WHEN COMPANIES like McDonald’s, Pepsi and Coke—accused the world over for leading the junk food brigade—begin offering low-fat, low-salt, low-sugar and more fruit- and vegetable-based food options...
WHEN COMPANIES like McDonald’s, Pepsi and Coke—accused the world over for leading the junk food brigade—begin offering low-fat, low-salt, low-sugar and more fruit- and vegetable-based food options, you know that a food revolution is happening. People want to eat healthy and light, and food is increasingly more about nutrition than indulgence. And because the customer is king, the food industry is scurrying to offer new, healthier avatars of its products.
From omega-3-rich ice creams, fizzy drinks with fruit, and multigrain wraps and biscuits to high-protein chips, cooking oil for diabetics, organic food and smaller packaging, the discerning consumer today has several options to take a guilt-free bite.
While some names like Saffola from Marico are upfront about being a health-conscious brand, you know that consumer preferences have changed when a company like McDonald’s makes a concerted effort to offer healthier alternatives. The company started backend work around three years back to reduce sodium levels in its various products, having brought down the sodium content in its sauces, buns and McNuggets by 10% and in fries by 20%. Oil content in sauces has been reduced from 67% to 25%, bringing down the calories by up to 40%. This has resulted in an overall calorie reduction of 8-10% across all burgers, its primary product. “Customers today are increasingly seeking product options that act as a ‘wholesome and filling meal’ while dining out. We are committed to offering improved nutrition choices and have worked hard on our recipes and menu choices to make nutritional improvements through reformulation and reduced fat, salt and sugar to resonate more with today’s consumer,” says Smita Jatia, managing director, McDonald’s India (west and south), adding that the company constantly tries to identify new trends and opportunities and innovate menu offerings to stay relevant.
Other quick service restaurants like Subway, which already promises food that is fresh, recently introduced multigrain wraps made with a healthy mix of whole wheat, soybean, ragi, oats, maize, barley and black gram.
For big FMCG names like ITC, wellness is the next big focus area. The company has already launched a slew of products in this space and is developing more in sync with its strategy of building a new value chain called ‘nutrition’, with special focus on health and well-being. So if it has an Aashirvaad Sugar Release Control Atta, which has a clinically-tested low-glycaemic index, ideal for diabetics, it has also introduced Farmlite Digestive biscuits that have no sugar, maida or artificial sweeteners. It already has multigrain atta, Marie Oats and Farmlite Oats in the market. Next in line is a range of blended spices with the highest benchmark of safety and quality. All the ingredients used in these spices will be ensured for source integrity and carefully screened for over 450 chemicals, mycotoxins, micro-organisms and other contaminants in full compliance with stringent European Union norms for food safety as compared to the required testing for around only 10 contaminants in the Indian standards context.
“ITC is uniquely positioned in being able to offer healthy choices in food products. One of the largest research facilities in the world enables us to offer science-based nutrition. We are formulating products that will have benefits substantiated by clinical trials in many cases. While indulgence will play a large part in the food market, the nascent health segment is expected to grow, and we will make a significant play in this area,” says VL Rajesh, divisional chief executive, foods division, ITC.
In the beverage segment, the likes of PepsiCo and Coca-Cola have introduced drinks in 150 ml and 180 ml cans, respectively. This might be more of a sales gimmick, but for those who want to consume these beverages in a limited quantity, smaller packs are definitely good news. More good news comes from Dabur, which has recently added a new sparkling fruit beverage to its product portfolio, Real Volo, which has 20-25% fruit juice content.
Coca-Cola had earlier this year launched preservative-free flavoured milk VIO, and Fuze tea with fruit flavours and natural ingredients before that.
Sweet hope also comes with ice cream that boasts of health as well. In July, the Central Food Technological Research Institute, a research laboratory in Mysuru, along with Bengaluru-based Oleome Biosolutions and Dairy Classic Ice Creams, launched a new range of ice creams called NutriIce Creams that is rich in omega-3 and vitamin E. The new product has been developed using chia, a superfood having a high content of omega-3 fat from a vegetarian source, and is expected to hit the markets in the coming months.
Even Hindustan Unilever has reduced the calorie content in its packaged ice creams in a bid to provide healthier products. Last year, the company announced that 80% of its packaged ice creams would contain no more than 250 calories. It has also introduced smaller portions of its popular ice cream brands Magnum and Cornetto. “Kwality Walls’ endeavour is to offer delicious consumer experiences, while ensuring they are a healthier treat for our consumers. The entire portfolio for kids contains 110 kilocalories or fewer per portion. For teens and adults who savour Magnum, Cornetto and Kwality Walls offerings, our global commitment stated that by 2015, 80% of all our packaged products will not exceed 250 kilocalories per portion. In India, we have already ensured that 98% of our packaged portfolio contains less than 250 kcals per portion. In addition, our frozen dessert range uniquely ensures that the fat we use has 0% cholesterol unlike dairy fat,” says an HUL spokesperson.