ARIEF FACHRUDIN writes that plant-based protein companies have embraced emerging technologies to make their products as realistic as possible and cost competitive.
Sales of plant-based protein as an option to meat, have grown in recent years, buoyed by the Covid-19 pandemic disrupting meat supply chains and putting increasing scrutiny on the conventional meat industry, according to market research company IDTechEx.
Investments into plant-based protein have also risen, with the industry raising over USD 1.4 billion in 2020 alone. The industry is optimistic that these trends will continue, with plant-based protein looking increasingly set to disrupt the USD 1 trillion global meat industry.
IDTechEx predicts the global plant-based protein market will be worth over USD 29 billion by 2031.
Cargill’s CEO David MacLennan believes the industry will eat into consumer demand for meat. “Our analysis is that in three to four years plant-based options will be perhaps 10% of the market. We’re a large beef producer and that is a big part of our portfolio. So, there’s some cannibalization that will occur,” he said.
Significant growth in Asia
Market research company GMO Research projected that the plant-based protein market in Asia would be worth USD 17.1 billion in 2020, an 11.6% increase from the previous year.
DuPont Nutrition & Biosciences in particular forecast demand for plant-based protein in China and Thailand will increase by 200% over the next five years, driven by consumer values around health, taste, and sustainability.
“Asia has already seen steady growth in the plant-based protein. China is a leading contributor to this growth in the region. However, Singapore is positioning itself to be a hub for the plant-based protein leadership. This country has become the ideal location for businesses within this industry to invest in, and many are using it as a location for their headquarters,” said GMO Research.
What about Southeast Asia?
Responding to these trends, Cargill has launched its PlantEver branded ready-to-cook plant-based nuggets in Thailand. The product, which focuses on both taste and nutrition, have a high protein and fiber content and target health-conscious flexitarians.
“Production of the nuggets is environment-friendly because we use renewable energy and less water,” said Watcharapon Prasopkiatpoka, Managing Director of Cargill Protein Southeast Asia. He added that Cargill plans to launch more plant-based products in the region.
Also in Thailand, CPF has launched its plant-based ‘Meat Zero’ brand and aims to be among the world’s three largest alternative protein producers in 3-5 years.
CEO Prasit Boondoungprasert said the demand for meatless options has been skyrocketing and CPF is targeting flexitarians, who wants to reduce meat consumption. It anticipates a revenue of USD 31.8 million for plant-based meat in a few years.
In Malaysia, Tyson Foods has picked the country as the launchpad for its new line of plant-based protein. The ‘First Pride’ line consists of frozen bites, nuggets, and strips, all halal-certified and made with regionally sourced ingredients.
“In Malaysia, the meat substitute category is growing at 5.3% yoy, which shows that consumers are rethinking their health and wellbeing,” said Tan Sun, Tyson Foods Asia Pacific President.
In Indonesia, Ikea has launched new plant-based dishes at its store-linked restaurants. Partnering with local startup Green Rebel Foods, it added four dishes, including plant ball and plant-based sausage bun, plant balls teriyaki, and plant balls satay.
Green Rebel said its partnership with Ikea is aligned with its mission to democratize plant-based protein, with the new options priced affordably around USD 0.70-4.21.
To make an impact on global meat consumption, IDTechEx said plant-based protein producers must target the 95% of consumers who do eat meat. These consumers are increasingly looking to reduce meat consumption for health and sustainability reasons, but they are less likely to tolerate a drop in product quality.
So, targeting these consumers requires companies to make plant-based products that are almost indistinguishable from the real thing.
Modern plant-based protein companies such as Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods have invested heavily into R&D and technology development to make their products as realistic as possible.
Impossible Foods uses a genetically engineered strain of yeast to produce soy leghemoglobin, a key ingredient that makes its protein substitutes ‘bleed’ and gives them a uniquely meaty flavor.
Meanwhile, Beyond Meat uses a food extrusion machine which uses heat and pressure to force plant proteins into a fibrous, meat-like texture that resembles muscle fibers.
The technology innovation is not limited to genetic engineering, presenting a huge scope for innovation in ingredient development. Eat Just claims to use a high-throughput screening technique to find plant proteins combinations that suit different types of foods, with different proteins impacting thermal stability, binding, browning ability, and flavor.
The plant-based protein industry has historically struggled to create analogs of ‘structured’ products, such as steaks, bacon, and chicken breasts, rather than ‘unstructured’ products such as burgers and nuggets.
To change this, startups Redefine Meat and NovaMeat are both exploring the use of 3D printing to create structured plant-based meat products. 3D printing enables the creation of customizable products with intricate shapes and textures and so could be used to recreate the marbling of steak or the defined areas of fat and muscle in bacon.
Finally, technology is progressing and the next few years could be pivotal in deciding whether plant-based protein is able to disrupt the global meat industry or not.