Heng Hong Tan
Heng Hong is Mintel's APAC Food and Drink analyst based in Kuala Lumpur. He comes with over a decade's worth of experience identifying emerging food and drink trends.

Spicy food is an integral part of the diet of many Southeast Asians. The region is home to a wide variety of iconic spicy foods ranging from tom yum in Thailand to the spicy meat dish rendang in Indonesia and Malaysia.

According to Mintel Global New Products Database (GNPD), most packaged bread and bread product launches in Southeast Asia are either unflavoured or plain. Other flavours that round out the top ten most popular products are savoury (butter, cheese and garlic) and sweet (chocolate and raisins). These flavours are usually found in packaged buns, rolls and sometimes in sliced breads.

For spice or spicy flavours in packaged bread and bread products, penetration remains very low. As such, bread manufacturers can tap into the richness of Southeast Asian spicy cuisines to create spicy packaged bread and bread products that appeal to local taste palates.

Mighty White’s Sambal Nasi Lemak flavoured Flossy Bun 

Malaysia’s popular nasi lemak rice dish, which is cooked in coconut milk and served with hot sambal sauce, has become a focal point of innovation. ‘Foodie’-inspired nasi lemak variants include nasi lemak ice cream, lobster nasi lemak and nasi lemak burger.

Mighty White Bakery in Malaysia joined the fray in 2019 with the launch of its latest spicy packaged bread, Flossy Bun Original Chicken Floss with Sambal Nasi Lemak, which contains spicy sambal as a filling.

Learnings from snack and instant noodle markets

Snack and instant noodle manufacturers are at the forefront when it comes to using spicy flavours to bring excitement to their Southeast Asian consumer base. Players in these categories innovate with different spicy flavours including, largely drawing inspiration from flavour trends in the foodservice sector. These foodservice-inspired spicy flavours include mala, with its spicy and ‘numbing’ taste, and ayam geprek, known for its spicy sambal sauce.

Mintel GNPD shows that spicy snack and instant noodle launches in Southeast Asia saw a significant increase in the past year—an indication that consumers are keen to have more spicy variants in convenient food.

In light of this, there is an opportunity for spicy flavours to spill over into packaged bread products such as buns and rolls which are already popular convenient food items in Southeast Asia.

Look beyond Southeast Asia for more spicy flavours

Southeast Asians are becoming more accepting of the different spicy tastes that originate outside of the region, thanks to the spread of world and regional cuisines through the foodservice sector.

Southeast Asians show a preference for exotic flavours when it comes to savoury food or drink

Indeed, Mintel research reveals that a quarter of metro Indonesians and Thai consumers prefer exotic flavours in their savoury food or drink.

For one, the mala flavour from China, with its signature ‘numbing’ and spicy taste, is gaining immense popularity here in Southeast Asia—not just in foodservice but increasingly as a flavour in packaged food as well.

Mala aside, other regional spicy flavours outside of Southeast Asia that bread manufacturers can tap into include spicy Korean pork and Hokkaido curry. For instance, Pullman Bakery, headquartered in Japan with two outlets in Singapore, features a Hokkaido Curry Bun which is said to be the bakery’s best-seller.

Pullman Bakery’s Hokkaido Curry Bun