Comprehensive Guide to Malaysia's Food Trend 2020

If there's one thing that unites all of us Malaysian; it is the love of good multicultural food that we have here. From the traditional nasi lemak, roti canai, char kuey teow and satays to the more recent craze towards bubble tea, and yogurt drinks. We endearingly label ourselves as ‘foodies’, and always on the lookout for the best cuisines and travel to great lengths to hunt for the best food. But what exactly do we look for in food and what are our all time favourites? 

Understanding consumers' behavior (and taste buds) has never been more vital in the food and beverage industry due to high competition and consumer demand. With the recent all-time high trend of food deliveries due to the Movement Control Order (MCO), F&B merchants are dishing out their best promotions and coming up with new menu items to attract more customers. Faced with such intense competition, how can one capture the market better than the other? 

So, the people over at Oppotus spoke to over 1300 Malaysians and distilled some insights on Malaysian food trends, identifying the preferences of Malaysians towards food in terms of diets, eating out habits, flavours, cooking styles, and more.

What kind of diets do Malaysians prefer?

A diet determines what a person habitually eats and the survey found some interesting food trends among the consumers in Malaysia. Most (80%) Malaysians have some form of preference when it comes to the food we eat. Healthy living and eating is definitely an interest for us. Diets such as less salt (46%), less sugar (45%), low oil (35%) and low fat (36%) are among the most common preferences exercised by us Malaysian consumer, with baby boomers (those aged 57 and above) showing the highest tendencies towards these diet/ lifestyles. This indicates that they place more importance on their health which may be attributed to their age.

Another noteworthy point is the higher tendency for Indians to eat less meat (26%) and vegan (19%) diets compared to the other races in Malaysia. Though religion plays a role it is also a known fact that vegan diets are healthy in addition to other environmental and ethical benefits. Besides that, Chinese surprisingly prefer a less dairy (20%) and high protein (19%) intake approach. On other areas, Malays and Chinese diets intake are pretty similar across the board.

Despite the growing hype for diet plans thanks to their dissemination through social media, 21% of consumers do not pertain to any specific diet, which are mostly Gen Z and Millennials.

How often do Malaysians eat out?

On average, most consumers eat out 15-16 times a month, with Millennials showing the highest frequency of the different segments. Baby Boomers (57-65 year olds) however are less inclined to do so, almost half (46%) of them eat out once a week or less. 

In terms of location, more people in Klang Valley (25%) eat out everyday the most compared to Penang (10%) and Johor (14%). In contrast, those who reside in Kuantan rarely eat out on a daily basis, with only 1% of residents reporting that they eat out every day. Lifestyle, pace of life and convenience are among the common factors affecting people's choices in these locations throughout Malaysia.

Based on the graph below, Baby Boomers rarely eat out more than once a week, but when they do so it is mostly on the weekends making it 80% of people in that category in contrast to the mere 54% for weekdays. In general there isn’t much distinction between eating out during the weekday or weekends among Malaysians. However, the survey found that Penang has a unique trend of eating out more often on weekdays than on weekends. Considering the large population of Chinese in Penang, the trend coincides with how Chinese consumers tend to eat out during the weekday more often than other races as well.

What do Malaysians prefer when eating out?

Malaysia offers a variety of mouth-watering and delicious food thanks to our multicultural background. Each cultural group has its own unique flavours and different cooking styles. Most people assume that ethnic groups would naturally prefer food from their own cultures but that may not hold true in this age of food trends where fusion food has become more common. A wonderful array of delicacies has been introduced to the market over the years as more F&B merchants enter the market, bringing their own local dishes (with a twist) to Malaysia. And also, did we mention Malaysians love all types of food?

According to the survey, Malay food tops the chart as the number one favourite go-to cuisine which comes as no surprise as Malays make up to 65% of Malaysia's population. As our native cuisine it’s a taste everyone is familiar with and continues to love from their childhood to their adulthood (think nasi lemak and satays). Additionally it is always a good option for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. 

Coming in second and third ranks are Mamak and Thai respectively. Malaysians are known for their Mamak culture and it is especially popular among young adults. Mamaks offer round the clock services at decent prices in addition to providing an atmosphere perfect for hangouts and gatherings so it’s no wonder that they are hotspots for people from all walks of life. Though it is not a local cuisine, Thai food may hold a higher placement in this ranking due to its very spicy and fragrant flavours which make it more preferable to the tastes of the average Malaysian.

Meanwhile Chinese and American cuisine fall a little behind at 45% and 40% at fourth and fifth respectively. Japanese (27%), Korean (25%), Middle Eastern (23%) and Italian (15%) trails behind at sixth to ninth. Vegetarian (15%) dishes have also managed to squeeze its way into the top 10 which shows their potential and reflect the changing consumer behaviour towards food trends, healthier diets and lifestyles.

Top 10 flavours and cooking styles in Malaysia

Hot and spicy dominated the top 3 for flavour section with Curry (76%), Spicy (73%) and Tomyam (73%) being our favourites.  In terms of meat (or type of protein), chicken is by far the top choice, being consumed by 94% of Malaysians, followed by seafood (75%) and beef (64%). As for cooking styles, Malaysian reportedly prefer deep fried and grilled, followed by wok/stir-fried in general.

Breakdown of flavours, meat and cooking styles by ethnicity

We hope you enjoyed reading this as much as we did and gained some insights on Malaysia's F&B trends for the year 2020. Remember to check out our biodegradable food packaging products as well once you are done!