Fonterra flexes muscles to lift sales in protein market

Mr Gowans says sportsmen are a big market for protein goods.
Mr Gowans says sportsmen are a big market for protein goods.PHOTO: ALICIA CHAN FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

The market for protein ingredients in Singapore and South-east Asia is expanding quickly as consumers become increasingly mindful of health and nutrition.

And for New Zealand dairy giant Fonterra, this spells big opportunity for growth.

Mr Hamish Gowans, the group's general manager of NZMP ingredients for South and East Asia, said in a recent interview he is upbeat about prospects.

"Singapore and South-east Asia, in general, are turning towards a global trend involving the protein story, and this is being driven by a younger, more urban and wealthier population that is recognising and understanding the health benefits of becoming more active."

Protein is essential for building muscle mass in the human body and can be found in foods such as meat, dairy and eggs.

NZMP is Fonterra's global brand for dairy ingredients.

Mr Gowans noted that the protein market in Singapore has been growing steadily in recent years.

It is expected to notch a 4 to 5 per cent compound annual growth rate through to 2020.

Fonterra, which draws a revenue of more than US$1 billion (S$1.45 billion) across South and East Asia, saw sales for protein ingredients in the region more than double in the last two years.

Its ingredients business supplies more than 550,000 tonnes to South and East Asia annually, including skimmed milk powder, whole milk powder, whey protein, milk protein concentrate and cream products.

He said sportsmen have been one of the biggest drivers of the growing market. The Singapore sports protein powder retail market is valued at US$65 million this year and expected to grow at a 5 per cent compound annual growth rate.

Protein is also increasingly being used in weight management as it increases satiety, and by the elderly because dairy protein is able to help slow the process of muscle mass loss in ageing, he said.

To cater to the rising demand, Fonterra is teaming up with companies here to develop new protein-related products, added Mr Gowans, noting that Singapore houses many manufacturers that export to the region.

This comes after the group, whose regional headquarters for its NZMP brand is based here, opened its first distribution warehouse in Singapore in May.

Mr Gowans declined to name the companies that Fonterra is working with but said some of the collaborative efforts include bringing its research team to incorporate protein into food or beverage products.

The items are expected to enter the market in 12 to 18 months.

"The companies that we deal with in Singapore are looking for ways to innovate, to 'premiumise' (their products).

"And we're working with other local companies in terms of technology that not only supports us but also the customer," he said.

"People are becoming more constrained in the amount of time they have, so convenience now plays a big part in their consumption.

"You now can see protein in chips, bars, gels - consumers have a whole new convenience requirement on how they get their nutrition," he noted.

"In markets like the United States or Europe, protein products and protein incorporation into a diet via multiple formats are something that is well understood.

"But the protein story is only starting to come to Singapore and the rest of South-east Asia.

"There is huge potential, and for that reason, our collaboration with companies here is really important."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 27, 2016, with the headline 'Fonterra flexes muscles to lift sales in protein market'. Print Edition | Subscribe