Protecting food supply: Plant-based protein exposure boosted in Thailand due to disease outbreaks – CEO
The co-founder of Thailand’s plant-based protein firm More Foods, Kanwra Tanachotevorapong, said there had been increased exposure to plant-based meat alternatives, even among the low- to middle-income groups.
“Our people understand plant-based diets and alternative proteins. We consume a lot of plants, mushrooms and even insect proteins. We already have that knowledge, and it’s easy for Thais to understand that food can come from various sources.
“In the context of the overall population, the plant-based alternative meat segment is still a small market. Not every place has a plant-based option. But now, there’s increased exposure, and the proteins are more accessible in terms of pricing, and it will get even more accessible in future,” said Tanachotevorapong.
Smile with more
Established in 2019, More Foods started as importers of plant-based pioneering brands to Thailand. However, the team received feedback and concerns from domestic consumers that could not be answered. Pricing was also a concern – one packet could go for about 300 baht (US$8), whereas conventional pork costs only 140 baht (US$3.80).
“The flavours in the imported plant-based meat did not taste the same. It used spices like oregano and paprika. These brands also highlighted innovation and sustainability. But for our community, they questioned why one needed to spend so much to save the planet. I also could not explain the ingredient list. I believe when you sell food, you are also responsible for the consumers,” said Tanachotevorapong.
Hence, the team decided to manufacture its proprietary plant-based meat alternative with a capital of US$90,000 from Thai investors and an additional US$120,000 from New York-based VC firm Big Idea Ventures (BIV). The money financed the brand’s marketing efforts, boosting sales and purchasing ingredients.
The firm was part of Cohort 5 of the BIV accelerator programme from February to May 2022. Through the accelerator, More Foods could incorporate itself in Singapore and connect with the Singapore government and other agencies. BIV also connected the firm with scientific fellows to develop the science behind the products and organised technical know-how workshops.
Previously in 2019, the firm also received the National Innovation Agency (NIA) grant from the Thai government to develop its research and development (R&D) capabilities. With the grant, the firm was supported by one researcher and a team of students from Siam University, Bangkok.
More to smile for
More Foods’s bestseller is the vegan- and halal-friendly unseasoned ‘mince’ called More Meat at only 89 baht (US$2.50) for 200g. It is made with local splitgill mushrooms obtained from fair trade and contract farming in southern Thailand areas like Songkhla and Surat Thani and non-GMO soy from North America. The ‘mince’ aims to mimic red meat as Thailand is a large consumer of proteins like beef.
“The ‘mince’ is unflavoured because Thais love to season our food. We add oyster sauce, chilli paste and soy sauce. That’s why we provide unseasoned ‘mince’, so our consumers have the opportunity to season it themselves. We use splitgill mushrooms sourced locally in hopes of adding value to Thai agriculture. The mushroom’s texture is similar to meat due to its fibrous feel,” she said.
The firm has four other SKUs, including curry, Kapow (basil), dumplings and ‘toast’. It is working on its sixth SKU, a ‘tenderloin’ that mimics chicken breast, with the help of another grant with another university. The prototype is expected to be ready before end-2022 and could be commercialised by Q1 2023.
The brand utilises brick-and-mortar and online retail channels, such as Golden Place, Foodland and Villa Market supermarkets, hypermarkets, its e-commerce site, social media like Line, Facebook and Instagram, and e-commerce platforms like Shopee.
In conclusion, Tanachotevorapong is excited at the prospects for the plant-based scene and innovations in Thai agriculture. She said that the market is starting to get saturated, but there is still room for growth.
“As a pioneer, it’s very challenging for us. We need time to conduct R&D. The key is in the base itself. We must ensure it has the essential amino acids. Currently, we use various ingredients to obtain different amino acids.
“For example, soy possesses an almost complete nutrient profile except for methionine. In contrast, mushrooms have higher amounts of other essential amino acids. Hence, we can manipulate the ingredients and create a more efficient food source.
“This is the future of food and better for the consumer. We want to move away from soy and use other sources like rice by-products and seasonal ingredients, but these are still under R&D,” she 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.