The Malaysian predilection for eating is well-documented and undisputed. But it seems local eating patterns are shifting, as Malaysians are now moving towards healthier options, with oats and dairy products currently featuring prominently in the Malaysian diet.
This was based on the findings of an expert industry panel session, headed by dairy giant Fonterra Brands Malaysia and Kantar Worldpanel, an international company dealing in consumer knowledge and insights.
“Across the region, we are seeing a trend towards healthier eating as consumers recognise the nutritional benefit and impact food has on their well-being. With an expanding middle-class and rising disposable incomes across Asia, there is now a wider base of consumers willing to spend on products that support their overall health,” says Karen Leong, regional account director of Kantar Worldpanel.
Food purchases in the region also showed an increase, albeit slightly, with Kantar’s consumer insights for 2018 showing a year-on-year growth from 3.6% to 3.9%.
Kantar also conducted a study to determine what Malaysian adults and children’s preferences were for breakfast, and surprisingly after nasi lemak and sandwiches, oats came in third, with people professing to eat it 24% of the time for their morning meal.
“That has never happened before. If we were to do this study three to five years ago, I don’t think we would see it at No 3,” says Leong, adding that cereal bars and fruits have also become popular snack options.
Dairy products like milk, cheese and yoghurt have also become staples in South-East Asia as people perceive these milk-rich items be good for their health.
“Health is a very strong factor in Asia, so we see that dairy continues to thrive because of this trend as people equate dairy products with being high quality,” says Leong.
“Many people also see dairy as a good, healthy substitute for carbohydrates,” adds Megawati Suzari, the new product development, scientific and regulatory affairs director at Fonterra Brands Malaysia.
Another trend that is emerging is the growing demand for convenient meals that are easy-to-prepare but are also part of a balanced diet. This is in line with the time-strapped demands of modern living.
“That’s why the ready-to-eat market segment has more players and more interest in Malaysia,” says Leong.
What is perhaps most evident about Malaysian consumers is that they are increasingly more savvy and knowledgeable about food and its provenance. The days of consumers throwing the cheapest options into their shopping trolleys are long gone as most Malaysians are now extremely shrewd shoppers.
“Provenance is more important because people might have trust in imported products, but that depends on where they are imported from. Consumers will look at the packaging and they will read. People are becoming more educated, so whatever food producers put on the label and packaging is very important because that will speak to consumers,” says Leong.