That’s according to Fonterra NZMP Ingredients' South and East Asia GM Hamish Gowans, who said more Asian consumers were seeking specific nutritional benefits to support their growing interest in health and active living, while demanding greater convenience to fit urban, time-poor lifestyles.
“We are really seeing this take off in Japan at the moment,” he told us as the recent FI Asia show in Bangkok.
“I think part of this is due to the rising interest in sports nutrition products ahead of the Olympics and Rugby World Cup.
“But we are also seeing the government pay more attention to protein, and we have considerable opportunities with the ageing population, who understands the importance of good nutrition.”
Bars and snacks
With the Asia protein ingredients market forecast to grow by 11.5% from 2016 to 2020, NZMP was showcasing its SureProtein range of high-protein, clean-label dairy beverage concepts at the show.
The firm claims its SureProtein WPC515 ingredients is the next generation of whey protein concentrate powder, which permits high levels of whey protein in bars, yogurts and snacks.
According to global market intelligence agency Mintel, the share of new food launches with high-protein claims across South East Asia grew by 8% on average every year from 2012 to 2016, with Thailand leading the way as one of the standout markets for high-protein food launches.
Gowans said despite dairy traditionally being associated with its calcium benefits in Asia, more so than protein, he believes that perception is now starting to shift.
“Protein is rapidly evolving from a ‘fitness’ to a ‘health and wellness’ ingredient, as incomes rise and people become more aware of its benefits. Although protein has long been associated with body builders and elite athletes, protein-fortified food has now expanded into the mainstream,” he said.
He added that the company now has a dedicated medical nutrition department, which would focus on solutions for the region's ageing population.
The firm ships ingredients for active nutrition, dairy foods and beverages, and consumer powders to over 100 customers in South and East Asia.
Because the region is so diverse, ranging from low-GDP countries like Bangladesh to wealthy nations like Singapore and Japan, Gowans said the company had to cater to each market.
This means basic products, like recombined sweetened condensed milk and repacked whole milk powder continue to sell well in South Asia, while highly functional sports and medical nutrition products are gaining traction in South East and East Asia.
The company recently announced it would be using new-generation container ships, each with the capacity for 9,500 20ft containers to transport Fonterra and NZMP goods from New Zealand to Asia in less time.
Transit time from Tauranga, New Zealand to Kaohsiung, Taiwan has been reduced from 24 days to 14. The ship then continues on to unload at ports in China, South Korea and Japan.