OMG Meat is Thai Union’s first alternative protein range which covers both meat (e.g. pork buns, chicken nuggets) and seafood (e.g. fish nuggets, crab shumai), and was launched just last year but the firm has already set some ambitious targets for it.
“We see our plant-based products as an integral part of our [sustainability] strategy , [especially as] we know that our consumers are changing, and we want to provide them with the choices they’re looking for,” Thai Union Managing Director Alternative Proteins Maarten Geraets told FoodNavigator-Asia.
“Gen Z and Millennials especially are increasingly embracing flexitarian diets with more sources of proteins [and] we can attract new consumers into the seafood category by creating more and varied consumption opportunities [such as] plant-based products.”
OMG Meat is already listed in over 100 supermarkets and physical retail outlets nationwide, in addition to being available via e-commerce all over the country – but the firm has much bigger plans for the range than focusing on just Thailand.
“By early 2023, we also plan to be present in two European markets with alternative seafood offerings, partnering with some of the largest retailers in their countries and gaining exposure to hundreds of stores,” said Geraets.
“By 2025, we anticipate that our alternative protein business will be bringing in US$30mn in revenue [and to achieve this] our product range is in a constant state of evolution and improvement.
“As it is we have developed items like plant-based crab and tuna in addition to non-seafood options like pork buns and chicken nuggets, we’ve just launched plant-based dumplings [and] as we are continuing to perfect the taste, smells, and textures.”
The perfection of these sensory attributes is key to driving repeat consumption, so Thai Union is attempting to integrate what he has dubbed a ‘wow factor’ into its products as well.
“Consumers are very willing to try new propositions, but we need to impress consumers right from the start to drive repeated consumption in the markets we’re playing in - Only with delicious taste and attractive textures will they return,” he said.
“So, this is what we aim for: products with a wow factor. To be able to sustain the growth of the category, it all comes down to building trust with consumers and delivering quality products with nutritional benefits [so this is crucial].”
Price parity in sight
When asked about the current existing price gaps that still exist between plant-based and traditional proteins, Geraets highlighted that this is less obvious for seafood as compared to other meats.
“There’s still a price gap for seafood, but it is not as big as it is for alternatives to low-cost meats such as chicken,” he said.
“We are also seeing our more mature markets moving towards economies of scale in alternative proteins, which will drive further consumer adoption, added business potential for producers and retailers in Europe, as well as bringing consumer prices down to match traditional proteins, or even below – [so] price parity is on the way.”
To accelerate this change even further, Thai Union also has an Alternative Proteins hub in Thailand where it supports the larger alternative proteins category as a whole by co-manufacturing for other food companies, in addition to manufacturing its own alternative products.
“We do already have OEM products available on shelves throughout Europe, and consumer response has been very promising [plus] we also aim to be a co-manufacturing partner for more food companies looking for alternative protein solutions,” he added.
“We’re leveraging R&D and manufacturing capabilities to collaborate with these companies, as we believe this is a task that no one company can do on their own and collaboration and partnerships is very necessary.”
Further upcoming growth
With all the focus and investment Thai Union has poured into its alternative proteins business, it is clear that the firm believes that plant-based products are here for the long run. With its primary business being in seafood, it also aims to bring alternative seafood up to the same level of growth that alternative meat has seen, and beyond.
“We are only at the start of a long journey - alternative seafood is around eight years behind alternative meat and was worth the equivalent of 0.1% of the seafood sector in 2020,” Geraets added.
“So there is massive potential for plant-based seafood to offset some of the current CO2 emissions by more sustainable alternatives that will also drive business growth for Thai Union.
“Consumer awareness around sustainability is also growing, as are tangible global actions from companies and governments. As awareness grows, so does the [alternative proteins] category [and] Thai Union wants to help drive this dietary shift.”