Recent studies suggest a link between the consumption of ultra-processed food and non-communicable diseases. While media coverage is increasing consumer awareness, the topic remains highly controversial and raises criticism from the food industry. This report draws a picture of how energy purchase by NOVA classification differs across countries and regions, and provides an outlook on the potential challenges for the industry if NOVA becomes a bigger talking point among consumers.
Recent studies link the consumption of ultra-processed food with non-communicable diseases, such as cardiovascular diseases, that are chronic in nature and result from genetic, physiological, environmental and behavioural factors. The NOVA concept constitutes a big change compared to the focus on a single macro-nutrient, such as sugar or fat. If ultra-processed food becomes a big talking point for consumers, this could present the packaged food and beverages industry with a huge challenge in the future.
High obesity rates among adults and children are driving governments around the world to take action. The discussion on ultra-processed food adds further fuel to the fire. Sugar taxes are gaining ground and front-of-pack labels are being introduced in order to help consumers make healthier food/drink choices. Consumers, meanwhile, are showing increasing interest in nutrition information.
Ultra-processed food accounts for the majority of energy purchased in developed countries. With consumers being increasingly time-pressed and in search of convenient food, the UK, the US and Japan take the lead on this front. In emerging markets, energy purchased from unprocessed food has seen the fastest growth in recent years, due to consumers trading up to meat.
Despite existing food facts, it often comes down to food faith in the end. Less processed and more natural product offers have good growth prospects, especially if they meet the demand for convenience. The clean label trend is expected to gain further traction. An area to watch will be the booming area of plant-based food, which is currently often highly processed and thus in contrast with the movement towards more natural and less processed food.
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