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China: driving global growth in the health food market: did you know that China is one of the.

In fact, China is now recognized as being a key player in the global health food industry. The US Department of Commerce reports that "with rapid economic growth and the continued improvement of peoples' livelihoods, the demand for health food from China's 1.3 billion people has expanded tremendously during the last 20 years." The Nutrition Business Journal has also published a report identifying China as the country set to offer the greatest opportunities for the nutrition industry in the next 5 years, closely followed by the United States. Retail sales of health food in China were estimated to be $13.7 billion in 2009, surpassing Japan's $12.9 billion and revealing China as being the second biggest health food market in the world after the US.

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The category of "health foods" incorporates functional foods, dietary supplements and foods claiming a dietary component that provides preventive health benefits beyond basic nutrition. As it stands, the level to which China's population accepts and consumes health foods is far below that of many developed nations; a 2010 research report of its health food market estimated consumer spending to be 0.07% of gross expenditure, in comparison with the 2% expenditure seen in Western nations. Factors such as high health food costs, a lack of confidence in native brands and low family incomes have hindered the growth of the nutrition industry in China. Nevertheless, the movement of Chinese consumers from subsistence living to commanding 'middle class' incomes will invariably lead to an increase in food expenditure and a corresponding rise in health food consumption.

Historically, the Chinese have enjoyed a healthy diet, of which vegetables and rice constitute the main staples. These are supplemented by fruit and small quantities of animal protein used to flavour and season the dishes. Much of the Chinese population is lactose intolerant, so flavourings such as broths, sauces and marinades are preferred to heavy, rich cream sauces. In addition, the Chinese diet features soy products including tofu and soy sauce; protein drinks and nutritional bars that include soy protein isolates are thus an ideal way to meet the nutritional needs of the lactose intolerant population. China's nutritional reliance on small amounts of animal proteins and higher quantities of soy proteins is healthy and environmentally responsible. As the country's population grows, its food supply shrinks, water supplies become more limited and food production competes for land with housing and fuel crops. In the coming decades, as global agriculture faces the prospect of a changing climate and the challenge of feeding the world's growing population, renewable plant protein is likely to become a means by which food is delivered to regions vulnerable to deficits.

Nutritious and functional soy and canola protein isolates are important plant-based ingredients for China's health food industry. They are able to meet the body's needs, providing all the essential amino acids required for proper growth, muscle tissue synthesis and a host of other vital processes. The global nutritional supplements industry has seen explosive growth in the use of protein ingredients during the past 10 years. Protein bars (once consumed only by endurance athletes), protein-rich meal replacement products and dietary supplements have become worldwide supermarket staples. In addition to this, protein supplements are being increasingly and successfully promoted to the expanding market of geriatric consumers.

From Different

Plant proteins are differentiated from animal-based proteins in terms of their affordability, impact on health and effect on the environment. Health advantages associated with the consumption of plant proteins include the positive impact they may have in the fight against heart disease. In 1999, the US Food and Drug Administration issued a claim concerning a key health benefit of soy protein, stating that "25 grams of soy protein a day, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease." Research studies have demonstrated the cholesterol-lowering properties of soy protein, which effects blood cholesterol by reducing levels of LDL or "bad" cholesterol. In turn, this may reduce the likelihood of heart disease. On the strength of such evidence, 11 countries have approved health claims for soy protein's potential to lower blood cholesterol and the risk of coronary heart disease. Plant-based diets are also high in fibre and lower in fat; diets such as these have been shown in numerous studies to lower the rates of certain cancers, including those of the colon, breast and prostate. A diet of this kind is also believed to reduce the risk of diabetes.

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Chinese consumers are paying increasing attention to the functionality of health food products. A health food consumption survey issued by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council revealed that 77% of consumers rank "immune enhancement" as an important function, followed by "nutritional supplement" and "antifatigue," which were ranked as equally important by 49% of consumers. Health issues surrounding biocontaminants such as E. coli, Asian bird flu and BSE, in addition to the growing use of antibiotics in animal production, have provoked consumer concerns regarding the safety of animal-based protein products. These concerns, in combination with trends in consumer awareness, benefit the sales of plant-based proteins. Alongside the potential health benefits, the production of plant-based proteins is viewed as more "environmentally economic" than that of animal-derived proteins. Few people realize, for example, that rearing livestock causes more greenhouse gas emissions than cars. According to a report published by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, the global livestock sector generates more emissions as measured in C[O.sub.2] equivalents -- 18% -- than transport.

It is also a major source of land and water degradation. Indeed, to produce animal protein, plant protein must first be fed to livestock; animals, however, are not efficient converters, pound for pound, of the proteins they consume.

Future Growth

The growing population, both in China and worldwide, requires affordable protein; forecasts estimate that we will be providing protein for about 9 billion people by 2050. Serving this population without adding undue stress to our environment will demand access to affordable plant proteins. Soy is a widely accepted and economical source of this, offering both nutritional value and recognized health benefits. Providing for a global population is the motivation behind the development of CLARISOY, a unique soy protein isolate product that is 100% soluble, transparent and very low in viscosity in acidic beverages. CLARISOY facilitates the production of transparent, protein fortified liquid products such as juices, soft drinks and sport drinks that are in the low pH range (as low as 2.5). In these highly acidic beverages, CLARISOY is also heat stable, allowing thermal processing (including hot fill) with no loss in clarity or change in viscosity. Previously, beverage formulators looking to incorporate soy protein into their products were limited by the cloudiness introduced by the protein ingredients. CLARISOY, however, offers all the benefits of soy protein incorporation with minimal impact on the properties of the beverage to which it is added.

Whereas China's current annual per capita consumption of health foods is far below most Western countries at approximately $10, experts believe that its health food industry will continue to grow annually at about 20-30% for the foreseeable future, reaching $65.9 billion by 2020. New entrants into the Chinese health food market in the coming years will drive food costs lower and the influx of internationally branded products will increase Chinese consumer confidence in the functionality and quality of the products they purchase. As a result, we can expect to see the level of health food consumption in China increase at a rapid rate, gaining ground on those seen in Western nations.

For more information

Sarah Medina is a Research Associate at Burcon NutraScience Corporation (www.burcon.ca), a leader in the development of functional, renewable plant proteins (smedina@burcon.ca).
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Publication:Nutraceutical Business & Technology
Geographic Code:9CHIN
Date:May 1, 2011
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