Frugal innovation: Downsizing from exotic superfoods... to lentils

By Niamh Michail

- Last updated on GMT

Simple reformulation using ingredients like cabbage and lentils can be cost-effective and even demand a price premium, say analysts
Simple reformulation using ingredients like cabbage and lentils can be cost-effective and even demand a price premium, say analysts

Related tags: Potato, Euromonitor

Adding an exotic ‘superfood’ ingredient gives fresh appeal to a well-established product – and manufacturers don’t have to look far for the latest one as analysts say that post-recession consumers want local, simple ingredients.

 Not just a fad

While superfoods may seem to suffer from a lack of lasting appeal by relying heavily on the novelty factor, analysts say their migration across categories – from food and drink to cosmetics and personal care – show that they are no short-term fad.

In today’s context of heavily processed food, much of their appeal comes from the fact that they are ‘whole’ and ‘natural’ – a 2013 Mintel survey revealed that 67% of UK consumers think that the health-promoting benefits of natural foods are preferable to the added benefits of functional foods.

Exotic is out: Downsizing to lentils

While an undeniable element to the success of superfoods has previously been the novelty factor conjured up by exotic names– goji berries from the Himalayas, chia seeds from Mexico or quinoa from Peru – consumers are turning away from this and increasingly looking for regional, sustainably sourced ingredients.

For Simone Baroke from Euromonitor this is good news for manufacturers in terms of costs.

“Legumes may lack an exotic ring, but their nutritional properties can match that of any fashionable superfood, be it quinoa, chia seeds or amaranth. Also, legumes have the major advantage of being so much cheaper to source, and neither are they hampered by the precarious supply chain situations that afflict their glitzy supergrain cousins.”

This trend extends to vegetables with the decidedly unglamourous image of cabbage and Brussels sprouts being turned around.

Root vegetable crisps made from carrots, parsnip and sweet potato have been embraced as more nutritious alternatives to standard potato crisps, and Baroke says that manufacturers are now beginning to respond to consumer demands for “vegetable crisps 2.0”, brassica leaves leading the way.

Several kale crisp brands are already on the US market and in 2013 German company Heimatgut launched its range of savoy cabbage crisps.

As well as promoting the health benefits - the crisps are vegan, gluten-free and rich in vitamins, minerals, omega-3 fats and fibre – the producers emphasise that by buying this locally-sourced product, consumers are tapping into a long German culinary tradition.

“In 1640 German farmers discovered the savoy cabbage. Since then, the crunchy cabbage has become an integral part of the traditional German cuisine,”​ says the company.

Frugal innovation

For Euromonitor analyst Sarah Boumphrey, this embracing of all things local is part of a wider trend which has taken root in the post-recession economic context, and there are many benefits for manufacturers.

Frugal innovation… can be a win-win for business – because it’s a process which is sustainable, cost-effective, and potentially very rewarding in terms of extending reach to new consumers.

"It is proving to be not just for emerging markets or just for low-income consumers in developed economies,” ​she said.

“Simplicity can even demand a price premium. With sustainability increasingly at the heart of business, organisations must seriously consider incorporating the principles of frugal innovation into their value chains and corporate strategies.”

Related topics: R&D

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