaffeinated green coffee beans which has a fat burning action; Cyracos, extracted from lemon balm chosen to enhance mood and cognitive performance by exhibiting central nervous system acetylcholine receptor activity; and Cereboost, which improves working memory, supports attention, increases cognitive performance and contributes to healthy cognitive functioning.
Demand for products high in fibre is an ongoing consumer trend, and in South Africa, awareness of the value that fibre adds to overall health is improving, says Bolel. “In fact, it’s now being found in more products where one wouldn’t have seen it before, such as in kids’ cereals.”
Bolel adds that the inclusion of insoluble dietary fibre in various food products has grown in South Africa over the past few years as formulators discover the technological benefits of incorporating fibre in a food product. In food manufacturing, these fibres have excellent water-binding and water retention capacities, as well as high oil absorption properties. They synergise effectively with other thickening agents and emulsifiers, while offering improved texture and improved freshness of the end product.
Obesity management is also a consumer trend that is seeing growth in South Africa. A recent survey conducted among health care workers in the Dr George Mukhari Hospital region by Medunsa showed that 75% of the health care workers are overweight, of which 50% are obese or severely obese. 30% of the health care workers suffer from chronic diseases.
Bolel points out that obesity management is not an exact science and that it overlaps with other factors, such as stress management. Various trials are underway in South Africa using one or more of Naturex’s NATlife ingredients in products that can help South Africans address these issues.
The demand for products containing anti-oxidants is a booming trend that is unlikely to see any dwindling in the future.
“SBCM has a wide range of products that feature anti-oxidant activity and we are working well with the food and beverage industry in exploring applications to see increased anti-oxidant intake among South Africans,” says Bolel.
“We see from these trends that consumers are essentially striving to go back to basics in their approach to health and nutrition. And the modern generation of food ingredients, steeped in technological advancements, is helping them to gain the greatest benefits from the products they choose, while still ensuring they can be classified as natural. It’s brilliant!” enthuses Bolel.
Sharon Bolel Chemical Marketing: