FOR sure, the Covid-19 pandemic has brought about a new awareness on maintaining a healthy lifestyle. And thanks to growing demand, one of the common trends among food manufacturers today is about creating healthy food.
This is a boon for health food ingredient suppliers, particularly for those located in tropical countries which are blessed with rich resources of natural herbs and plants.
Malaysia’s rainforest is home to many plants that have medicinal and health benefits and can be used as natural remedies.
This, by right, should put a spotlight on the local herbal industry as consumers increasingly look for natural solutions to various ailments.
However, the herbal industry here is small and fragmented. Research and development (R&D) efforts are carried out in silo and the industry lacks a strong marketing push.
Bio-Nutricia Manufacturing Sdn Bhd’s Ng Kuak Ping thinks there is a lot more that needs to be done to boost well-known local plant-derived resources such as Tongkat Ali.
The company is one of the larger local health food ingredient manufacturers.
Ng says the industry should latch onto the growing interest from international F&B manufacturers for locally sourced health ingredients.
These manufacturers produce a wide variety of products that utilise natural health ingredients to have an advantage in the competitive F&B sector.
These products range from health beverages and supplement based products such as protein beverages, vitamin drinks and protein bars, to everyday edibles such as breakfast cereals, yoghurts and cheeses.
Bio-Nutricia’s health ingredients are also used in various food applications such as snacks, bakery products, confectionery and dairy products.
If the local herbs industry is able to capture just a small slice of the F&B market, that would be a big boost for herb suppliers.
What it will take, though, is strong R&D to identify the health benefits of various locally available herbs and good marketing to make them known. While food may be one of the more obvious uses for herbs, demand is also fast growing from the pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, chemical and personal care industries. People are slowly recognising that herbal products can be effective, safe and non-toxic and have lesser side effects to humans.
“With the increasing awareness among consumers about the benefits of health ingredients, the market for them is growing, as consumers prefer balanced diets and food that not only satiates their hunger but is also nutritional.
“Therefore, the growing market is presenting opportunities for new and innovative applications in the health ingredients segment. Health ingredients such as vitamins, minerals and flavonoids are used in confectionery to provide better texture, stability, flavour, and add chewiness to the products, ” explains Ng.
In recent years, Ng notes a growing health-consciousness among consumers looking for foods that are not only nutritional but also those that provide essential health ingredients to prevent possible diseases and improve physical and mental well-being.
This change in consumer demand is mainly influenced by emerging economies such as China, India, Singapore and South Korea, which have seen an increase in food expenditure due to growing population, rising disposable incomes and increasing health concerns.
As a nutritionist, Ng cautions consumers to follow proven scientific facts before buying into any health fad. It is important to ensure that the health ingredients used are composed of naturally occurring components that are able to promote positive effects on targeted functions beyond basic nutrition, he adds.
With trends pointing toward an increase in ageing population and growing consumer awareness in developing as well as developed countries, there are indeed strong fundamentals supporting the growth of the herb industry.
It is important that at this juncture, Malaysia does not lose out on taking the lead in pushing the industry forward to seize the opportunities that lie ahead.
After all, we have an abundance of supply in our very own backyard.
Did you find this article insightful?
100% readers found this article insightful