Nutrition, health to stay key goals for food firms

When Mark Bunn, managing director of nutrition food brand Futurelife talks of the newly cemented partnership with Haldiram’s in India, he claims South Africa and India share many similarities in terms of natural beauty and delectable food. However, for now, his focus is on making Indians healthy. South African Futurelife and Indian snacks and restaurant company Haldiram’s in February announced a joint venture to launch a range of the former’s nutritional range in the country.

Haldiram’s noted that the JV reflected a growing commitment to health and nutrition by India’s younger generation, and its increased willingness to add more non-traditional food to its diet. Bunn agreed that this traction towards healthier products accelerated Futurelife’s move into the country with a partner that understands food, the Indian palate, procurement and distribution. “We really understand nutrition. So it is a great partnership,” he said.

The company has already launched its oats, granola bar and high protein products on marketplaces like Big Basket, Milk Basket and Amazon. To be sure, Haldiram’s is not the only company expanding its portfolio to cover health foods. In February, Tata Consumer Products Ltd said it was acquiring a 100{b5d304c96e94113bdfc523ff4218a1efff4746200bdb9eeb3214a56a1302f2e4} stake in Kottaram Agro Foods, which makes Soulfull brand of breakfast cereals and millet-based snacks.

Wipro Consumer Care Ventures, the venture capital arm of Wipro Consumer Care and Lighting, has also put money behind a health and nutrition products brand, Onelife, which was launched in 2013. In the last few months, Marico Ltd, too, increased focus on its health and immunity portfolio by entering the chawanprash and honey categories. The developments indicate the interest even legacy companies have in the health food category.

Experts in the fast-moving consumer goods sector said health food companies are a hot pick in the time of covid, when consumers are sharply focused on better nutrition to boost immunity. As consumers pivot to health snacks and immunity boosters, companies’ appetite for investment in such firms and products is growing.

Legacy companies are taking the acquisition route to enter the category may be because some of these products are high-tech. “You need the technical know-how to make nutrition-based foods. There is a science behind it,” said Pinakiranjan Mishra, partner and national leader, consumer products and retail, EY.

Agreed Amit Adarkar, chief executive officer at research firm Ipsos India: “Technology and research offered by international health food companies are critical to Indian companies developing and owning health proposition.”

The increased number of deals reflects the hurry the companies are in as they figure that the health food trend is here to stay. “All our surveys have shown that health as an agenda is very critical,” said Mishra. When the pandemic hit, companies that lacked an omni-channel sales strategy suffered. These firms do not want to miss the bus on the nutrition trend, he added.

Adarkar agreed that post-pandemic, the country has seen heightened consumer interest in health and wellness products and health foods in particular. “Traditionally health foods had a niche appeal, partly linked to ‘low on taste’ perceptions and partly due to premium price”, he said. After the pandemic, three things have changed. First, preventive health consciousness and immunity boosting have become more mainstream. Second, the tendency to experiment with food has gone up during and after the lockdown, as purchase baskets changed. And third, rising e-commerce adoption has led to increased awareness and trial of health foods, which may not enjoy prime shelf space in general trade, he explained.

“We are reaching a stage where a large or mass foods manufacturer cannot neglect this high-growth segment, especially if one wants to win in top metros,” he added.

With Haldiram’s, Futurelife is looking forward to serving healthy and nutritious food to Indians, Bunn said. The long-term target is to have its food on their menu.

He said Futurelife cereals have had clinical study published, which shows they improve people’s immune system and energy. EY’s Mishra pointed out that with all these deals and their fetish for health foods, companies will eventually have to demonstrate outcomes. “They have to be something more tangible beyond just a marketing plank,” he added.

Shuchi Bansal is Mint’s media, marketing and advertising editor. Ordinary Post will look at pressing issues related to all three. Or just fun stuff

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