Meat alternatives get more pizzazz

Meenakshi Verma Ambwani/TV JayanChitra Narayanan | | Updated on: May 02, 2021
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India is steadily acquiring a taste for plant-based meat substitutes, a billion-dollar industry worldwide

This April, the Los Angeles-headquartered plant-based meat substitute company Beyond Meat entered India. Founded in 2009, the company went public a decade later at a $1.5-billion valuation and rocketed up to $13 billion. But as it starts out in Mumbai, Delhi and Bengaluru, this global heavyweight in a burgeoning category faces competition from local alternative protein players, who are growing in number.


Last year, during the height of the pandemic, Bollywood couple Riteish Deshmukh and Genelia D’Souza, who turned vegan three years ago, launched Imagine Meat, a plant-based meat foods company. Further north, the Udaipur-based food tech start-up GoodDot has gained prominence for its mock meat products.

Globally, meat substitutes is a $20.7-billion market, according to research firm Euromonitor, which expects it to touch $23.2 billion by 2024. The pandemic is accelerating the consumption of meat-alternative products even as consumers become more climate-conscious and vegan diets gain ground globally. According to some estimates, the global meat industry uses, directly or indirectly, a third of the world’s freshwater, and the animal agri industry accounts for 18 per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions.

Although India is still at a very nascent stage, Abhishek Sinha, co-founder and CEO, GoodDot, believes it can be a multi-billion dollar opportunity for the plant-based meat segment. “In fact, India could also be an important back-end for the global plant-based meat industry, considering the availability of skilled manpower and abundant agri and agri-processing resources,” he says.

The company, which makes products such as plant-based Vegicken curry kit and protein-rich mock meat chunks, says it has seen an uptick in demand since March last year. “The pandemic has definitely accelerated the willingness of people to try plant-based meat alternatives. Earlier, we would need to reach out to consumers and institutions and educate them about the category. Now we are receiving enquiries about our products. India is primed for an exponential growth in the plant-based meat space in the coming days,” explains Sinha.

The company sells through direct-to-consumer channels, e-commerce platforms as well as stores. It is also working on expanding its fast-food outlets called GoodDo and GoodKhana. Sinha says the company is focusing on R&D, product refinement, and price competitiveness compared to meat products. “We are also focussing on exports,” says Sinha. The company already sells in Canada, Dubai, Nepal, South Africa and Singapore, and plans to cover the US and Europe in the months ahead.

Jumping jackfruit

Goa-based Wakao Foods is another company making inroads into the plant-based meat category with its jackfruit-based offerings. Sairaj Dhond, founder and CEO, says, “Consumers have understood that sourcing mock meat has a positive impact on the environment. They are also ready to experiment. This has resulted in a slow yet steady increase in demand for a tasty, guilt-free and healthy meat alternative. Jackfruit is widely available in India. Our aim is to get every restaurant, hotel, and cafe [collectively known as the HoReCa segment] to have a vegan section on their menu.” The company’s products are sold through its direct-to-consumer platform as well as offline stores and HoReCa partners in Goa.

It is looking for distributors in various cities. “We have finalised a distributor in Chennai; by the end of this month we should have a presence in 4-5 more cities across India,” Dhond says, adding exports are planned too.

Not just start-ups, even biggies are serving plant-based alternatives, showing the market is indeed picking up. In December, Jubilant FoodWorks introduced its plant-based protein product ‘The Unthinkable Pizza’ at Domino’s outlets in Delhi-NCR, Mumbai and Bengaluru.

There is significant investor interest in this category too. On LinkedIn, Bertlesmann India’s Keshav Bagri has posted his take on why this category will succeed in India. Seventy-one per cent of the country is non-vegetarian — in a marked contrast to the popular perception that it is predominantly vegetarian — yet Indians have a protein deficit in their diets. He also points to a survey which shows high receptivity to plant-based meat, with 63 per cent respondents saying they would try it.

Beverages, too, get going

Recognising that veganism is no longer a fad but a popular movement, complete with celebrity influencers, beverage products that are alternatives to dairy have cropped up.

Starbucks India offers oat milk, almond milk and soy milk options. Globally, the plant-based meat and beverages movement has been picking up tremendously, pushing players like Coca-Cola, Nestle and PepsiCo to have a presence in this space. The Oatley Company is a favourite brand that’s fast taking on cult status. Not surprisingly, Coca-Cola launched an oats milk offering recently.

However, in India, the plant-based beverage space ran into some issues. Dairy is a holy cow in India. Leading dairy player Amul had last year slammed companies using the word milk for selling almond, oats and soya-based beverages. Food safety regulator FSSAI has also proposed that the word ‘milk’ should only apply to animal-derived milk and dairy products.

As a senior executive with a packaged food start-up explains, “While plant-based food products are expected to take off in a strong manner, it may take more time for the plant-based beverage segment to establish in the country, especially since there is a lot of focus on the goodness of dairy. At the same time, younger consumers are likely to continue to incorporate plant-based beverages.”

The plant-based alt food industry is, for sure, striking roots in the country.

Published on May 03, 2021

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