Alternative protein in Asia: Can moving away from Western-centric products fuel sector growth?

By Pearly Neo contact

- Last updated on GMT

The centre's first area of focus will be on plant-based proteins. ©Getty Images
The centre's first area of focus will be on plant-based proteins. ©Getty Images

Related tags: Buhler, Givaudan, Innovation, alternative protein, plant-based

Focusing innovation away from ‘Western-centric’ plant-based products and enabling faster market entry have been touted as two key priorities for Buhler and Givaudan’s new Singapore-based innovation centre, which will combine technological and flavour expertise from both MNCs into one place.

Buhler is known for its food processing technology, whereas Givaudan is one of the world’s largest flavour houses. Both firms have what they call a ‘global partnership’, but this innovation centre is the first in the region for them.

“The innovation centre will focus on alternative proteins as a whole, but first we will start with plant-based proteins,”​ Buhler Head of Technology Dominique Kull told FoodNavigator-Asia​.

“This is because we see a space here in Asia for more localised products, whether it be in terms of texture, taste, applications and so on. A lot of the plant-based alternatives out there now, especially for alternative meats, are focused on western-centric products where beef is a priority, e.g. Impossible or Beyond.

“But here, especially in South East Asia, there is a lot more focus on chicken in Muslim countries like Indonesia, as well as pork in places like the Philippines, Vietnam and China. For the latter, alternatives have also leaped in importance due to the recent African Swine Fever outbreak.”

Kull also expects the centre’s location in Singapore aid greatly with testing proof-of-concepts and doing local market and consumer testing, as well as enhance the usage of local raw materials.

“Asia has lots of local grains and pulses which could be used for plant-based development, and it would definitely be easier and faster to experiment on them here than if the centre was in Europe. So having it here means we can take a good look at which sorts of other new local proteins can be used too,”​ he said.

The centre will feature equipment and engineering experts from Buhler, as well as flavourists and a kitchen from Givaudan in addition to other experts – a setup which is designed to help companies from food start-ups to MNCs experiment and test concepts quickly and effectively.

“Both our [Buhler and Givaudan] expertise areas don’t compete but instead complement one another – We do the texture and they do the flavours. So both experts will be present in one place, helping firms that want to perfect processing and flavour aspects of their products to save time and effort,”​ added Kull.

“Generally food firms are the experts in coming up with ideas and then want to bring these to production – but they are not experts in the processing or the execution of this, especially start-ups.

“We are, and thus are able to help them move forward from when a new product is at the lab phase, like an in-between step to use our know-how and help shorten development times needed to push these to the industrial phase.”

Flexible focus

Although the facility’s major focus will first be on plant-based proteins, Kull did not dismiss the idea of looking at other sources as well.

“We look at this as an alternative protein innovation centre, so not necessarily just plant-based,”​ he said.

“We’ll look at meat alternatives first, and maybe seafood alternatives as well, but we definitely want to be as flexible as possible depending on the industry trends, as these are likely to change in the years to come.

“As an example, insect protein is more commonly used as animal feed for now, but if companies want to come in and experiment with us on this, we’d still want to – same with microalgae protein, if that develops as a viable raw material source.”

Sustainability

The innovation centre is expected to launch in October this year, but market analysts are already making optimistic predictions about it, saying that it can also provide a sustainability focus.

“[Experts] from the two companies [will work] together to positively impact the climate and nutritional habits and explore more sustainable ways to produce food,”​ said GlobalData Consumer Insights Analyst Nabila Azmatulla.

“The opportunity the Asian market offers makes it imperative for meat substitute manufacturers to explore plant-based foods while experimenting with local palettes and taste expectations. With an ever growing population, increasing income and craving for convenience-based lifestyles, sustainability is the need of the hour.”

According to numbers from the firm, the alternative meat market in Asia is expected to grow 6.8% to hit US$1.38bn by 2024.

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