The growing incidence of overweight, obesity and diabetes within the Asia Pacific region has consumers questioning the main dietary staple – rice. Media reports are fuelling consumer concerns about the danger to health their much-loved comfort food poses. In the wake of such reports, consumers are reacting and interest in low-carb diets is growing.

Diabetes is a major health issue facing countries the world over, and the Asian region is no exception. The Asian region (which takes in all major nations in the region spanning India to the west, Japan to the east, Australia and New Zealand to the south and Mongolia to the north) is the largest globally in terms of population and also has the largest diabetic population of just over 230 million people. The impact of growing awareness of diabetes and the links to diet is evident in rice sales. Rice consumption in Indonesia is in decline and per capita consumption has fallen by 10kg, from 102kg per person in 2013 to just 92kg in 2015.

Rice growers and appliance makers look for solutions

Wholegrain varieties are only a small part of the solution. They tend to be more expensive than white rice and the fat content in the outer husk means that they have a shorter shelf life due to rancidity setting in. These are important and limiting factors in a country classified by the World Bank as lower middle income. The acceptability of these wholegrain varieties is another issue, with many consumers find the taste and texture inferior to white rice. As a result much innovation is focussed on low GI white rice but solutions that have surfaced thus far are far from affordable.

One novel approach has been the development of the low GI rice cooker, Grayns. It claims to drain the starch during the rice cooking process, preventing re-uptake by the grains. Low GI white rice is also available and these brands tend to be described on pack as “Sugar Free” rice. However, these rice varieties are not cheap.

As cases of diabetes grow, the glycaemic index of many popular rice varieties will continue to be an issue. Unless lower GI strains of rice are developed and made widely available so that they can be sold at the same price as regular rice, rice consumption will continue to fall. In the future, the rice category in Asia is likely to undergo a degree of premiumisation as consumers shun basic white, high GI varieties in favour of low GI rice, for example, vegetable or grain blends that offer other nutritional benefits.

Jodie Minotto is a Global Food and Drink Analyst at Mintel. She has more than 13 years of experience in sales, marketing and market research roles, predominantly in the food and beverage industry, working for both global CPG companies and SMEs. Her expertise lies in the dairy, confectionery, meal solutions, snack foods, beer and wine categories.

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