Agri Business

India is heading toward a plant-based future

Sanjay Sethi | | Updated on: May 25, 2022

Manufacturing and processing requirements are still at nascent stage and small businesses or start-ups fail to find a steady start

People from all walks of life, young entrepreneurs and experienced CEOs, are coming together as a unified voice to pave the way for the plant-based foods industry. I believe India’s agricultural potential can play a catalytic role in addressing the current health and environmental crisis.

We are witnessing a systematic shift in consumer behaviour and mindset. Health and climatic conditions, especially the Covid-19 pandemic, have stirred some food for thought among people. They are reconsidering diets, viewing food as medicine, making informed choices, and are pleasantly coming forward to pay an added amount for sustainable healthy foods.

Thus, the befitting bloom of plant-based alternatives to meat and dairy — an industry that leaves behind an array of health and environmental concerns.

This positive shift is eminent by the coming about of Ahimsa VC and investments raised by Indian plant-based foods start-ups such as Evo Foods, Blue Tribe Foods, GoodDot, Proeon Foods and the likes. It speaks of a new era of consumers, products, and businesses transitioning towards ethical consumption, heralding the plant-based foods industry.

Key factors

The industry requires a solid foundation upon which it can grow, to meet this rapid growth and demand. India has two important underlying factors at play —— our diet is predominantly carb-heavy, which means our protein intake is low, and the plant-based foods industry is nascent.

These factors are met with a third game-changer, the potential of our agricultural sector. Our agricultural sector can develop by demand for plant-based products, which needs to be driven by plant-based food businesses. Since manufacturing and processing requirements are new in this industry, most small businesses face everyday setbacks, and some fail to find a steady start.

The Plant-based Foods Industry Association, steered by this insight, aims to meet the protein requirements of India by creating a reliable system for plant-based food businesses. The association will help garner active support from the Indian government to shift national policies to enable catalytic growth in this sector.

PBFIA and GFI (India) act as incubators for budding startups, providing entrepreneurs with much-needed guidance and support, ensuring the plant-based foods industry succeeds. Further, plant-based food businesses cater to the end consumer, making food safety and quality a vital pre-requisite.

Training small businesses

PBFIA has requested the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) to offer training and support to plant-based start-ups. The goal is to help deliver quality plant-based foods as good as if not better than that of the big food companies.

Economically, India can benefit exponentially from this industry as it has 127 agro-climate zones with fertile ground for producing and exporting a variety of cereals, pulses, millets, agriculture and horticulture worldwide. India is also an excellent choice for international companies to establish plant-protein ingredient manufacturing units.

An example here is Cargill expanding RadiPure pea protein in India, which will help plant-based food manufacturers in the region respond to evolving marketplace trends. Specific pea varieties, for instance, from international ingredients specialist, PURIS, can be introduced in India.

Plant-based meat

Similarly, pea production poses a significant opportunity for the plant-based meat industry. When developing mock-meat or meat alternatives, peas offer superior texture and mouthfeel to the end product. The plant-based meat industry also uses moong beans, wheat and chickpea. The ingredients used for plant-based dairy are almonds, millet, cowpea, coconut, sprouted sorghum, amaranth, and oats.

Note: India leads in the production of millets, which is gaining popularity as 2023 is declared the UN International year of the Millets. It has incredible production capability for all of the above crops, positioning it as a viable contender to become a leading global plant-protein supplier.

The plant-based foods industry is nascent and nuanced. We meet people from all walks of life every day, some part of the industry and some aspiring to join. Their experiences, requirements, setbacks, failure & success stories are all unique. It makes a compelling case for an environment of healthy collaboration and competition.

To this end, PBFIA is organising the first plant-based Foods Summit on May 26, 2022 in New Delhi. It is a unique platform that brings together the entire plant-based foods industry and key stakeholders, namely the government, scientists, and startups working for the plant-based food sector.

PBFIA is making strides in partnering with the government through the Ministry of Food Processing Industries, export agency APEDA, and the regulator FSSAI. We hope to form a joint task force with MoFPI, APEDA, FSSAI & PBFIA. And seek collaboration with the newly formed International Plant-Based Foods Working Group (IPBFWG), co-founded by PBFIA.

My work at PBFIA is a culmination of learnings from changing the food landscape, along which I earned the support of people who watched and learned even through my struggles. When they come back with smiles of achievement, it makes everything worth it. Today, young and enthusiastic minds join us and share the same passion.

Together, we can play a vital role in developing an industry that holds promise for human health and the environment. The plant-based foods industry is looking toward a promising, kinder, and greener future.

The author is Executive Director, Plant Based Foods Industry Association. Views are personal.

Published on May 25, 2022
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