India tops the Asia Pacific region in new foods and drinks launches that carry a "no additives/preservatives" claim.
With a 2011 share of 18% of the category, it beats Australia's 15%, says a report by global research agency Mintel. This year - up to September 2012 - the "no additives/preservatives" claim share on new foods and drinks packs in India is 16%.
Also this year till September, India ranks fourth globally with a 5.5% share of new products with "no additives/preservatives", up from fifth rank in 2011 at 5% and thirteenth position in 2008 at 2%. Besides this, claims including organic, antioxidant, bone health, cardiovascular, free-from and gluten-free have increased during 2008-12.
Deepa D'Souza, trend and innovation consultant, Mintel India, said, "The primary driver for the increase in these claims is the consumer perception of additives/preservatives being unsafe and toxic, and of the benefits of choosing healthily."
She added that even small companies are conscious now. So while Nestle started the MSC-free (mono sodium glutamate-free) claim on its noodles, "today, even smaller, more regional noodle brands carry this claim."
Praveen Jaipuriar, category head - foods, Dabur, observed: "Growth in education and lifestyle diseases taking their toll have increased health consciousness among consumers. Companies are responding with healthier products. Besides, with government regulations getting stricter, even smaller players have to follow healthier norms."
Britannia managing director Vinita Bali, while stating that 91% of all foods in India are not branded, and that branded foods account for Rs. 1,10,670 crore of the overall Rs. 11,59,400 crore foods market, did say that India is becoming increasingly health-conscious and a lot more declarations are now required on food packs. "The scope for growth of packaged foods is huge."
She added: "At Britannia, we decided to eliminate what is not healthy. We removed trans-fats from all our recipes." And then there's fortification. "We pioneered fortification with Tiger Zor (iron) in 2007. We have extended fortification to Marie, Milk Bikis, bread, and our milk-based drinks, dahi and yoghurt, living our credo of 'Swasth Khao, Tan Man Jagaao'."
Do Indian consumers really read packs more closely today? Bali said that the health claims have increased consumer affinity with Britannia's brands. "We have seen a topline sales (CAGR) growth of 20% in the last five years."
"Research indicates that consumers are studying product packs in greater detail today. The internet and media coverage are expanding health awareness and knowledge," said Jaipuriar.
Dabur, which is consciously in the 'healthy' space, switched to Tetrapak technology for its juices 15 years ago, doing away with the need for preservatives. Fortification, its other plank, saw it launch juices with fibre and pomegranate juice last year.
Coca-Cola India puts nutritional information on its packaging. "We place nutritional information on all our labels. Where this is not possible, for example on recyclable glass bottles, we provide the information via company websites," said a company spokesperson.
"All the glass bottles in India sourced by us post-March 2009 have nutritional facts and ingredients printed."
There's strong agreement that healthy claims in the category will rise significantly. "In three-four years, we will get far more detailed on our foods packaging, and in five-10 years, we will have the same health information and declaration laws on foods and drinks across the world," Jaipuriar predicted.