Steady, significant changes in consumer trends offer Ingredion, Inc. ever widening horizons for growth, said two top company executives.
Rising obesity rates in Asia, rising interest in the microbiome and the connection between food intake and inflammation are among topics on the radar screen at Westchester, Ill.-based Ingredion, said James P. Zallie, executive vice-president, Global Specialties and president, Americas, and Jorgen Kokke, senior vice-president and president, Asia Pacific and EMEA. The executives spoke with Milling & Baking News during the 2017 Consumer Analyst Group of New York conference in late February at the Boca Raton Resort and Club in Boca Raton.
Rising affluence in certain Asian cities has propelled obesity rates upward in that part of the world, Mr. Kokke said.
“They have higher incomes, they live in high-rise buildings, and they lead very busy lifestyles in large cities, spending a lot of time in traffic or in the subway system,” he said. “Food is plentiful, and it’s so very affordable. This has led to the rise of obesity, which is now attracting attention from governments. They have started awareness campaigns and prevention campaigns, and they are talking about sugar taxes in a number of countries in southeast Asia for example.”
Consumer awareness is increasing, too, Mr. Kokke said, and interest in reduced-sugar formulations is on the rise. He said Ingredion has had success in South Korea where it has introduced a range of sweetener blends geared toward lowering sugar levels in food and beverage products, especially dairy drinks. These product development efforts have been advanced by new generation stevia products with “superior taste,” he said.
Further discussing what he called “subsegmentation” of the health and wellness category, Mr. Zallie said the microbiome is one subject he believes “will get more and more press” in the months and years ahead.
“So one of the areas that we are keeping a close watch, where resistant starch or what we call pre-biotics could be helpful, is the microbiome because of its ability to influence the immune system for health and wellness,” he said.
He also noted that the increased popularity of extreme sports — individuals exercising at high levels of intensity — has boosted the need for protein intake among this group.
“Then you have the opposite extreme — elderly population from the standpoint of loss of muscle mass, and their specific nutritional needs,” he said. “So those are just two examples that come to mind, but I think you’ll see more subsegmentation on the nutritional front.”
In the U.S. baking industry, Mr. Zallie said Ingredion believes interest in resistant starch may be boosted by a Food and Drug Administration approval of a qualified health claim related to type 2 diabetes.
In December, the F.D.A. approved of an Ingredion petition that enables food manufacturers to communicate on food packaging the relationship between high-amylose maize resistant starch and a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes.
“So for fortification, for fiber, that would be applicable in many bakery products, not just in the sweet and savory but in the more hearth-based and artisan type breads as well,” Mr. Zallie said.
Globally, Ingredion also seeks to capitalize on demographic trends. For instance, Pakistan is a country with a nicely growing economy and a very young population, now numbering about 200 million.
“The birth rate is high, and people who are young obviously consume more calories,” Mr. Kokke said. “Some of the market segments that are attractive to us are in the sweeteners area. Candy is a big area and is very affordable.”
Economics play a central role in how Ingredion crafts a product strategy for a country like Pakistan which, Mr. Kokke noted, has per capita income below levels in either India or China.
“We’re helping make products affordable,” he said. “A lot of our products can kind of replace expensive ingredients, specifically our texturizers or texture modified starches. That’s an area of focus that, but I would say the specialty businesses is in the early stages of development in Pakistan, although strongly growing.”
Commenting on recent acquisitions, Mr. Kokke said Ingredion’s pending purchase of the rice starch and rice flour business of Sun Flour Industry Co., Ltd., will allow Ingredion to capitalize on “the inherent goodness of rice.” He noted that rice stands out among grains because it is hypoallergenic and because its unique molecular structure gives rice ingredients a distinctive texture. He said Ingredion believes the rice business, based in Banglen, Thailand, will offer opportunities for expansion in Asia and globally.
In January 2017, Ingredion completed the acquisition of TIC Gums, Inc., White Marsh, Md., supplier of advanced texture systems.“TIC has a proven track record for growth, incredible customer intimacy, tremendous relationships with small- and medium-sized customers that are growing,,” Mr. Zallie said. “We can globalize its footprint, we believe, with our presence in China because they have really a fledgling operation although a very nice operation in China. We think we can grow that, and we think we can grow a footprint in Mexico, and in Europe.”