Fermented foods taking a traditional route to global good health

Fermented foods and beverages have a long history in human nutrition with evidence of fermentation dating back thousands of years. They are currently experiencing a clear resurgence generated by demands for traditional, healthy and novel foods.

The ‘local to global’ trend is most relevant in the rapid expansion of fermented foods around the world, with consumers especially eager to try new international concepts if they come with a positive reputation regarding health impacts. A big winner in this regard has been kombucha, an ancient Chinese beverage fermented from black or green tea. Internationally, Millennials have been driving increased demand for this beverage, with 30% of kombucha drinkers being found in the 25-34 age group.

Launches of kombucha rose at a CAGR of 42% worldwide between 2017 and 2021 and the expansion has been so rapid that the market has quickly segmented. Among the products arriving on shelf are traditional drinks that highlight the history of kombucha as a ‘healthy elixir’ from China, as well as more modern, refined drinks, often with added flavor to compensate for any shock to the taste buds from a totally new kind of beverage. The category has extended into the alcohol market in the form of ‘hard’ kombuchas. For example, in Canada, Art Kombucha has developed two styles of kombucha beer available in spicy pear or grapefruit flavors.

The sheer variety of the fermented foods category is demonstrated in another fast-growing concept, tempeh. This is a traditional Indonesian food made from partially cooked and then fermented soybeans. As a vegetable protein which, like tofu, can be eaten on its own or added to other meals, it is benefiting considerably from the plant-based foods movement, with launches rising at a CAGR of 47% from 2017 to 2021. Although new product development remains in its infancy outside Asia, tempeh is clearly starting to attract attention as a meat substitute. For example, British company Better Nature has developed a full range of tempeh-based meat alternatives, from BBQ Strips and Smoky Rashers to Mince and Roast Bites.

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Mexican tepache: Big Easy Tepache Mango Mandarin Fermented Pineapple Soda (United States, Nov 2021); Immune benefits: Remedy Immune+ Kombucha Drink with Lemon and Lime Flavor (Australia, Jan 2022); Tempeh-based meat substitutes: Better Nature BBQ Tempeh Strips (United Kingdom, Jan 2022); Hard kombucha: Art Kombucha Spicy Pear Beer (Canada, Jan 2022)

The gut health benefits of fermented foods are also a key factor in their resurgence. Innova’s number six trend for 2022 is ‘Gut Glory’, with the microbiome having the potential to be a game changer in how consumers manage their health. Demand for probiotics remains significant and, with the close association between gut and immune health, it is no surprise that the pandemic has intensified interest in these products. When asked what steps they have taken to boost their immunity, 17% of consumers said that they had increased their intake of beneficial bacteria in the past year, including probiotics and other fermented foods. In line with this, more and more fermented products are highlighting messages regarding immune health. For example, in Australia, Remedy Drinks’ new Remedy Immune kombucha drink only mentions its nature as a kombucha brew in the small print, paying more attention to its immune benefits on the front of the bottles.

Looking ahead, the combination of tradition and health will remain strong drivers in the fermented foods category. As a result, it will be no surprise to find further traditional concepts spreading their wings on the international stage. For example, the Mexican beverage tepache, a probiotic drink that is similar to kombucha but made from fermented pineapples, is already attracting interest from US producers, with launches growing at a CAGR of 75% from 2017-2021. As seen with Big Easy Bucha’s collection of four tepache drinks launched in the US in 2021, many such products are marketed on the basis of their healthy blend of probiotics and prebiotics, combined with a ‘made in Mexico’ flag of tradition.

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