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Plant-based meat: A smart protein?

Manufactured to taste, look and feel like traditional meat or meat-based products, plant-based meat is basically meat derived from plants and considered to be healthier.
Plant-based meat: A smart protein?
Plant-based meat, a product of GoodDot

Manufactured to taste, look and feel like traditional meat or meat-based products, plant-based meat is basically meat derived from plants. It’s considered to be healthier than regular meat since it is lower in calories and saturated fats, and it can broadly be categorized into Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP), Tofu and Seitan. Also known as soy meat, soy chunks or soy protein, TVP is a defatted soy flour protein product that is actually a by-product of the soy oil making process. Tofu is made from condensed soy milk that has been compressed into blocks, while seitan is made from pure wheat gluten. 

In 2021, the global plant-based meat market size was valued at $5.06 billion and was expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 19.3% from 2022 to 2030. Increasing consumer interest in plant-based diets coupled with growing consciousness for animal rights is believed to be the force driving the market. Added to this are factors such as technology development, rising cholesterol-related health problems and excessive use of antibiotics on animals. 

Speaking at an event, announcing ITC’s foray into the market, Varun Deshpande, Managing Director at Good Food Institute India, remarked, “Smart protein and plant-based meats are a generational opportunity to align planetary health stewardship, public health resilience, and economic growth. While entrepreneurs are blazing a trail in building the category, mega-corporations with their distribution heft, deep R&D capabilities, and intimate involvement in consumers’ lives can take a nascent phenomenon to the next level.”

In India, according to the Good Food Institute, it is believed that about 63% of Indians are likely to purchase plant-based meat regularly. It, however, remains an emerging trend. In a country where 70% of the population is protein deficient, despite being the largest producer of pulses in the world, accounting for 25% of the total output, it appears like plant-based meat can play an important role as they not only offer varieties but are also pocket-friendly. 

Despite the prospect, the industry is not without roadblocks. Absence of cold chain logistics in the country is one of the most important factors hampering the growth, and often hinders companies from expanding across states and in smaller retail stores. Another issue is the lack of access to capital. The industry is believed to be underfunded, and it is deterring it from reaching price parity by most brands. Additionally, due to higher regulatory hassles than other food tech industries the industry has more entry barriers and players often find it difficult to position themselves. For instance, if dairy milk is an easily understood concept owing to its prevalence in the market, then plant-based milks face restrictions on how they are marketed, labelled, and categorized, which tends to affect sales.

Sandeep Devgan, Co-founder, Shaka Harry maintains that plant-based meat has a huge scope of acceptability in India, particularly among the growing flexitarian population. Yet, he admits, not many brands have been able to make a mark due to the inability to replicate real meaty tastes in vegetarian profiles. 

“The first and biggest challenge is, of course, the technology. How to extract plant protein and get them converted into meat? How to master the technology to really make good plant meat? And then, there is a need to get them sampled, ”Abhishek Sinha of GoodDot informed Rural Marketing. “Once it is made, then it’s category creation and creating awareness among the consumers. Thereafter, there is a need to let people know that some product like this happens. There are a lot of tasting sessions going on in the field among the consumers to try it out and make them understand that the products are very very close to animal meat.” 

Hemant Malik, Divisional Chief Executive – Foods, ITC stresses that there is no large pan-Indian brand in the plant-based protein segment in India. “We have worked with some global partners to ensure there is no compromise either on the product texture, quality, and taste. We want to enjoy the early mover advantage in India,” HE adds. “The meat market is huge with 72% of Indians being non-vegetarians and the market is estimated today at $45 billion. Given the growing concerns around wellness and sustainability, India has the potential to emerge as a large market for plant-based alternatives.”

On being asked about the segment’s growth in the next 5-10 years in India, Abhishek said, “I think, five years down the line, there is no doubt in my mind. It will cross a billion-dollar revenue. And it will have exponential growth over the next 10 years. The plant-based market will be pretty big.”

In spite of their burgeoning popularity and the industry likely to grow, plant-based meat products are not without shortcomings. According to a paper published by Harvard Health, plant-based meat alternatives offer a good source of protein, vitamins and minerals, but they also contain high levels of processed high saturated fat and sodium. It also underscores that even though they are made using plant alternatives, many companies have developed fast food style products that mimic their meat variations. 

*With input from Mohd Mustaquim

Read more: Plant-based meat market will have exponential growth in 10 years, says Abhishek Sinha of GoodDot

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