Working with the Food Industry to Expand Biofortification's Reach
Jenny Walton
December 30, 2019

Several health-focused consumer trends are taking the global food industry by storm; among these are consumers’ increasing interest in plant-based proteins, “clean label” products, reduced food additives, fewer genetically modified ingredients, and more “natural” foods.  Biofortification—the process of increasing the micronutrient value of staple crops that are common food ingredients—fits well with these trends and can help boost sales while also improving global health.

At HarvestPlus, we talk to food businesses daily, from street vendors in Bangladesh to big retailers in the United States. Many tell us that they are seeking out biofortified products and ingredients. Sainsbury’s, the UK-based supermarket chain, has predicted that biofortification as an approach to improve nutrition will become widespread by 2025, at a time when nutrition could be a recognized tool for proactively preventing chronic diseases.

If there is so much demand for biofortification, what is holding back more-widespread adoption?

In our dialogues with food companies, we found that there is confusion around the labeling of biofortified foods. Manufacturers are unsure about regulations and how they can communicate the benefits of biofortification to the consumer.  Stakeholders have said that there is a lack of regulation or standards for biofortified foods, but during our work with global experts we found this assertion to be unfounded.  The labeling and marketing of biofortified foods is already covered comprehensibly by existing regulations across the globe.

We also worked with a partner to carry out consumer research in the UK regarding perceptions and attitudes about biofortification, and we compared it to HarvestPlus consumer research in other countries.  Consumers like the benefits that biofortification brings, but they don’t want to hear terms like “biofortification” because they cause confusion and raises questions in their minds. They simply want to know that their food is nutritious and natural. 

What is the HarvestPlus strategy for getting private sector buy-in?

Biofortification has value to the food industry, and food manufacturers of all sizes. HarvestPlus gets the private sector to buy in to biofortification by selling the value proposition to food businesses.

We then provide technical assistance across the entire supply chain;
1. Creating supply chains from producers of biofortified grains, roots, and tubers (including traceability & standards).
2. Food product development.
3. Food labelling (regulations and standards).
4. Consumer marketing (consumer research).

Meanwhile, some food processors are unsure about the functional properties of biofortified foods and how to manage them in factories. We found that biofortified foods require no special handling in comparison to standard, non-biofortified counterparts, thus biofortified foods can be easily substituted in existing supply chains. There are also many possibilities for food product development and innovation that fit into the big trends mentioned above.

Support for the three elements of food product development and marketing is required for food businesses to adopt biofortification. To provide guidance, we invested in research on the consumer opportunity, regulatory compliance, and food product development for biofortified foods. The results of this research are now available in three concise guides targeted at food industry partners.

These papers were written in partnership with Leatherhead Food Research, our technical partner that conducted research on these topics in 2018.  The work was funded by the UK Department for International Development as part of a wider project on stakeholder engagement. 

Click on the links below to view the three guides:
Differentiating and Communicating Biofortified Products in the Current Regulatory Landscape
Enhancement of Manufactured Foods with Biofortification
Consumer Attitudes and Perceptions of Biofortification and Biofortified Foods

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