COVID-19 triggers a boom in functional food
During the COVID-19 crisis, demand for functional food and nutritional supplements has grown worldwide. Consumers have become more conscious of the importance of healthy nutrition. This poses new challenges for the agriculture sector and food producers.
Friday, October 22, 2021
According to a global survey conducted by the Kerry food company, consumers have been purchasing considerably more functional foods, beverages and nutritional supplements since the pandemic began. Functional foods are products enriched with ingredients such as vitamins, minerals, unsaturated fats or bacterial cultures. Examples include yogurt, which is sometimes supplemented with probiotic bacteria, and fruit juices enriched with a variety of vitamins.
More than 40 percent of the survey respondents reported that they had purchased more functional foods or nutritional supplements during the pandemic. The main reason is health concerns. Nearly 60 percent said that they purchased these products because they wanted to strengthen their immune systems. Other reasons included a desire for healthy bones and joints (46 percent), digestive health (43 percent), heart health (40 percent) and increased energy (39 percent).
Health is becoming an increasingly important concern
According to John Quilter at the Kerry company, interest in wellness and health has never been greater than it is today. While the topic had already become more important to consumers in recent years, the pandemic significantly accelerated this trend. The survey shows that consumer preferences are changing. Interest in healthy food and supplements is growing.
There is more to this issue, however. According to WHO, 3 billion people cannot afford healthy food, and unhealthy food is associated with six of the the ten most important risk factors for diseases worldwide. The COVID-19 pandemic has had significant negative effects on food security and nutrition. For example, 370 million children have lost access to school meals, and it is estimated that another 118 million people are experiencing food insecurity.
Access to sufficient vegetables and fruits is therefore critically important. The EAT-Lancet Report estimates that production of vegetables and fruits needs to double by 2050 for the world’s population to have access to healthy, balanced nutrition.
However, millions of people lack access to sufficient fruits and vegetables. This is why companies like Bayer are increasing their cooperation with small farmers all over the world. The aim is to make new technologies available to as many fruit and vegetable producers as possible.
Enriched basic foods and supplements play an important role
Yet that alone is not enough, in a world where agricultural land is in short supply, and where it should not encroach into virgin forests and other valuable nature reserves. Companies like DSM are working to close the micronutrient gap for 800 million people by 2030, with the help of enriched basic foods and supplements. Innovative dietary supplements can improve health.
Children are among the most vulnerable population groups. Malnutrition in childhood can have a negative impact throughout life. A solution like golden rice, which is enriched with beta carotene, can play at least some role in preventing blindness or death among the world’s poorest populations. The multi-nutrient rice developed by ETH researcher Navreet Bhullar goes a step further: Her rice varieties contain not only beta carotene, a precursor to vitamin A, but also zinc and iron.
The demand for regional products could hardly be greater. This is shown by a new study by the Zurich School of Business. Consumers even consider regional products to be significantly more sustainable than organic or premium products. To keep up with this trend, it is therefore all the more important to promote modern breeding techniques and plant protection products.
The reduced use of plant protection products is causing much smaller wheat and rapeseed harvests. A study carried out by Swiss Agricultural Research reveals that such crop failures can only be offset by state subsidies. This is neither sustainable nor resource-efficient.
The economic interdependence of the world has increased greatly over the past years and decades. Due to the brisk trade activity between the continents, invasive plant and animal species are also spreading faster and faster. This can lead to serious problems for native vegetation and agriculture. According to the FOEN, the canton of Ticino is particularly affected.