Speaking at a media roundtable on Wednesday, ahead of DSM's SEAChange (Sustainable Evidence-based Actions for Change) event in Singapore, the company's Nutrition Improvement Programme director Anthony Hehir said food and supplement companies must better position their nutritious products to create widespread consumer demand.
"The biggest challenge we face is that for consumers, nutrition is very hard to understand. Day-to-day, consumers are driven by taste, cost, convenience, and cultural preferences," Hehir said.
"We have to improve their awareness about nutrition so that they demand it and make better choices, so that from the bottom up, we are able to improve the nutrition status of today's population.
"If we don't do it with today's population, that gives rise to malnourished adults and therefore, a higher chance of having malnourished children."
He also emphasised the importance of affordability, especially in developing countries, where malnutrition risk is at its highest.
Companies must develop nutritionally sound products that are not only attractive in their positioning and branding, but are also well-priced, so they create buzz and subsequently, consumer demand.
"The virtuous cycle must replace what is today a vicious cycle," he added.
Senior consultant of consultancy firm Healthy Marketing Team Rukmini Gupte, one of the roundtable panellists, used the example of mothers in South Asia to affirm Hehir's point.
She said: "The proposition (of nutritional products) must be built on the payoff. Mothers are not interested in whether there is vitamin B12 or calcium in their children’s food; they are interested in what it can do for them."
She added that in India, a sure-fire way to stir up demand was to use celebrities or everyday people as spokespersons, both of which she said were "as effective as using doctors and scientists".
In the grander scheme of things, Hehir believes increased consumer demand for more nutritious food will result in greater sustainability.
"Sustainability means different things to different organisations. What it means for us is can we leave the world in a better position than today for the future generations, and we know nutrition is one way we can ensure that.
"If we can get that right, it will be self-sustaining. A sustainable market is one that consumers demand. Consumers are paying for it, there is no charity involved, and it is self-perpetuating."
He further said reducing the prevalence of malnutrition and raising sustainability was not just the state's responsibility; partnerships between the private and public sector are "absolutely crucial".
"It's really multifaceted. I wish I could say it was up to government policing or up to industry change, but it's a carrot-versus-stick situation.
"You can monitor and evaluate and enforce as much as you like but at the end of the day, industry also has to find a way to survive. Consumers will consume what they want to consume what's around to consume."
He added that the health and well-being of a population should be prioritised by everyone, as the social returns of proper nutrition are the highest: healthy parents (especially mothers) produce healthy children, who are likely to attain a higher level of education and therefore, attract better-paying jobs afterwards.
They will then earn more but spend less on healthcare, factors that have positive implications for both society and economy.
"There has to be regulation to a certain extent. But the biggest win is when consumers actually demand healthy products."