COVID-19 pandemic catalyses change in consumers’ food preferences in APAC region

July 2023

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Consumers pivot to healthier foods
The Asia-Pacific (APAC) food and beverage industry witnessed significant growth and transformation in recent years, driven by evolving consumer trends, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic. As the pandemic subsides, consumers’ purchase decisions are being shaped by health concerns and sustainability amid climate change despite soaring inflation and stunted economic growth. Thus, as consumers recover from the hard-hit pandemic, preference for healthier choices, sustainable options, and convenience-driven lifestyles have emerged as key trends in the APAC region.
Health and wellness
In line with global trends, health and wellness has become a paramount concern for APAC consumers. Increasing awareness about the impact of diet on overall wellbeing has led to a surge in demand for healthier food and beverage options. Consumers are actively seeking out products that are natural, organic, low in sugar, and free from artificial additives. They are also displaying a growing interest in functional foods and beverages, such as probiotics, prebiotics, and superfoods, which are perceived to offer specific health benefits. Moreover, the pandemic fueled awareness of the need to acknowledge and tackle mental health challenges. Companies are trying to cash-in on this trend through new better-for-you products. For instance, Kirin Holdings launched its new functional ingredient, beta-lactolin, in beverage, yogurt, and supplements forms in Japan to “support the maintenance of memory, which declines with age”. It targets those who are healthy but have started to become forgetful or slower in making decisions due to the natural aging process.
Food and drink choices of consumers in the APAC region are increasingly incorporating considerations related not only to individual health but also the health of the planet. The COVID-19 pandemic reinforced sustainability as one of the major contributors to consumer purchase decisions. This is epitomized by the surge in plant-based diets, which are being embraced for their health benefits in addition to its lower carbon, water, and ecological footprints than animal-based diets. Although the APAC region trails the Western European and North American markets by a substantial margin, the expenditure on sustainable food in the APAC region is anticipated to rise exponentially in the coming years, primarily propelled by the discerning preferences of young millennials and Gen Z consumers who place significant importance on scrutinizing food ingredient labels. Consequently, the evaluation of sustainable products will increasingly hinge upon the quality and composition of their ingredients. At the same time, established players, such as Nestlé, Cargill, and Olam Food Ingredients are aligning their offerings with sustainability requirements by including novel plant-based proteins, sustainable palm oil, coffee beans, and cocoa, among others.
Digitalization and E-commerce
The rapid growth of digitalization and e-commerce revolutionized the way consumers in APAC discover, purchase, and consume food and beverages. Online platforms and food delivery apps have become integral parts of consumers’ lives, providing convenience, variety, and personalized recommendations. Social media also plays a significant role in shaping consumer preferences, as influencers and online communities share food-related content, recipes, and reviews.

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The pandemic undoubtedly accelerated the growth of ecommerce, as consumers sought or were obligated to minimize the time spent outside their homes. This trend, however, continues to dominate even after the pandemic, providing consumers with greater convenience amid their hectic schedules. Many digital-first companies are providing services to ease consumers’ decision-making process by providing more information by comparing prices, reviews, and product availability. For instance, FoodSpies, a New Zealand-based company, launched an app to help shoppers compare prices of weekly grocery bills between supermarkets, with the aim of easing the cost-of-living crisis. The app gives consumers information on which supermarkets have the cheapest grocery prices by working out the cost of each “total shopping” haul.
In a nutshell, the APAC food and beverage industry is witnessing a remarkable transformation, driven by evolving consumer trends. Health and wellness, sustainability, digitization, and convenience, which emerged as key differentiators during the COVID-19 disruption, will continue to shape the choices and preferences of consumers. By keeping a finger on the pulse of these trends and leveraging them to drive product development and marketing strategies, companies can gain a competitive edge and attract consumers.
Author: Srimoyee Nath,
Lead Consumer Analyst at GlobalData
Source: GlobalData Consumer Insights

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