November was World Vegan Month, the perfect occasion to change one’s lifestyle, one plant-based product at a time. Luckily, the product offering has expanded so much in the last decade.
From very basic tofu steaks back in the 1990s, real meat substitutes started to appear on the shelves in the 2000s. First limited to Impossible burgers, the selection now comprises plant-based meat, seafood, dairy and even eggs that are as tasty and claim to have the same texture as their authentic counterparts.
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Several health crises (mad cow, swine flu, etc), increasing awareness around climate change and animal welfare, rising lactose intolerance and massive achievements in R&D to optimise nutrition and flavour made alternative proteins more and more popular over the years. The younger generations, Millennials and Gen Z are a predominant force shaping this sector and the global market for plant-based foods could see fivefold growth by 2030, according to a Bloomberg Intelligence report.
Retail in Asia dives into the rise of the alternative proteins in Asia Pacific.
The pandemic accelerated the growth of plant-based products. Euromonitor reported that in 2020, sales of meat substitutes in Hong Kong reached US$30 million, while Malaysia and Singapore recorded sales of US$85 million and US$72 million respectively. According to Green Queen’s APAC Alternative Protein Industry Report 2021, there was robust sales growth in plant-based meat category in 2020, with a projected CAGR of 9.1 percent by value and 8.65 percent by volume forecasted for the period 2019 to 2022.
Asia-Pacific is also the largest market for dairy alternatives, and the fastest growing region. According to Mordor Intelligence, the Asia Pacific dairy alternative market is projected to grow at a CAGR of 11.6 percent during the forecast period 2020 – 2025.
Both in Asia-Pacific and globally, plant-based seafood is way behind plant-based meat in terms of innovation and commercial availability, but consumption is on the rise, with Singapore leading the charge, according to data from plant-based social platform abillion that projects the market for fish-friendly alternatives to reach a market size of US$1.6 billion in the next decade, at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 28 percent.
Asian consumer appetite for plant-based products is growing and so is the number of homegrown Asian alternative protein companies. Catching up with major Western plant-based brands, Asian homegrown brands are making their mark on the rest of the world such as APAC pioneers Green Monday, Next Gen Foods and v2food, who are expanding their global presence at lightning speed. APAC brands to keep on the radar include Vitasoy, Hero Protein, Next Meats, Float Foods, Osome Foods, Karana, Plant Nation to name just a few.
It is interesting to see that product lines have expanded to meet the needs of diverse cuisines and applications.
“In the past 18-24 months, hundreds of new plant-based meat/seafood/dairy companies have launched across the world to meet local, regional and taste demand. Impossible is a fantastic product but it was originally designed for burger patties. Now we have products designed for dumplings, satays, tacos, tuna salad, schnitzel and more. One meat alternative cannot cover every application. We need variety and we need localised flavours, seasonings and formats,” said Sonalie Figueiras, Founder & Editor-in-Chief of Green Queen Media, a leading source for APAC alternative protein industry news.
Flexitarianism or “casual vegetarianism” is the new motto for all F&B players. While food giants have been pivoting their operations to include alternative protein options, plant-based manufacturers are marketing their products to a wide consumer base.
“Most of the 2nd generation meat replacement products such as and Omnipork are focused on the flexitarian market. They do not market to vegans and that is why the term plant-based has become so used in recent years. The term vegan is considered by many brands to be alienating to mass / non-vegan consumers,” said Sonalie Figueiras.
According to the Green Queen report, 75 percent of APAC consumers are willing to pay a similar price for meat and meat alternatives, with 83 percent rating protein as the most important ingredient in any meal. However plant-based products do not necessarily align with their authentic counterparts when it comes to pricing.
“Alt protein foods are usually comparable to high quality meat/seafood products. But it really depends on the market (for example in India, Good Dot is already at price parity) and plant-based brands are working to reduce prices – Beyond Meat’s CEO just said that by 2024 they want to be comparable to meat for some of their range and Impossible lowered retail prices by more than 20 percent over the past 12 months so we see lots of progress happening as these companies scale up,” commented Figueiras.
In terms of markets, Singapore, Hong Kong and Australia are the leading markets in the region with Singapore becoming a hub for plant-based companies. Thailand and India are growing fast. In mainland China there are many players, but as Sonalie Figueiras noted, consumers are still quite suspicious.
The alternative protein segment keeps evolving and new products, technologies and trends are shaping the future of the industry. According to Sonalie Figeiras, current trends include the growing animal-free dairy sector through precisions fermentation technology, the rise of plant-based seafood especially after documentaries like Seaspiracy, huge capital inflows into the space (especially towards cultivated meat), more private label ranges from established players (supermarkets, meat companies), ‘better for you’ foods (shorter ingredient labels, stronger nutrition offerings), more vegan eggs/cheese/cream products (now that plant-based milk is a mature space) and a focus on diverse ingredients (millet, algae, mung bean, chickpea).
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Plant-based products look like the perfect solution for a healthier and sustainable lifestyle. However experts warn this needs to be toned down as they are highly processed and high in sodium, the key is to consume them in moderation and read the labels thoroughly.