Dairy Trends in Asia Pacific, the Middle East and Africa

asiago cheese croquettes

As consumers snap up cheese and other dairy products, manufacturers must heed differing dairy taste profile preferences across the region

The dairy market is growing worldwide, as we reported in “2019 Dairy Trends: Understanding the Global Dairy Market”. But, while established markets such as those in European countries are experiencing mostly predictable changes, emerging markets such as Asia Pacific, the Middle East and Africa (APMEA) are demonstrating some surprising shifts and twists in flavour preferences, product offerings and overall trends.

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These emerging markets, especially, hold the potential for great gains from companies that are able to accurately deliver on-trend products. In APMEA, dairy is becoming mainstream, thanks in part to the rapidly growing middle classes and changing tastes that are responding to global influences such as social media and e-commerce.

The result is a dairy market that was valued at 107.9 million tonnes and EUR €164 billion in APMEA last year, according to Euromonitor’s look at packaged dairy including butter and spreads, cheese, drinking milk, yoghurt and sour milk and dairy desserts. The region is responsible for 44% of the world’s dairy consumption and there’s anticipated to be a compound annual growth rate of +4.4% through 2023.

To learn more about dairy trends across Asia and help brands better position dairy products for consumers in APMEA, I sat down with Mervyn Gribben, the region’s vice president and general manager of food and meat.


Olive Bai, Marketing Manager, Kerry APMEA (OB): When it comes to dairy preferences, what can be said of consumers in Asia Pacific, the Middle East and Africa?

Mervyn Gribben, Vice President and General Manager, Food and Meat, Kerry APMEA (MG): The region has a unique take on dairy. Preferences are very different from what we see in Europe and the Americas, and they also vary greatly from country to country within APMEA.

Let’s take, for example, cheese. Although access to cheese is fairly new for the region as a whole, the fondness for cheese makes consumers open to innovation and willing to try new cheese-flavoured foods and beverages. And the process of experimentation and adoption has been made simple, due to the ease with which cheese can be added to local dishes and cuisines.

In the retail channel, consumers can choose a cheese-flavoured drinking yoghurt in China or Hokkaido milk bread in Singapore. In foodservice, popular options in Asia include cheese tarts and breads and cakes made with cheese, butter and yoghurt breads and cakes across Asia. The options with a local spin are endless and include street food such as a Mumbai Masala Cheese grilled sandwich in India and creamy and crispy crepe in Thailand.


OB: What are some notable similarities and differences in dairy taste profile preferences in Asia Pacific, Middle East and Africa?

MG: Dairy has a positive image thanks to its association as a source of nutrients, particularly for children’s growth and for healthy aging. But there’s also an emerging fondness for the taste, mouthfeel and visual appeal of dairy, including its milky and creamy characteristics.

However, taste preferences aren’t standardised and dairy products come with a range of taste profiles. Consumers in South Asia tend to prefer a savoury and melty cheddar cheese taste while Indonesians prefer sweet cheese profiles. In China, consumers prefer sweet, soft and light-tasting cheeses like cream cheese—in this market, even the smell of cheese needs to be light.

OB: What else differentiates the APMEA dairy market from other regions?

MG: It’s clear that the products that ultimately hit shelves in APMEA are often quite different. You will never hear of cheese drinking yoghurts in Europe or the U.S., but this is readily available through the retail and e-commerce channels in China.

And the differences run even deeper. For instance, shelf stable drinking yoghurts are sold to address the costly chilled chain infrastructure and limited chilled shelf space in some places. Solutions like this appeal to the needs of modern consumers in APMEA, providing convenience, taste and nutrient benefits in products that work in unique environments.

Also, consumers here are showing a preference for foods with added dairy. Our research shows that consumers may be 35% more likely to purchase products with dairy compared to those without, such as BBQ cheese-flavoured chips compared to just BBQ ones.

OB: What dairy product trends are emerging in APMEA?

MG: Because the positive image of dairy is closely tied to emotional gratifications and feelings such as satisfaction and pleasure, consumers are open to innovation in dairy. These include drinking yoghurts in China, cheese wafers in Indonesia, yoghurt ice cream in South Korea and even cheese tea in Asia.

If we look back just a couple of years, it would have been hard to predict that pairing cheese with tea would be popular. But consumers enjoy the unique pairing as it brings a multisensorial experience—first visually, then with a whole new taste experience with contrasting flavours and textures.

The entry point is most often through quick service meals, such as gorgonzola cheese with honey pizza in South Korea. An experience like this will open the door for further experimentation with a greater range of tastes.

OB: What are some key areas of opportunity for brands that want to enter or expand their reach with dairy products in APMEA?

MG: Food safety and trusted provenance are top of mind for consumers. They are concerned with adulterations and poor practices in food processing, as well as environmental risks affecting the security of food sources and food safety.

Clean label is also a concern. From our study on cleaner label preferences, in which we surveyed 4,000 consumers across 13 key APMEA countries, we found that consumers look for on-package callouts including “no artificial additives and preservatives”, “no pesticides and pollutants” and internationally recognized food certifications such as halal or kosher.

In recent years, our teams at Kerry partnered with many manufacturers in APMEA on taste and nutrition challenges related to clean label products, from dairy- and cheese-flavoured snacks to dairy products that use natural fermentation methods. To learn more, contact us.

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