Waygu was launched in 2020 to mixed reactions from the food industry in Japan, but the brand – operated by Canadian firm Top Tier Foods – has since succeeded in partnering with an international consortium of industry partners and securing US$7.6mn in funding to expand its plant-based wagyu product line.
Top Tier Foods President Blair Bullus said that the partnership and funding aim to expand the variety and availability of Waygu into both European and APAC markets.
“This project aims to build on the success of our widely acclaimed Waygu line by developing a suite of alternatives to wagyu beef, widely considered the world’s best tasting beef,” he said.
“We picked wagyu beef as it is the gold standard of the beef industry and if we are to create an alternative that truly excites the sceptics, it must first wow chefs and critics alike.
This project will invest millions into R&D as well as distribution and sales over the next two years.”
The brand also recently expanded into Singapore, where a lot of R&D has been done over the past year to localise the Waygu product in hopes of appealing to local palates.
“We went through a few different versions to get to the version we felt is more suitable for the ASEAN palate, which is less sweet and salty compared to say the North American palate – the priority was to get it to work with local cuisines, so making it suitable for dishes such as hor fun (rice noodles in soup), rendang curry and so on,” Roy Wakim, Founder of Top Tier Foods’ Singapore partner Alt Plus told us.
“We had to ensure the Waygu strips were somewhat thicker and wider to suit Asian cooking as these need to be a certain size to hold sauce and gravy, and the most important thing is that it maintain the chewiness characteristic to wagyu beef.
“The difference between wagyu beef and regular beef lies in the texture and fattiness, which gives wagyu that unique chewiness as opposed to regular beef which is relatively drier– Waygu replicates that mouthfeel, which is what sets it apart from being just plant-based beef.
“The product is soy-based, but the fatty feeling comes from a blend of plant-based oils such as sesame oil and rapeseed oil, and the team has taken every effort to keep the product clean in terms of ingredients so as appeal to the health-conscious audience.”
Waygu has opted to take the market entry route preferred by many alternative protein firms, which is to go through B2B and food service first, and officially entered the Singapore market with distributor Foodxervices which services multiple large hotel groups and food manufacturers with a premium focus, as well as Japan-focused firm Yoshiya.
“We’ve consciously decided to position Waygu much lower than regular wagyu, at about one-third of the price,” said Wakim.
“The food service route is the right one for us at this time, and we intend to expand further via this route into multiple Asian countries from Singapore including Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam and Hong Kong, and we will also be looking at entering the retail sector down the line after having established the product name.
“Thailand is a very important market for us as we know it is the second-fastest growing plant-based market in Asia, and Hong Kong too as it is really important to have a presence here to be at the forefront of plant-based development for the region.”
Three versions of Waygu are currently available in Singapore – Teriyaki, Korean BBQ and Ginger, and goes for S$38.50 (US$28.22) per 1kg pack. The price of regular wagyu in Singapore hovers between S$90 (US$65.97) to S$120 (US$87.97) per kilogramme depending on the cut.
Competing against beef
When asked whether Waygu aims to compete against other plant-based products or perhaps regular wagyu locally, Wakim told us that neither of these are the brand’s major targets.
“It doesn’t really make sense for us to compete against regular plant-based meats as most of these are mince and can’t be used in rendang or pho or hor fun or yakiniku, so there’s not really a point of comparison there,” he said.
“We also are not looking to compete directly with real wagyu given it is a very distinct type of beef and [the] price point is so different too, but rather we want to go up against regular industrialised beef based on the chewiness and texture of our product, and the wagyu experience it can offer.”