NANKA’s approach to alternative meat innovation is currently by developing jackfruit as a ‘platform provider’ to be blended with any type of protein, animal or plant-based, to create either a hybrid or fully plant-based product depending on what the consumer is looking for.
“Jackfruit has the benefit of being high in fibre and low in fat, and is thus capable of acting as a robust platform to blend with many different types of proteins in the market,” NANKA managing company IRA NOAH’s Head of Strategy Ahmad Syafik Jaafar told FoodNavigator-Asia.
“It has a very similar cellular structure to meat and very fibrous content and the patties have nearly similar physical characteristics with ordinary meat patties – we have already tried blending this with various types of proteins from mushroom to mycoprotein to peas to insect, as well as beef and chicken.
“We are still looking for the best protein sources to work with, but so far are reasonably sure that it can be blended with any type of protein just like a blank canvas to create alternative protein art out of it. So basically, we can help to build a quick plant-based meat iteration with jackfruit and another protein.”
For now, NANKA is selling one 100% plant-based burger patty (jackfruit base with mushrooms) and two types of hybrid patties (jackfruit base with either chicken or beef). The plant-based one is priced at RM19 (US$4.57) for four patties, whereas chicken goes for RM21 (US$5.06) and beef for RM23 (US$5.54).
“We’re selling the plant-based version at a cheaper price as the hope is really to get more people to try this and hopefully act as an intermediate for those looking to transition to a plant-based diet,” said Syafik.
“We are positioning our products to be more premium right now, but at the same time we do have a lot of cost advantage due to the abundant supply and source of jackfruits in Malaysia as well as neighbouring countries Thailand and Indonesia.
“So although we are not trying to start any sort of price war, we can offer these lower prices and will continue to try to create even more cost-competitive products as we don’t want to be premium for too long – eventually we do want to democratise our products to be accessible to more consumers.”
NANKA currently has investors from places like Singapore and Japan, and expects Japan to be its next major market as it has already sent product samples over, and its website has a Japanese version as well.
“Our investor is promoting this very actively in places like Tokyo and Osaka, and in Tokyo especially there are many consumers looking for plant-based meat options, they have high purchasing power and are very adventurous in terms of food, so we are very hopeful,” he said.
“We are currently also talking to several big food firms to work on product co-creation, using the jackfruit as a platform for various alternative proteins as mentioned. Other markets we are hopeful about include India where there are many firms keen on product collaboration, and Australia though this might be a bit later.”
Demographic acceptance and challenges
According to Syafik, the arrival of brands like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods were what really opened up the market to accepting novel meat alternatives in the plant-based space.
“There were many challenges when it came to education and awareness in the beginning as Malaysia already has its own vegan and vegetarian base which always compares products to the Plant-based Meat 1.0 products made from soy, commonly known as mock meat, and we had a lot of work to do to position ourselves away from these,” he said.
“In addition, previously it was only Indian and Chinese consumers who showed much interest in plant-based foods, and much fewer Malays - but when Beyond and Impossible came along, plant-based meat alternatives suddenly became an appealing option for everyone.
“So although we’re not strictly positioning ourselves as a vegan or vegetarian firm as we also have the mixed options, what’s important to us is to reach those consumers looking for healthier products. Flexitarians in particular are a pretty untapped market here, as there are many consumers who don’t want to fully convert to plant-based but just want a healthier version of fast foods, which we can provide.
NANKA also sells RTE meatball meals and Ready-to-heat nuggets in its store, and moving forward will be focusing on more plant-based meat formulations and protein combinations with its jackfruit technology.
“Another new innovation we’re looking at is making a plant-based butter, using another Malaysian fruit from Borneo – this would go hand-in-hand with burger meals, bringing us a step closer to providing 100% plant-based meals,” he added.