A key trend that is governing R&D and product launches in the global F&B industry is the changing consumer preferences towards foods that can help them achieve their health and nutrition goals. Consumers are increasingly looking for personalized and customized options targeted towards specific demographics and actively pursuing food choices that can help them achieve a healthier lifestyle. The GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) food industry is not an exception to this trend. Consumers in the region are gradually transitioning towards foods that can increase heart and gut health, energy and weight management, to name a few. Many F&B companies, towards their efforts to meet consumer demands, are active in commercializing products that are rich in nutritional profile.
As per WHO’s advisory guidelines, the member countries of the GCC are aligning with various themes focused on the F&B industry, a noteworthy one being the introduction of salt reduction strategies. Food safety is a high priority for the region, and F&B companies are now redefining their product launches in line with the evolving regulatory and consumer landscape.
Careful analysis of consumer choices and preferences in the GCC region will make it evident that functional foods don’t mean those loaded with synthetically derived ingredients and additives. The inclination towards natural- and/or organically-derived ingredients are on the rise. With the preference towards processed and convenience foods still stable, F&B companies are keen on developing products using natural alternatives, and at the same time, meet the demand for processed and convenience foods.
Product development involves usage of various additives, with preservatives being one of the most prominent. They are generally used to extend shelf life, impart antimicrobial properties, and prevent ageing and discoloration amongst others. Synthetically derived preservatives such as sorbates and benozates have become integral in processed foods. While the effects of synthetic preservatives are well established, studies have shown the adverse effects on continued usage. This has therefore led to the demand for natural alternatives that are predominantly of plant origin.
Some of the well-known natural preservatives include salt, sugar, oil, honey, citric acid and vinegar. Usage of salt is leading the segment, followed by citric acid and vinegar, gaining in prominence due to their versatility of usage. For example, citric acid is predominantly used in beverages and also as an acidifier in foods. Apart from the well-known natural preservatives, plant extracts such as rosemary are increasingly used, especially for meat, poultry and frozen meat application segments.
Leading companies in the GCC region have launched a plethora of natural preservatives as part of their product portfolio for use in various F&B application segments, the key ones being meat, processed foods and baked goods. Most of the global players, including ADM Company, Akzo Nobel N.V., Kemin Industries, Inc., Naturex, Cargill, Inc. and many more are active in R&D efforts to meet region-specific demands. These players are also keen on offering their ingredients in various forms to enable them to cater to a broader range of product categories. For example, Corbion’s Verdad® vinegar has variants such as Verdad® N9, a sodium-free version intended for low salt foods while the N6 variant is available in powder format.
While the series of launches can be considered positive, consumers understand that not all-naturally derived sources can be regarded as safe. Hence, the responsibility lies with the F&B companies and industry to ensure the safety aspect to their consumers. Clean labelling is one such way of assuring customers.
A trend observed to correlate the above is the preference for organic and certified organic foods. In the UAE alone, the availability of various types of organic food products has increased by 50% in the last 3 to 4 years. Similar trends are observed in The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), Qatar and Kuwait. It is seen that despite rising inclination towards organic food, most of the brands use the “natural” claim with a most-common tagline of “no artificial preservatives used”. Hence, brands are opting for the “organic” label as a strategy for product differentiation—E.g. such as that of Heinz Organic Tomato Ketchup in the region. The ketchup remains a steady favorite in the GCC.
The Final Word:
All-natural, clean label would look very attractive to a consumer. However, one must note that developing a “clean-label” food product with extended shelf life using only all-natural ingredients is still a challenge, especially in the processed and convenience food segments. Most companies use a combination approach, using both natural and synthetic ingredients, to meet demands. However, successful mainstream adoption of alternatives such as that of enzymes used for maintaining the stretchiness of starch in bread showcases that the industry is on the right track. As the GCC food industry becomes increasingly accustomed to the use of plant-based preservatives, ingredient developers are looking for the next wave of naturally derived preservatives and blends that can impart multifunctional properties with improved organoleptic characteristics.
Research Manager, TechVision
Frost & Sullivan