Strong outlook for plant-based meat alternatives in Asia

Asia is more willing to try plant-based meat alternatives and food producers are responding.

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Karana’s jackfruit alternative pork offering has launched in Singapore and Hong Kong and may be joined by other meat alternatives as the start up company grows. | Karana
Karana’s jackfruit alternative pork offering has launched in Singapore and Hong Kong and may be joined by other meat alternatives as the start up company grows. | Karana

Asia’s demand for plant-based meat alternatives is expected to triple over the next five years.

As incomes rise across the region, per capita meat consumption, particularly of poultry and fish, will carry on growing. However, alongside these traditional proteins, demand for plant-based alternatives will also rise, particularly amongst young and urban dwellers, and at much faster rates than traditional protein sources.

According to 2020 research from Danisco Animal Nutrition (IFF) and ISPOS, Asia’s demand for plant-based meat alternatives is forecast to grow by in excess of 200% over the next five years.

In 2020 alone, sales of plant-based meats in the region grew by 7.4%. Seventy-five percent of consumers have said that they would be willing to pay a similar price to real meat, while 78% believe that alternative meat is here to stay.

Within the next five years, the Asian market for plant based alternative meats is expected be worth in excess of US$1.7 billion.

Strong interest

Asia, which accounts for more than half of the world’s population, is the region where interest in plant-based meat alternatives would appear to be the strongest.

An IPSOS survey, conducted in late 2018, across 29 countries found that 43% of respondents would eat a plant-based substitute for meat, with the strongest responses coming from China (73%) and India (63%).

The region’s various markets are evolving in different ways. In China, for example, the alternatives market remains small but this does not mean that it is not attracting new entrants.

In late 2020, the food industry adopted voluntary standards for meat-based products, responding to the growing number of products entering the space.

Quick-service restaurants have already trialed, or rolled out, plant-based offerings, and while the most visible alternatives in the market have come from multinational players, there are ever more local companies entering the space.

Those entering the Asian alternatives market range from well-established multinationals through to smalls start-ups, each with their own take on consumer preferences, but most skewed towards the concerns of the young.

Take, for example, Thailand’s CP Foods, which launched Meat Zero in ready-to-cook and ready-to-eat ranges earlier in 2021. With an emphasis on health, and enjoying celebrity endorsement, Meat Zero is already available throughout Thailand and will be rolled out across Asia.

Cp Meat Z All Product

CP Foods is aiming for leadership with its Meat Zero range of alternative meat products. | CP Foods

Within the next year or so, CP expects Meat Zero to become the leading meat alternative brand within Asia and to be a top three player in the sector worldwide within three to five years.

The company expects the range to generate over US$350 million the next couple of years.

Sustainability concerns

At the other end of the scale, Singapore start-up Karana has launched its first product, “pork” made from young jackfruit, and its focus would appear to be on consumers’ environmental concerns.

The company notes that it sources its jackfruit responsibly from smallholder farms in Sri Lanka and processes it into a shredded or minced pork alternative. It uses no harsh chemicals, and no heavy processing, just innovative mechanical techniques that enhance the texture of the naturally meat-like ingredient.

Dan Riegler, Karana co-founder, says: “Sustainability has never been more important, especially when it comes to food, and our first base ingredient was carefully chosen with this in mind. Jackfruit is an extremely efficient crop with high yields and low water usage making it friendly to smallholder farmers. It is typically intercropped, promoting biodiversity.”

In its first phase, Karana launched in Singapore with six leading restaurant chains, before moving on to Hong Kong. In addition, products to add to Karana’s range are being investigated.

Why move into plant?

Asia’s per capita meat consumption of meat is low in comparison to many countries and is forecast to continue rising over the decades ahead, so why the rush to enter the meat alternatives market?

According to CP, the answer is obvious, demand has been “rocketing,” and current consumer options are limited.

Tastes and social norms change. Meat, which may have been seen as a status symbol for one generation, may not be seen as such by the next, wealthier, generation.

Additionally, as societies become wealthier, they have more choice. Simply filling stomachs ceases to be the priority, rather, health, nutrition and a host of other influences come into play.  Among younger generations concerns over health, the environment, animal welfare and saving the planet have come to the fore, and plant based alternative meats appear to satisfy these concerns.

Moving mainstream

The launch of a plant-based product rarely raises eyebrows these days, reflecting both the number of companies operating in the sector and broad acceptance, and if further evidence were needed that plant-based is in demand, in Asia, April 2021 saw the opening of the APAC Protein Innovation Centre in Singapore.

The 400-square-meter facility, operated by taste and welfare company Givaudan, and food processing solutions provider Buhler, works with food processing companies, start-ups and researchers keen to co-create plant-based food experiences, its owners say.

Monica Kothari, APAC president, Givaudan Taste and Wellbeing, explained: “By bringing flavor solutions that are vegetarian, plant-based and natural, as well as technologies such as wet extrusion to Singapore and the region, we are helping to make plant-based food more delicious, authentic and accessible to businesses and consumers.”

Rightly or wrongly, plant-based meat alternatives appear to resonate, particularly, with younger consumers. While poultry meat is still expected to have a bright future in Asia, producers may want to look at how plant-based proteins are being marketed and perhaps take a leaf out of their book.

Earlier in 2021, Boston Consulting Group, together with Blue Horizon Group, released a report noting that the largest market for meat alternatives is in Asia-Pacific. The market will account for two thirds of global consumption by 2035, the report noted. Reassuringly for poultry producers, it also noted that while the rate of growth in demand for poultry products would slow, there was no evidence that it would decline.

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