Dr Okada Yumika, product development researcher of supplements at Japanese cosmetics at FANCL outlined the above idea when presenting on the topic “Consumer insights and research innovation from Japan” at the Healthy Ageing APAC Summit 2019 organised by NutraIngredients-Asia and FoodNavigator-Asia.
With rapid ageing, the country is witnessing excessive medical expenses and a shrinking workforce. This has led to the need for extending the mandatory retirement age and improving the health of the aged population.
Coupled by the government’s introduction of a less stringent health foods labelling system in 2015 – the Foods for Functional Claims (FFC), NPD in the health foods market in Japan has boomed in recent years.
FANCL is one of the biggest innovators of FFC products, alongside Nippon Suisan and Ezaki Glico. Its revenue jumped from JPY$800m (US$7.2m) to JPY$5bn (US$45.5m) since the FFC framework was introduced.
Against this backdrop, Yumika pointed out that health foods that supported specific health functions were the growing category in Japan.
“Previously, traditional, local, or rural raw materials that are believed to improve the entire health state were preferred by the aged consumers. But now, products that focus on specific symptoms have been established as the main category for aged consumers, and this trend is accelerated by the FFC structure,” she said.
She pointed out that products that support eye care, muscle, joint, and bone health, and cognitive function are fast growing in the country, and the company itself has also invested in the R&D of these products.
Citing the company’s muscle support health foods, she gave an example of the functional claims that are made, such as “helps improve the walking ability of people aged 60 years or older whose muscle synthesis is declining due to ageing and light exercise such as knee bending."
Other specific claims include “maintain the memory of a middle-aged consumer as part of the recognition function which declines with ageing” as seen in the case of a cognitive health support product.
Targeting the family
While the aged population is driving new product development and market growth of health foods in Japan, FANCL also sees market potential among younger consumers.
This is based on the concept that a healthy lifestyle during youth will lead to a healthy state during later years.
For example, lifestyle-related disease such as obesity during youth could lead to joint health and other health problems at an older age, and hence, “the care for healthy life in young age is important”, Yumika explained.
As such, the company has also introduced generation packs, which provides daily supplements for consumers aged between 20 and 60.
The product could come in the form of capsule or tablet based on each generation’s needs.
Competitive NDP based on science
According to data from Plus Aid – an online database that tracks FFC launches, FANCL has 31 products approved, while others such as Nippon Suisan and Ezaki Glico have 61 and 55 respectively.
To stand out from the market, Yumika emphasised the importance product effectiveness backed by evidence and science.
“Our formulation is based on the mechanism of target symptom and not just choosing the popular or general materials that are known to be good.
“We also develop unique active material from our own research that are not commercially available through collaboration with supplier firm,” she said.
Other methods to enhance effectiveness include conducting human trials and improving the supplements’ delivery forms to ensure higher bio-availability of active ingredients, she added