Food manufacturers should be looking to better understand and harness the potential of African raw materials, from staples like millet and cassava, to fruits, vegetables, and nutritional ingredients, Diop told delegates at the European Federation of Food Science and Technology (EFFoST) annual meeting in Montpellier, France last week.
“Agriculture is the largest economic sector in Africa but there is a lack of food industry development,” he said. “We believe that in the next ten years there will be 500m Africans who can afford packaged food. …This is an opportunity not just for Africa but also for Europe.”
Diop identified a number of challenges for food manufacturers in Africa, including post-harvest agricultural losses averaging 40%; few mills for staple foods beyond wheat; application of internationally recognised safety standards; and knowledge transfer from universities to the food industry.
In addition, he said that there is a major need for consumer research, to find out how a consumer or cook in Senegal might use South African ingredients, for example – and beyond food habits to taste preference, nutritional needs and purchasing power.
“Without consumer understanding you can’t go anywhere,” Diop said. “The product can be fantastic in the lab but without consumer understanding you can’t do anything.”
Keith Tomlins of the Natural Resources Institute at the UK’s University of Greenwich is one researcher who is working to gain that understanding.
In a separate session, he highlighted research into consumer preferences for foods popular in parts of Africa in order to examine their potential among European consumers as well as in new African markets.
Hibiscus, kenkey and akpan
Senegalese hibiscus has been one focus area for Tomlins, as well as two fermented products – kenkey from Ghana and akpan from Benin. In consumer research, he found that many non-African consumers were already familiar with hibiscus, and liking of African hibiscus beverages was nearly as high among non-Africans as it was among African consumers.
“In the European Union, I think we have got potential outside the diaspora market,” he said.
He identified functional beverages and syrups as having particular potential for hibiscus products in Europe.
As for the fermented products kenkey and akpan, fewer non-Africans were familiar with these than with hibiscus, although Tomlins said there might be a potential market in Europe for yoghurt-like grain-based products.
“Sensory results could be used for future reengineering work,” he said. “There are several opportunities within the European market but also to increase their use within the African market.”