Next level: Regulatory acceptance and product accessibility crucial for Middle East alt-protein sector to scale
Developing products suit local taste profiles remain a hurdle in both regions, but APAC has made more regulatory progress in markets such as Singapore, China, Japan and South Korea. It has also seen a wide range of products hit supermarkets shelves and added to restaurant menus.
As such, a Gulfood expert panel in Dubai comprising of Americana Protein Category Marketing Director Zahi El Sabeh, Tindle Co-Founder Timo Recker, TFTAK Centre of Food and Fermentation Technologies Rain Kuldjarv and algae-based food firm ALGAMA CEO Alvyn Severien concluded that taste and accessibility were paramount.
“The taste and the consumer experience when it comes to anything new is no doubt important, meaning we need to ensure consumers have access to these alternative proteins in delicious dishes so their first experience is a good one and they come back as nothing can be worse than them buying these and destroying the dish then not ever trying it again,” Recker said.
“In Singapore, Tindle overcame this by entering foodservice first and working with chefs to ensure people have access to good dishes, and our experience there has also demonstrated that beyond making a good product it is also important to keep consumers coming back in order to really get the category going.”
El Sabeh concurred with the importance of this accessibility, stressing that products could not be limited to fancy restaurants but also had to be made available in trusted retail outlets.
“Basically the entire mix has to work, which means giving consumers a product that they can use easily and conveniently, and also have the means to make it available to them as availability is really key to recognition and acceptance,” he said.
“This means that the products have to be made available not just in any supermarket, but those that are widely recognised and common to consumers so that these are considered easy to find, on a similar level as regular protein like chicken and fish.
“This is the way through to achieve scalable acceptance and change, to make these alternatives available across multiple places, proteins and cuisines so that consumers can increase familiarity with these as quickly as possible.”
Another important area to increase accessibility is to ensure affordability, which Severien highlighted.
“Consumers will consider products that are tastier and that are healthier than current options – but all the promotion in the world will do little good if they can’t afford to make that purchase,” he said.
“The long and short of it is that a product cannot be considered accessible if it is not affordable as no one will buy it – and no purchases mean no consumer trials or acceptance, which in turn means no market growth.”
Regulatory progress crucial
The other area discussed was that of alternative protein regulations, with comparisons to Singapore’s approval of cultivated chicken products and China’s plant-based product standards highlighted as important points of progress in APAC.
“We all know that at present, the alternative protein sector in the Middle East is still really small, and although the industry is working on innovating products and consumer education it is very likely that this will be seen as one to remain on the backburner for progress until regulations come into play,” El Sabeh said.
“It is only with regulatory input that many areas of vast importance to consumers such as cleaner labels, nutritional content and safety standards will be seen as governed to public satisfaction – which is what is the most needed in order to spur on mass scalability and adoption.
“What’s good is the governments are learning from one another, such as the UAE from the USA – but alternative protein is already here, and there is growing awareness in markets like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, so it is important that the regulations keep up with the market demand and innovation as well.”