Malaysian snack and confectionery sector thrives amid global trends

It embodies a rich tapestry of cultural diversity, reflecting influences from indigenous Malay, Chinese and Indian traditions 


THE global snack food market is expected to grow substantially at a compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of 6.13% in the next five years to US$733.5 billion (RM3.46 trillion) in 2028. 

According to Statista Market Forecast, the impressive growth will be built upon the foundation of US$539.31 billion revenue achieved in 2023, which is extraordinary following the growth frugality between 2018 and 2019. 

“Volume is expected to amount to 81.01 billion kg by 2028,” highlighted the report, with the average revenue projected to reach US$91.54 per capita from US$70.21 per capita in 2023. 

Singapore’s Food & Hotel Asia similarly reported that the sector will be thriving with a CAGR of 6.34% up to 2028, driven by busy lifestyle and evolving tastes, indicating further expansion to meet demand. 

In Malaysia, the snack and confectionery industry embodies a rich tapestry of cultural diversity, reflecting influences from indigenous Malay, Chinese and Indian traditions. 

The mosaic is evident in the array of snacks and sweets available, each characterised by distinct flavours and ingredients. 

Some popular traditional snacks include kuih (Malay cakes), murukku (crispy Indian snacks), kerepek (Malaysian chips) and kaya toast (toasted bread with coconut jam and butter). Confectionery favourites include dodol (sticky sweet toffee-like treat), kuih kapit (crispy coconut milk biscuits) and various types of kuih lapis (layered cakes).

Additionally, Malaysia is known for its unique flavours in candies and chocolates, incorporating ingredients such as durian, pandan and coconut. 

Global Snacking Trend

In the midst of ongoing economic uncertainty worldwide, consumers are showing an unwavering preference for snacks, according to Mondelēz International Fifth Annual Snacking Report, released on March 14, 2024. 

This year’s findings delved deeper into the evolving landscape of snacking, revealing several key insights. 

Apart from that, the global confectionery company also introduced a complementary report, titled “State of Snacking: Future Trends”, which highlighted longer-term macro trends shaping the future of snacking. 

The trends include shifts in demographics, fluid lifestyles, environmental impact concerns, health and wellbeing priorities, and the resurgence of the experience economy. 

The latest State of Snacking report underscored a continued growth in snacking behaviours, with a significant emphasis on mindful snacking. 

The chocolate category, in particular, is closely associated with joy, reflecting consumers’ desire for indulgence and satisfaction. 

Consumers are engaging in snacking activities in various ways including “Consistently” despite economic uncertainties. 

Two-thirds (66%) of consumers have maintained their spending on snacks, underscoring the resilience of the snacking market. 

They are also snacking “Mindfully”, where a significant majority of consumers (85%) regularly appreciate the taste, flavour and texture of snacks, with 78% expressing a preference for mindful consumption. 

For the “Adventurous” snackers, social media platforms are increasingly becoming avenues for discovering new snacks, with 62% of consumers utilising these platforms for exploration. 

Moreover, 60% of respondents identify themselves as “Snack Adventurers” who actively seek out and enjoy trying new products. 

Meanwhile, more than two-thirds of global consumers snack “Purposefully” by prioritising brands that resonate with their values, signalling a growing demand for snacks that offer sustainability benefits and align with ethical considerations. 

The survey also indicated an increasing consumer preference for snacks that not only provide satisfaction but also resonate with their personal and environmental values. 

Consumers view snacks as a means to achieve various perceived benefits, including enhancing energy levels (75%), uplifting mood (74%) and supporting fitness goals (70%). Furthermore, a majority 63% of surveyed consumers actively seek snacks that contribute to reducing their environmental footprint. 

Apart from that, the report also revealed that snacking continues to be a prevalent eating habit, with 88% of consumers reporting daily indulgence in snacks. 

Furthermore, six in 10 individuals expressed a preference for multiple small meals throughout the day over a few large ones. 

The trend towards mindful snacking was also evident, as 67% of consumers seek portion-controlled snacks and 72% would opt for a smaller portion of an indulgent snack rather than a larger portion of a low-fat/sugar alternative. 

This sentiment extends universally, with 72% of respondents expressing a fear of a world devoid of chocolate, transcending generational and regional boundaries. 

Social media emerges as a pivotal platform for snack discovery, with over half of surveyed consumers expressing interest in an “instant buy” option for snacks found online. 

Additionally, 74% consider the novelty of flavour and texture combinations important when selecting snacks, with 56% discovering new options through social media, particularly prevalent among younger generations. 

Moreover, there is a growing inclination towards snacking with purpose, with 63% of consumers seeking snacks that minimise environmental impact through measures such as carbon offsets, prioritising local ingredients and optimising supply chains for sustainability. 

This commitment to sustainability is reflected in a significant increase, with 74% of respondents reporting regular recycling of snack packaging, up three percentage points from the previous year. 

Notably, millennials are particularly inclined towards snacks with less plastic packaging, with 71% prioritising such options. 

On the same note, Mondelēz International survey on 2023 Malaysian snacking behaviour, derived from Mondelēz International’s Fourth Annual State of Snacking report (2022 Global Consumer Trend Study), unveiled that a significant portion of Malaysians are making conscious efforts to snack more mindfully, with 54% controlling portion sizes and 51% engaging their senses for a more fulfilling snacking experience. 

The “roti man” known by Malaysians who peddles the best snacks on a motorcycle

However, the survey also revealed a gap in environmental awareness, as only 36% of respondents recycle snack packaging instead of disposing of it in regular trash cans. 

Additionally, a majority of respondents feel indifferent towards packaging that is recyclable or has less environmental impact. 

Mondelēz International emphasised the importance of mindful snacking, encouraging consumers to make intentional and attentive choices while enjoying snacks to enhance their overall well-being. 

The concept of “mindful snacking” which was highlighted by Mondelēz International Regional Nutrition Strategy and Communications Lead for South-East Asia Lim Chain Yin promotes eating with intention and attention. 

According to Lim, mindful snacking is not about sacrificing taste or enjoyment but rather about making informed decisions and savouring each moment

It encouraged consumers to be aware of their snacking choices, focus on the present moment and derive greater satisfaction from their snacking experiences. 

According to Lim, mindful snacking is not about sacrificing taste or enjoyment but rather about making informed decisions and savouring each moment. 

The survey also discovered a prevalent snacking behaviour among Malaysians termed as “multitask snacking”, where individuals engage in snacking while simultaneously performing other activities. 

The primary moments for snacking were found to be while watching TV or browsing the Internet (75%) and while studying or working (44%). 

Furthermore, snacking serves as a means of comfort for a majority of Malaysians, with 63% of respondents indicating that they snack to alleviate stress or unwind, while 61% snack to fulfil cravings. 

The report also highlighted the attitudes of Malaysians towards sustainable snacking practices. 

While packaging serves as a vital tool for informing consumers, there is a growing recognition of its impact on environmental sustainability.
The survey revealed that Malaysians are 

not recycling snack packaging at high rates and are hesitant to incur the costs associated with environmental sustainability efforts. 

Only 31% of respondents are willing to pay a small carbon tax on snacks to offset their environmental impact, contrasting sharply with the global trend where 61% of consumers are willing to make such a commitment. 

However, there is some positive news as nearly half of the respondents (41%) express willingness to pay extra for snacks produced by companies adhering to ethical and sustainable practices. 

Despite Malaysians’ varying levels of readiness towards sustainability practices, Mondelēz International stated its commitment to improving the environmental impact of snack production. 

As of 2022, 96% of their packaging is recycle-ready and efforts are underway to develop infrastructure for collecting, sorting and recycling plastic waste in Malaysia. 

Snack and confectionery businesses still sustain the effort to create products that represent regional and local distinctiveness, says Eshaby (Pic courtesy of Eshaby)

Dynamics of Malaysia’s Snacks and Confectionery Industry

Universiti Utara Malaysia School of Tourism, Hospitality and Event Management senior lecturer Dr Eshaby Mustafa said as a multiracial country, Malaysia’s intermingling of various ethnic groups enriched its culinary heritage. 

“Malaysian snacks and confectionery companies, therefore, found that the amalgamation of flavours and varieties of heritage food has influenced them to create flavours of snacks and confectionery appealing to Malaysians. 

“For example, unique and authentic flavours of snacks representing assimilation of taste influences not only Malay, Indian and Chinese, but also Arab, Indonesian, Thai, Portuguese, Chinese and Indian,” she told The Malaysian Reserve (TMR). 

She gave the example of snacks and confectioneries with flavours such as fiery-hot spicy and sour flavours, tanginess, fragrance and sourness and fiery-hot fresh bird’s eye chilies, the use of kaffir lime leaves, torch ginger and mint leaves, or snacks that burst with green confetti of wild pepper leaves, basil, and daun kesum (Vietnamese coriander), as well flavours infused with coconut milk, are common snacks and confectioneries flavours found in the Malaysian market. 

Eshaby added that by examining current approaches, snack and confectionery businesses develop products reflecting globalisation and transnational migration. 

“Taste and flavours with the vibrant flavours and authentic tastes of Korean cuisine, for example, proved to be a hit among Malaysians. 

“Food products such as Samyang instant noodles, Pepero biscuits, as well snacks with kimchi flavours flooded the Malaysia snacks and confectionery aisle in supermarkets,” she said. 

She also noted that at the same time, the snack and confectionery businesses still sustain the effort to create products that represent regional and local distinctiveness, which depicts heritage recognition in several products and serves as an example of a cultural way of life of Malaysians. 

Eshaby also commented that strategies such as optimisation of shelf space in retail outlets and selling bite-sized and single-serve snacks and confectioneries are some of the efforts for snack and confectionery businesses to remain relevant to the consumers. 

“However, these businesses have to differentiate themselves due to the evolving trends of consumer demands. 

“For example, consumers are increasingly looking for convenient and portable snacks to consume while they are on the go, hence the bite-size snacks are in ready-to-go packaging to appeal to this,” she said. 

Furthermore, she emphasised that there is also a growing consumer market who are health conscious and so the confectionery market has responded to this challenge by introducing healthier options, such as low-sugar, organic and gluten-free products. 

Healthier snack options such as a variety of nuts, seeds, and dried fruits are often marketed as healthier alternatives to traditional confectionery products.

Snack and confectionery businesses also introduce cheaper eco-friendly packaging and sourcing ingredients from sustainable sources. In addition, there is also a growing demand and willingness to pay more for high-quality products that offer a unique and indulgent experience.

As a result, a large variety of high-end, artisanal confections have been introduced, including gourmet sweets, hand-crafted chocolates and fair-trade, organic goods. 

Eshaby said Malaysian enterprises in the snacks and confectionery industry employ various methods to foster strong connections with their local communities, thereby building brand loyalty and encouraging repeat business. 

“Some of the strategies include hosting or sponsoring community events such as food festivals, charity events, or cultural celebrations allowing companies to directly engage with their local community. 

“They create engaging content, run contests, share user-generated content and respond promptly to customer inquiries and feedback,” she said, adding that social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter provide opportunities for brands to humanise their image. 

Social media influencers also often represent the brand as ambassadors to promote their products while some companies also offer loyalty cards, mobile apps, or membership programmes that reward customers for their continued patronage. 

“These strategies often lead the snack and confectionery businesses to remain relevant in today’s market,” Eshaby added. 

Commenting further, she noted the significant impact of the current boycotting campaign on businesses. 

“However, we can also see some companies use their marketing channel to communicate their stance on the Israel-Palestine issue and highlight their products as locally sourced or free from associations with the boycotted brands. 

“Companies also crafted messages that resonate with consumers’ emotions and values, that also emphasise themes of solidarity, or supporting Palestinian causes in their messages,” she said. 

She added that promotions or discounts on locally produced snacks and confectionery items were also offered, which could incentivise consumers to switch from boycotted international brands to local alternatives. 

She also explained that collaborating with local influencers, organisations, or retailers that support the boycott movement could amplify the company’s message and reach a wider audience.

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