Plant power: Asian plant-based start-up scene expected to grow 25% by 2025

By Nurul Ain Razali contact

- Last updated on GMT

Asian plant-based start-ups could localise and leverage local ingredients beyond soy, wheat and pea, said New York VC Andrew D Ive. ©Getty Images
Asian plant-based start-ups could localise and leverage local ingredients beyond soy, wheat and pea, said New York VC Andrew D Ive. ©Getty Images

Related tags: plant-based proteins, Protein, start-up, GOOD Meat

The Asian plant-based protein start-up scene is geared to grow 25% by 2025 as more Asians look into flexitarian diets and firms region-wide strive to develop products better suited to their palate.

Such start-ups have a competitive edge over international peers because of their abilities to localise products and leverage local ingredients beyond soy, wheat and pea protein, said Andrew D Ive, founder of New York-based VC firm and start-up accelerator Big Idea Ventures (BIV) in an exclusive interview with FoodNavigator-Asia.com.

Proving its stance, BIV recently announced its first investments in Indonesia, Thailand and Japan, which are among the bigger markets in APAC. One of them is Indonesia’s Meatless Kingdom.

“There are more and more Asians looking into a flexitarian diet without wanting to sacrifice the taste. We can see that there are several Asian plant-based start-ups focusing on serving consumer needs over product attributes. They recognise the wide variety of food tastes, styles, textures and cultures that our food represents and create new products which respond to a very creative and diverse food market. They understand the geography, market opportunity and consumer expectation,” ​said D Ive via email.

Localisation

According to D Ive, Asian plant-based protein start-ups could localise product offerings to fit the traditional palate and cuisines. However, they also have a strategic research and development (R&D) roadmap to expand their product lines catered to a more international market.

For instance, Meatless Kingdom​ has produced ready-to-eat (RTE) mushroom-based “rendang” and satay, complete with traditional spices, in retort pouches. “Rendang” and satay are usually made with conventional meat mixed with spices, and synonymous with local communities living in the Malay Archipelago within South East Asia. However, the start-up is also capable of creating nuggets suited for the Western palate and a plant-based “dendeng” similar to the Chinese smoked “bak kwa” or the West’s beef jerky.

Another defining factor for Asian start-ups is the ingredients used. Instead of soy, wheat and pea protein, these companies focus on sustainably-sourced local ingredients such as jackfruit, mung beans and mushrooms.

In addition, Singapore and GOOD Meat will build possibly Asia’s largest cultivated meat facility​ that is set to operate by Q1 2023. D Ive said this development meant that more consumers would have a chance to taste cultured meat and cemented Singapore’s position as a launchpad for firms to scale for larger markets.

“This is a true testament to the success of alternative protein in the region. We see many other cell-based meat companies setting up their pilot plants within Singapore and in turn, get the nod for regulatory approval,”​ he said.

Indonesia’s market potential

Meatless Kingdom was BIV’s first Indonesian portfolio, signalling the promising market potential of the Muslim-majority country. According to D Ive, factors that bolster its potential include the sheer size of the market and demand, and an audience that has generally consumed balanced diets with many plant- and fermentation-based food.

He said that plant-based protein consumption in Indonesia is estimated to increase from US$109.5m in 2020 to US$628.6m in 2022. The Indonesian plant protein market has shown strong growth, with a CAGR of 36.8% due to the rise of sustainability concerns coupled with increased health mindfulness among consumers. Subsequently, the industry there is expected to continue growing at a pace of 27.5% CAGR from 2021 to 2027.

Regarding fermented food, a staple in Indonesia is the “tempe” or “tempeh”. Legumes, usually soy, are dehulled, soaked, boiled and fermented with the starter Rhizopus spp​. Besides “tempe”, the country is known for other fermented food products like “tape ketela” (fermented cassava tuber) and “terasi” (fish or shrimp paste) based on an unrelated study​.

“Indonesian consumers are starting to include more vegetables and fruits in their diets by adopting plant-based food or becoming vegetarian. With the shift to plant-based proteins, the reliance on factory-farmed animals in Indonesia is expected to reduce,” ​he said.

Proteins, probiotics and healthy ageing are major focus areas of our upcoming Growth Asia Summit in Singapore from 11 to 13 October. Check out big-name brands, international experts and pioneering start-ups slated to present here.

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