Thai plant-based seafood firm Mantra presses ahead despite slow take-up rate among Asian consumers

By Hui Ling Dang

- Last updated on GMT

Mantra says the plant-based spicy minced shrimp cake is particularly well received due to its highly similar taste to the iconic Thai food. ©Mantra
Mantra says the plant-based spicy minced shrimp cake is particularly well received due to its highly similar taste to the iconic Thai food. ©Mantra

Related tags Thailand plant-based seafood plant-based

Thai plant-based firm Mantra is positioning itself as a viable alternative for seafood allergy sufferers, while also hoping to change consumer perception of “high-sodium” alt-protein products with its MSG-free offerings.

In its third year of business, Mantra thinks that it “still needs time” for most Asian consumers to accept and adopt a plant-based diet in general.

“Consumers in countries like Singapore and Hong Kong have greater awareness of plant-based foods, but those in other Asian markets, including Thailand, will require more education,” ​Pariyaporn Sanjalearn, co-founder of Mantra, told FoodNavigator-Asia​ at FHA-Food & Beverage 2023.

The firm claims to be the first plant-based seafood in its domestic market. It aims to solve the pain points of consumers, among which are shellfish and fish allergies.
“Most plant-based companies start with meat alternatives, but there are also many people who love seafood or those who cannot have seafood because of allergic reactions. We wanted to be different and offer an option that answers the needs of these people,” ​Sanjalearn explained.

Another concern that Mantra seeks to address is the high sodium content commonly associated with plant-based products. Experts have urged manufacturers​ to watch their salt usage and avoid adding them excessively to mask or enhance flavours.

On this point, Sanjalearn said that it is necessary to understand the ingredients of a product.

“The key ingredients that we use are soy protein, pea protein and grains. As the extraction of soy protein involves sodium hydroxide (NaOH), we mix in other natural ingredients that have as little sodium content as possible to formulate our products. This way, the taste and texture is very similar to real seafood, without losing nutritional value. All our products are free of MSG and trans fat,” ​she added.

Iconic flavours not lost

The firm’s product development and manufacturing processes are entirely done in Thailand.

At the moment, Mantra has a range of ready-to-eat (RTE) and ready-to-cook (RTC) vegan seafood products, including minced shrimp, spicy minced shrimp cake, shrimp balls, fish ball, fish fillet, minced fish, as well as plant-based bacon and ham.

It has also expanded into the snacks category with a repertoire of prawn crackers in seven flavours, such as Mala, Thai Spicy Tom Yum, Wasabi, and Sour Cream Onion.

According to Sanjalearn, the spicy minced shrimp cake has been particularly well received, presumably due to its taste that is “99.98%” resemblant to the iconic Thai local food. 

“It has the dish’s distinctive spiciness, but is made without fish sauce, onion or garlic. The taste, mouthfeel and even the smell are similar to the real one. Personally, I really like spicy foods, so I tried to create a version that is both enjoyable and healthy​.

“I believe the feedback [for our products] has been quite positive because people in Thailand are familiar with the taste. The products are also very convenient — for example, you can have a quick meal by simply heating up the RTE shrimp balls, or you can put the RTC items into dishes like noodles. There are many ways to cook them,” ​she shared.

The products are currently retailing at Tops supermarkets and select grocers in Thailand, and available online at platforms such as Line Shopping and Facebook Shop.

Apart from business-to-consumer sales, Mantra is also looking for collaboration opportunities in the food service industry by actively approaching restaurants with vegan menus.

At the same time, plans to enter the Philippines and Singapore’s markets are under way, while the firm continues its hunt for distributors across the region.

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