Interview with Tracy Kwong,
Author of ‘The Food Sensitivity Handbook’
As senior operations manager at HK BioTek and with a background in medical research, Tracy Kwong is an expert on food sensitivities and allergies. After reading and conducting all this research she has combined her experience in a book; The Food Sensitivity Handbook. It is a compilation of the many diets, health advices and personal stories that food sensitivity knows. ________________________________________________________________
Could you briefly introduce yourself and the work you do?
HK BioTek carries out lab test from the US and Germany focused on for example food intolerances, my current position is senior operations manager. However I have been working in healthcare with a focus on food allergies and sensitivities for over 10 years.
I was trained in nutrition, functional medicine and health promotion, and involved in medical research in Hong Kong and Mainland China. This knowledge has become very relevant and useful for training clients, such as doctors, nutritionists as well as parents of young patients.
After running a low-allergen catering venture and establishing an ISO-certified healthy food factory, I now consult food businesses to be more inclusive to people with different dietary needs.
You are also the author of “The Food Sensitivity Handbook”. Could you tell us about this book?
The book offers a wide range of ideas, schools of thought and information for Chinese readers. It is written with two nutritionist colleagues. It is the result of reading many articles, interviews and research on food allergies and sensitivities, but also popular blogs and health books. One of the cool things about our book is that we interviewed more than 20 people from HK, Japan, China and UK for their stories about what sensitive foods mean to them, among them doctors, bakers, parents with allergic children, leaders of health charities, restaurant management and trainers etc.
What kind of developments and trends are you noticing in allergies and intolerances in China?
Chinese consumers are influenced by the global trend towards healthy eating, these healthy trends can be seen across different categories of FMCG and food products.
Dairy-free and egg-free, for example, are still going strong with a growing vegan population (estimates 200 million in 2020), which makes China the fastest growing vegan market in the world. Vegan burgers and ice cream go mainstream as more global and local brands enter the Asian market. Plant protein milk made from almond, sesame, coconut, oat and soy, a highlighted category by investors, appeal to Chinese palettes and serve the need of allergies and intolerance communities. In the meantime, alternative protein trends and markets are also growing since more products from US have been introduced and local food tech startups emerged.
An appalling food safety record also raises more popular awareness on organic and additive free and natural products. NFC (not from concentrate) juice is one of the stronger growing labels in the beverage category.
Are you also noticing free from diet lifestyle choices? If so, which?
It is interesting to see that functional concepts like ‘Probiotics’ are so popular in supplements, baked goods and beverages, which reflects a growing concern on gut health and immunity. Concerns on allergic reaction to dust mites, air pollution and stress also makes consumers to make ‘hypo-allergic’ choices on personal care products like shower gel and skincare, to combat irritation in skin brought by allergies.
How is the public informed and how can the public be best informed about these new diets and allergies?
The main sources of diet guidelines are still from healthcare professionals. Also many online communities on social media are created to allow the public to learn more about new trends based on their own needs. Many communities on vegan, gluten free or ketogenic diet have been seen in different cities and across the country.
Furthermore, the public still relies on education from manufacturers or local distributors to learn about the benefit of specific products and new trends. Yet, a rising middle class with growing income and health concerns provide a good environment and opportunity for health food businesses to grow.
How is the market responding to these trends?
The market is responding by growing. The plant protein beverages market in China is worth 15 billion right now, with an annual growth of 7% the dairy milk (liquid) market is estimated at 25 billion in 2019. Veganism has also become more popular among the Chinese food industry; according to statistics from South China Morning Post (2017), the vegan market is expected to rise by more than 17% from 2015 to 2020.
More international food technology companies start designing vegan products to cater to the China markets specifically, such as Impossible Dumplings and Beyond Buns. A Chinese food tech start up uses 3-D printing to produce alternative protein that contains bone and muscle texture
which the Chinese consumer expects in their meat. All these developments create more choices for consumers with dietary wants and needs
What are your suggestions for the market to engage in these trends?
Some brands have set good examples on how they could cater to the needs of consumers by understanding cultures in a fragmented market. Many international food technology companies developed products specifically for the China markets such as dumplings and buns from Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat who first became famous for their vegan burger. Also Omnipork, an alternative protein brand from Green Monday, Hong Kong, is a good example. Dumplings made of Omnipork in a dumpling chain store in Taiwan has recorded weekly sales of one million pieces in Jan 2020. The launch of their latest products of vegan shredded meat and luncheon meat are positive signs for brands innovating products based on the way Asians cook and eat.
HK BioTek, Tracy Kwong