India carries 40% of the world diabetes burden, one-third of its child population is undernourished and half of Indian women are anaemic. In addition, obesity and overweight are on the rise. This country is an emblematic case in terms of the double burden of malnutrition, and its population would definitely benefit from healthier food products.
At Choices, we know that food products can be made healthier by reformulating their composition, in agreement with the most recent advancements in nutrition. However, for a reformulation process to succeed, we need food industries willing to perform this task, and consumers willing to buy these products. To enquire about the attitudes toward food reformulation in India, Food Industry Asia (FIA) in partnership with IGD, a UK-based research organisation, recently conducted a survey in a representative sample of 1,020 men and women as well as on 30 food companies and retailers operating in India.
The results highlighted two major challenges: despite the fact that 80% of participants were favourable to the idea of reformulating food products to make them healthier, they pointed out that they would buy the new products only if they were as tasty as the previous ones. A large majority of food companies also declared they were open to both food product reformulation and to perform more research and innovation, only on the condition of receiving more support from the government. However, 61% of the companies interviewed have at least begun to reformulate their food products, and 8% considered their reformulation efforts complete.
The way participants perceived the process of food product reformulation is another important issue investigated by this report. A majority of participants interpreted food product reformulation as the addition or removal of one or more ingredients. 42% of the men and women interviewed were concerned about sugar content and sometimes checked this information on labels. Indeed, more than 80% of participants considered displaying nutritional information on the pack very important.
Companies reported using a variety of techniques to support their reformulation programmes. The most popular approaches were fortifying products with additional ingredients (65%), making changes to recipes (62%) and replacing ingredients with lower/zero calorie substitutes (42%). Removal of artificial colours, flavours, and preservatives, the reduction of saturated fats and allergens, as well as the reduction of sugar content were the main focus areas for reformulation.
63% of the companies interviewed felt that consumers are seeking healthier products, and believed that the industry had a role to play in driving consumer choice by providing healthier products. Only a minority of companies reported negative reactions from consumers after reformulating a food product, whereas almost 2/3 of them enjoyed positive feedback from their clients. Indeed, those food products and categories that made a sustained effort to become healthier got recognition from consumers. Dried fruits and nuts, as well as cereals, dairy products, and dried foods represent valid examples in this sense.
99% of the Indian population are trying to improve their diet and it seems that reducing sugar intake is their biggest concern. This, coupled with the fact that 90% of the companies interviewed reported to have sufficient nutrition expertise in house, contribute to a positive outlook for food product reformulation in India. India is expected to diagnose 98 million cases of type 2 diabetes by 2030. This is a good time to leverage the advantages of producing healthier food products.