Retail in Asia

In Telligence

Plant-based products boost sustainability in Asia Pacific

Increasing awareness of health and the environmental challenges facing the planet have led to accelerated action and investments by companies and governments. This is no different in the Asia-Pacific region.

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Per capita disposable income in Asia Pacific has risen by 24 percent since 2017 in USD current prices, which has enabled more consumers to purchase sustainable products, which often retail at higher prices. For example, in the Asia-Pacific beauty and personal care market in 2021, products with plant-based claims retailed at prices 37 percent higher than the market average, according to Euromonitor International’s Sustainability Opportunity Tracker.

Asian consumers are increasingly worried about climate change, standing at over 60 percent of respondents in 2022; encouragingly, a higher number of consumers tried to have a positive impact on the environment through their everyday actions and felt they could make a difference to the world in 2022 than in 2019.

Brand owners must focus on consumer education, transparency and a clear value proposition, which will be crucial to enhance consumer perceptions, whilst adequately explaining the efficacy of plant-based products, particularly for beauty and home care products.

This gives producers of fast-moving consumer goods an opportunity to leverage their plant-based portfolios under the banner of sustainability. The survey findings also highlight that not only are companies in beauty and personal care and food and beverages leading plans to develop products with the relevant claims, but there is also significant interest coming from household essentials as well.

Different attitudes towards sustainability efforts

Food and beverages are the first to spring to mind when considering plant-based offerings; however, there is growing interest from beauty and personal care and household products. Consumers in each industry perceive plant-based in different ways.

Within packaged food, tofu has been a key part of the Asian diet, so there is appetite and acceptance of plant-based food. Western-style plant-based foods have gained greater traction in foodservice where items such as burgers and fried chicken are more popular. Partnerships are key to success, such as those between Beyond Meat and KFC. Although price continues to affect the demand for plant-based food, local players, including Thailand’s Let’s Plant Meat and Singapore’s Happiee! (Growthwell), are responding with more affordable, localised and culturally-relevant plant-based offerings that have enabled them to differentiate their brands from imported products.

In home care, both price and concerns over efficacy of non-chemical variants hinder consumer acceptance, demonstrating how important it is for businesses to strike a balance between efficacy and sustainable formulations.

Despite the challenges, there is a business case to invest in plant-based formulations. As per Euromonitor International’s Voice of the Industry: Sustainability Survey 2022, the most important reason why companies invest in sustainability claims is customer perception/brand reputation, followed by marketing strategy, aligning with brand image or ethos, and complying with legislation.

In 2020, beauty and personal care offered the highest number of online SKUs with plant-based claims (Source: Euromonitor International´s Sustainability Opportunity Tracker), at 1.6 times higher than in food and beverages. Herbal products have a long history of use in Asia, such as in traditional Chinese medicine and ayurveda, and consumers still place high importance on plant-based products and ingredient transparency, largely for health reasons. In fact, natural beauty products are well-positioned to address consumers’ environmental concerns, almost by default.

Plant-derived and natural ingredients became desirable again in 2022 among survey respondents, with Asian consumers showing the highest preference for these features in skin care products. This shift could be associated to some extent with younger generations of consumers in Asia Pacific rediscovering the therapeutic virtues of ancient medicine.

Brands looking to drive broader adoption of plant-based offerings in Asia Pacific must focus on communicating the value proposition of these options. A combination of both sustainability and health benefits can help enhance perceived value.

Source: Euromonitor International