Sustainable Ingredients: The outlook for food in Asia-Pacific

Sustainability practices ensure Asia-Pacific ingredient producers have a lot more to offer these days.

The food industry today is an active player in the global drive for sustainability. In general, “sustainable foods” are products obtained as a result of limited negative effects on the environment and the people producing them. The market for sustainable foods has expanded enormously in the last 5-10 years, growing alongside demand for natural, organic, and clean-label foods.

Today, there exists a whole new market for sustainable ingredients. Plant-based ingredients are a major driver of the sustainable-ingredients market. The plant-based ingredients market is flourishing. But savvy consumers are now also aware that a plant-based ingredient might not necessarily be sustainable. With consumers more educated on sustainability than ever before, the global plant-based industry is adopting practices that support the goals of a sustainable food system. Ingredient manufacturers must consider all facets of sustainability, from biodiversity and animal welfare to labor conditions and water consumption throughout the processing chain.

In Asia-Pacific, sustainability has sometimes been overlooked. However, post-pandemic, more APAC consumers are now reprioritizing not only health concerns but also environmental concerns.

Spending on sustainable food in Asia is projected to surpass USD $2 trillion by the year 2030, largely driven by both young millennials and GenZ consumers who specifically look out for the ingredient labeling on food. Thus, moving forward, sustainable products will be judged by their ingredients.

Sustainable Ingredients in APAC

The drive for sustainable ingredients is not only propelled by consumer trends but by the industry itself. Some of the established players such as Cargill, Nestlé, and Olam Food Ingredients are tailoring their product lines to meet rising sustainability demands. The ingredients that are majorly highlighted in the sustainable ecosystem include, but are not limited to, novel plant-based proteins, sustainable palm oil, coffee beans, and cocoa. Below is the deep-dive analysis on these ingredients, with a special APAC focus.

Plant-Based Proteins

APAC is the fastest-growing region for the plant protein industry, propelled by increasing health concerns, a growing number of flexitarians, the large-scale entry of startups, and overall global warming concerns. The key plant sources leading the plant-protein segment in APAC are soy, peas, wheat, and oats.

Overall, soy proteins lead the market but are frequently being challenged by the growing market for pea proteins. The key reason is the GMO status of soybeans, and soybeans’ allergenicity, which often does not align with sustainability objectives. Given the search for more sustainable or clean-label ingredients, the industry is witnessing great demand for pea proteins in APAC alongside some of the other emerging sources of proteins such as oats and rice.

Sustainable Oils

Malaysia and Indonesia have historically been the major producers of palm oil. These countries, however, have experienced large-scale deforestation due to palm oil production. This raised serious sustainability concerns all over the world, thereby negatively impacting these countries’ share of the market. However, both are now pushing the palm oil industry towards sustainability and plan to achieve some amazing results soon.

In Malaysia, after decades-long efforts, the country is on the path to ensuring that all palm producers are certified as sustainable producers following ethical standards by the year 2025. Similarly, the Indonesian government also took many initiatives in the last few years to make palm oil sustainable. One major initiative was the National Action Plan for Sustainable Palm 2019. The impact of these initiatives has been evident: in 2021, levels of deforestation due to palm oil plantations hit their lowest levels in 20 years.

Established industry players such as Musim Mas and Cargill are also making strides in supporting sustainability in the region. Recently, Cargill launched a digital business studio in APAC with the support of the Singapore Economic Development Board to accelerate food and agriculture innovation. The major focus of this launch is on the advancement of sustainability in the region’s food and agriculture sector. In addition, the company made a huge investment of USD $35 million in Malaysia to advance palm expansion and to modernize the company’s palm oil production facility. This will allow the production of sustainable ingredients per certification under the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) and Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO) standards.

Other Ingredients

A few other ingredients strengthening their sustainability are coffee and cocoa beans, which are amongst the most consumed commodities around the world. To support the sustainability drive, the coffee giant Starbucks has been working closely with farmers in Indonesia to produce coffee beans both ethically and sustainably.

In the cocoa segment, the two established players, Mondelēz International and Olam Food Ingredients, announced their partnership to create the world's largest sustainable commercial cocoa farm in Indonesia to support the growing demand for sustainable cocoa in Asia.

These kinds of efforts strongly suggest that these two ingredients are vigorously targeting sustainability to support increased consumption as well as production in APAC.

Conclusion

The sustainable ingredient market in APAC is scaling up fast thanks to government initiatives and increased industry investments. This unmatched demand for sustainability provides huge innovation opportunities together with the localization of raw material supply, which not only provides cost competitiveness but also supports a tremendous growth trajectory. All in all, the APAC food industry promises an unrestricted growth potential, but with a sustainability focus, we predict exponential and long-lasting growth.

About the Author

Himani Mainali (himani.mainali@chembizr.com) was formerly an associate consultant, food and nutrition, for ChemBizR. ChemBizR is a boutique business research and consulting partner of chemical companies globally, involved in addressing companies’ critical business challenges and strategic growth initiatives to help them transform their enterprise for sustainable growth in a highly competitive and rapidly evolving environment. For more information, e-mail connect@chembizr.com.