When snack­ing be­comes healthy

New lo­cal pro­duc­ers bite into a grow­ing mar­ket

Executive Magazine - - FRONT PAGE -

Whether it is quinoa chips or chia seed cook­ies, snack food prod­ucts, once dis­missed as pure junk, have taken a turn to­ward the healthy and nat­u­ral, and it seems the world’s con­sumers couldn’t be hap­pier.

Glob­ally, con­sumers are in­creas­ingly aware of the im­por­tance of a good diet on their health, ac­cord­ing to Reema Man­sour, founder of Bi­o­li­cious, a Le­banese com­pany which pro­duces or­ganic and gluten-free snacks and foods. “Peo­ple are much more aware that what they eat has a di­rect im­pact on how they feel. Plus, there has been a large global rise in food sen­si­tiv­i­ties and al­ler­gies,” Man­sour ex­plains.

This in­creased aware­ness has come with a splurge in spend­ing, too. Ac­cord­ing to Euromon­i­tor, a global mar­ket re­search firm, world­wide sales of health food prod­ucts are es­ti­mated to reach $1 tril­lion by the end of 2017. Be­tween 2015 and 2020, the global or­ganic food mar­ket is pro­jected to reg­is­ter a com­pound an­nual growth rate of 16 per­cent, ac­cord­ing to a TechSci Re­search re­port en­ti­tled “Global Or­ganic Food Mar­ket Fore­cast and Op­por­tu­ni­ties, 2020.”

The agro-in­dus­tri­al­ists Ex­ec­u­tive spoke to be­lieve that healthy and nat­u­ral snack food is not just an­other pass­ing fad, but a life­style change that is here to stay. “I don’t see the health food in­dus­try dy­ing any time soon. It’s one of the fastest grow­ing in­dus­tries in the world, and ev­ery­thing is be­ing switched to some­thing healthy: equip­ment lines are be­ing re­designed to pro­duce health­ier food and choco­late com­pa­nies, such as Cad­bury and Mars, have re­duced their por­tion sizes. Ev­ery­body is try­ing to ride the band­wagon of health. It’s not a trend; it’s a fact and re­al­ity,” em­pha­sizes Soumaya Merhi, founder of Le­banese com­pany Bread­Bas­ket sal, which pro­duces sev­eral va­ri­eties of healthy snacks branded Taqa.

THE LE­BANESE SCENE

Lebanon has only re­cently hopped on the or­ganic and nat­u­ral foods band­wagon. Less than 10 years ago, the few brands of nat­u­ral or health foods avail­able in Lebanon were re­stricted

to a cou­ple of shelves in the cor­ner of the su­per­mar­ket la­beled “diet.” To­day, how­ever, many of Beirut’s and Mount Lebanon’s su­per­mar­kets have ded­i­cated health food sec­tions, which are awash with im­ported brands of gluten free and or­ganic items. More­over, there are at least 20 spe­cialty shops across Lebanon that only sell nat­u­ral or or­ganic food prod­ucts.

Al­though there are no num­bers that quan­tify the mar­ket size of healthy snack foods in Lebanon, in­di­ca­tors sug­gest that it re­mains a niche, de­spite its rapid de­vel­op­ment. This could be due to the price of such prod­ucts – espe­cially when im­ported – or the lack of aware­ness of the im­por­tance of healthy eat­ing among many Le­banese. “In Lebanon, there are many lo­cals who lack health aware­ness. For ex­am­ple, many don’t eat olive oil be­cause they think it’s fat­ten­ing and they don’t know its health ben­e­fits; or they eat gluten free bread since it’s the trend,” says Hill Skaff, pro­cessed food value chain leader at the US­AID funded Lebanon In­dus­try Value Chain De­vel­op­ment (LIVCD).

MADE IN LEBANON

While snack food pro­duc­tion is ar­guably well-de­vel­oped in Lebanon, it is no easy task to find lo­cally pro­duced and health­ier va­ri­eties of sa­vory or sweet treats. Re­cently, ma­jor food pro­duc­ers in Lebanon have wo­ken up to the po­ten­tial profit in healthy snack foods and have in­tro­duced al­ter­na­tive snacks to their ex­ist­ing pro­duc­tion lines. Ex­am­ples in­clude Masters Chips in­tro­duc­ing air-popped rice crack­ers, Al-Ou­mara bak­eries launch­ing rice cakes and oat breads, and Cas­ta­nia Nuts pro­duc­ing trail mixes.

Mean­while, the past five years have seen an emer­gence of small-to-medium sized en­ter­prises that solely pro­duce healthy snack foods. Their num­ber, how­ever, re­mains quite low, and they face nu­mer­ous chal­lenges.

The most com­mon chal­lenges that com­pa­nies voiced to Ex­ec­u­tive were el­e­vated pro­duc­tion costs and dif­fi­culty in gain­ing mar­ket ex­po­sure. “These com­pa­nies need sup­port to get more ex­po­sure and aware­ness among con­sumers. On the tech­ni­cal level, in healthy foods pro­duc­tion, they need semi or full au­to­mated equip­ment to de­crease their cost of pro­duc­tion, and stan­dard­ize prod­ucts,” says Skaff, giv­ing the ex­am­ple of how LIVCD in­vested in semi-au­to­mated ma­chines to help ready-to-eat kibbeh pro­duc­ers de­crease the time spent on pro­duc­ing them man­u­ally.

Ma­jor food pro­duc­ers in Lebanon have wo­ken up to the po­ten­tial profit in healthy snack foods

Esh­moon uses lo­cally grown ap­ples and or­anges

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