South Korea’s upcoming ‘Customised Health Functional Food System’ looks to meet growing consumer demand and spur industry growth

By Hui Ling Dang

- Last updated on GMT

South Korea is set to implement a “Customised Health Functional Food System” next January. ©Getty Images
South Korea is set to implement a “Customised Health Functional Food System” next January. ©Getty Images

Related tags South korea personalised nutrition MFDS

South Korea is on course to implement a “Customised Health Functional Food System” next January, which aims to meet personalised nutrition needs, boost the country’s health functional foods industry, and enhance product safety control.

South Korea’s customisation craze spans cosmetics and apparels, and has now expanded to health foods.

Currently, the number of health functional foods registered with the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety (MFDS) is reported to be approximately 35,600.

In the country, health functional foods are defined as foods manufactured with functional raw materials or ingredients useful for maintenance of homeostasis, improvement of specific physiological parameters, or modification of body functions, including psychological benefits.

Despite the wide variety of options, choosing products that are suitable for one’s needs can be challenging.

On January 1, Korea’s Health Functional Food Act was amended to implement regulatory provisions for a new Customised Health Functional Food System.

The revision draws upon the results of a four-year “Customised Health Functional Food Recommendation and Sales Regulation Sandbox Pilot Project” that started in 2020.

When an individual fills a survey on their lifestyle habits and health status, the results are input into the system and analysed based on health-related big data. A “customised health functional food manager” then recommends optimal products catering to the person’s needs.

The recommended products will be combined and packed in unit dose packaging for easy consumption.

For instance, if a person requires health functional foods that help with both gut and bone health, these products will packaged together and supplied in individual packs. This way, the inconvenience of buying several types of products can be alleviated.

Furthermore, professional advice from the customised health functional food manager on intake method and amount will prevent consumers from making unnecessary purchases.

According to MFDS, the pilot project has seen high consumer satisfaction rate (95%), with the number of stores approved to participate increasing from 180 at the beginning to about 3,700 as of the end of last year.

The Customised Health Functional Food System will go into effect in January 2025.

MFDS will support the launch in various ways, including establishing safety management standards, and forming and operating a promotion council for related organisations, such as associations, to “discover and review” subordinate legislation issues.

“In line with the automation and digitalisation of industrial sites, we will actively introduce smart factories to advance quality and safety management, support costs to expand smart Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP), and produce manuals for building smart GMP models for each major formulation.

“With the system, health functional food companies will potentially make more stable investments. Additionally, the introduction of customised health functional food managers in charge of consultation and facility hygiene management is expected to lead to job creation and invigorate the market.”

Advancing the sector

On February 19, MFDS announced its “2024 Ministry of Food and Drug Safety Major Policy Implementation Plan” that is divided into five key parts, which includes “Advanced Management Of Health Functional Foods”.

Notably, products that overlap with health functional foods, such as foods for special medical purposes and general foods with functional labelling, have been identified to require a fundamental review.

“Marking the 20th anniversary of the Korean Health Functional Food Act, a comprehensive development plan forsafety management and industry growth will be put into motion.

“For example, the Health Functional Food Industry Development Council will establish regulatory science governance through communication and cooperation among stakeholders in government, industry and academia,” ​said Kim Seong-gon, Director General of Food Safety Policy Bureau, MFDS.

Kim added that these efforts would include conducting environmental policy research and comparative analysis of overseas cases, setting new goals, and innovating alternatives.

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