World’s most vegan-friendly nation? New climate bill reinforces support for plant-based diets rooted in Taiwanese culture

By Si Ying Thian

- Last updated on GMT

Textured-based protein dominates most of Taiwan's plant-based foods © Getty Images
Textured-based protein dominates most of Taiwan's plant-based foods © Getty Images

Related tags vegan climate action Low Carbon plant-based Sustainability

Taiwan’s largest plant-based food manufacturers claim consumers are increasingly adopting vegetarian diets for sustainability and health reasons, as opposed to religious factors, and say that recent government policies are helping propel further growth.

Taiwan’s Council of Agriculture recently passed a climate bill mandating government departments to promote low-carbon diets, including plant-based and locally sourced foods.

This was preceded by lobbying from local civil society organizations, which managed to get sufficient political support to pass the bill.

We spoke with two of the largest plant-based food manufacturers in Taiwan, Hoya Foods and Vegefarm, who said that the bill was “not surprising at all​” given the Taiwanese government’s long-standing supportive approach.

Impact of the bill on manufacturers

Sean Hsieh, business director at Hoya Foods, said that the growth in the plant-based sector was due to a concerted effort by several parties.

The government of Taiwan has continuously published several projects regarding the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development to encourage companies to develop more ESG solutions, so for sure [this bill] does accelerate [that].

“Even the Taiwanese people are familiar with vegetarian foods. One kilo of beef costs about 60 kilo of carbon emissions, so it is a huge impact and consumers are starting to think about the advantages of plant-based alternatives. The whole industry is moving towards ESG issues.”

Ten Wang, international sales manager at Vegefarm, is foreseeing an increase in orders from the military and schools.

I can give you an example of the Taiwanese military. Recently, what we've been observing is that because of these government policies and changes, we've had orders from the military as they are switching their diets to more plant-based, low-carbon alternatives.

“We've had a lot of these orders coming from primary schools, large franchises, and the military. People try a plant-based diet, maybe not every day. But it's like an alternative option, and they slowly get used to it. I think it could permeate the market.”

Changing face of the plant-based customer

Plant-based food sales between 2022 and 2026 in Taiwan is forecasted to record a CAGR of 8.0%, reaching USD 46.5 million in 2026.

Religion used to dominate consumer attitudes around plant-based diets. As Buddhism is rooted in Taiwanese culture, “vegetarian day” is referred to as the first day or 15th​ day of the lunar calendar.

Vegefarm told us that its main export markets in Asia are Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, and Singapore; and justified that “vegetarian for religious reasons is always our first entry.​”

But both manufacturers recognised that customers adopt a plant-based diet for different reasons.

For the younger generation, the rationale tends to centre around environmental sustainability, health consciousness and humanitarian reasons.

What’s next for plant-based food manufacturing?

A recent Chinese study​ elicited that some of key barriers in adopting a vegetarian diet included inadequate taste and limited choices.

Traditionally, the Chinese diaspora would consume vegetarian food made with textured vegetable protein.

When people think of vegetarian products [in Taiwan], they associate them with tofu, tofu skin, soybean curds and gluten puffs. These have long permeated the market here. With the [plant-based food] developments in the West, people in Taiwan want more creative options.​” Wang from Vegefarm explained.

Localised plant-based meat for Malaysia © Vegefarm

Hoya Foods has also tapped into Western trends, with Europe and Americas making up the bulk of their export sales.

Due to the different eating styles, we realised bringing our Taiwanese products to the local markets does not fit. To try to get our products as close to the markets, we make Western-style food like burgers, nuggets, or even fish, with plant-based meat. While we want to reinvent, we also try to get our products as close to the market.”

FoodNavigator-Asia​ previously released a podcast episode​ highlighting the need for brands to localize their products in South East Asia in the increasingly crowded plant-based market.

Hoya Foods also outlined plans to fortify seafood alternatives with more nutrients comparable to actual seafood, such as optimising protein from algae, as well as their longer-term goal of “farm-to-table, zero carbon emissions plant-based food.​”

From manufacturing to transportation, both brands are targeting to reduce carbon emissions and opting for more energy-efficient alternatives such as solar energy to power their production. 

In terms of the bill, something we’re working towards is acquiring carbon reduction labels as it’s an important aspect determining consumer behaviour in the future.

“This label is special as it examines the whole supply chain. Getting this label will definitely help our products to be more visible and become a better choice for customers.​” Vegefarm added.

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