glico

Photo: Clement Goh

This is not a good time for processed foods, particularly those in the ultra-processed category, facing criticism for pushing up rates of cancer, heart problems, obesity, and Type II diabetes. For many consumers, health consciousness has become a guiding force, where questioning the role of processed foods has become inevitable. It’s definitely not good news for processed food companies like Glico. 

However, Glico Asia Pacific’s Hideaki Nagahisa remains undeterred. The chief operating officer (COO) underscores that the company‘s approach — relying on science-backed innovation in food product development — is “a cornerstone for meaningful progress”.

“There’s a perception that all pre-packaged snacks are loaded with preservatives. But many of our products are crafted with a keen eye on nutrition and taste.” Regarding the concern of convenience compromising quality, Nagahisa affirms that premium ingredients and exceptional production processes are inherent in their products.

Such an approach, he notes, not only adds precision and credibility to the decision-making process but also enhances transparency and trust with consumers.  

A century of health-driven innovation

glico
Photo: Clement Goh

Glico’s dedication to health and innovation dates back to 1919 when founder Riichi Ezaki sought to improve his son’s health. The discovery of glycogen‘s benefits in oyster broth fuelled Ezaki’s commitment to merge science with creativity in crafting healthful treats. Nagahisa explains, “The strong desire to utilise glycogen in confectioneries and enhance human health lies at the origin of Glico.”

Since Glico’s inception in 1922, the Japanese confectionery giant’s research and development (R&D) department has consistently infused scientific evidence and innovative ideas into products. With a 35-year tenure at Glico covering all its major food categories, Nagahisa has witnessed the evolution of the company’s product development process.

Over the years, the Glico R&D team has emerged as the architectural backbone of the company, responding adeptly to changing consumer demands, technological advancements, and market trends. He highlights a notable example — the incorporation of more fibre into the classic Pocky snack, showcasing the company’s pledge to augment the nutritional profile of its products.

And while occasional collaborations with experts occur, Nagahisa stresses that such partnerships do not veer away from Glico’s vision. External contributions align seamlessly with the Glico purpose, preserving the essence of creating healthy and enjoyable treats.

Fundamental research forms the core at Glico’s headquarters in Japan, encompassing studies on almonds, carbohydrates, short-chain fatty acids, and lactic acid bacteria, among other areas. Regional R&D teams then tailor research for products in specific markets. 

Nagahisa highlights a recent collaboration with the Singapore Institute of Food and Biotechnology Innovation, which aimed to gain an independent perspective on the benefits of almonds in Southeast Asia — particularly the almond paste used in Glico’s Almond Koka milk — when combined with fibre.

Despite the prevailing success of Almond Koka in Japan, the partnership, he says, was able to broaden the understanding in Southeast Asia of the health and nutritional benefits associated with almonds as well as reinforce Glico’s commitment to science-backed innovation. 

“It’s about surpassing intuition and personal preferences, opting instead for expert insights to shape our products with the goal of improving our product lineup.”

The harmonisation of science and flavour

As COO for nearly seven years, Nagahisa envisions continued involvement in shaping innovation and research efforts at Glico. He aspires to always challenge and guide teams in exploring new ideas, flavours, and nutritional concepts, drawing inspiration from Glico’s legacy of innovation. 

The commitment to striking a balance between scientific advancements and the artistry of flavour creation remains central to Glico’s future endeavours. “(Because) taste isn’t just about the ingredients themselves —  it’s also about how they interact and delight our consumers’ palates,” he asserts. 

To him, “every new product is a story waiting to be told, and the shared passion within the teams makes the journey enjoyable.”