Asia’s most ‘unfavourable markets’ for plant-based revealed as report highlights price and processing concerns

By Si Ying Thian

- Last updated on GMT

High price, poor taste and texture, overprocessing were top of the APAC consumer concerns when it comes to plant-based meat consumption © Getty Images
High price, poor taste and texture, overprocessing were top of the APAC consumer concerns when it comes to plant-based meat consumption © Getty Images

Related tags plant based plant-based meat Meat alternatives vegan plant-based Protein

Price premiums, unsatisfactory taste, and a persistent perception of over-processed products are the most common barriers to plant-based meat consumption in Asian markets.

That is according to new report from alt-protein think tank Food Frontier, which added that the most unfavourable markets for plant-based growth were Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Philippines, and India, despite being the world’s largest vegetarian population.

The dominance of traditional plant proteins, such as tempeh and tofu in Indonesia and dahl in Indonesia, and the higher prices of plant-based alternatives were key barriers for plant-based growth.

Other impeding factors were trade-related, such as lengthy business procedures and an underdeveloped distribution capacity in cold storage and logistic infrastructure.

For example, in India, it is reported that foreign goods are charged a relatively higher tariff than other markets. There is also restricted use of ‘dairy’ term in plant-based offerings.

The findings were based on market research conducted across 11 Asian countries on their market suitability for plant-based exports.

Common barriers in favourable markets

The most favourable plant-based markets were China, followed by Singapore, South Korea, Japan, Hong Kong, and Thailand.  

High price premium is a key barrier for the aforementioned markets, except for South Korea where there is a higher price for meat. Plant-based consumption remains concentrated among high-income households and younger consumers, respectively.

Other key barriers include it not being tasty and overly processed with too many preservatives and additives.

There is also limited knowledge of plant-based meat, especially among Chinese consumers, on its nutritional composition and health impact. Consumer knowledge is narrowed to religious reasons driving vegetarianism adoption. 

Some consumers also indicated that the product format and texture were not palatable for them.

Overcoming barriers with NPD innovation

Health is the primary driver for plant-based meat consumption in all markets except for Singapore. However, there is a persisting perception of it being overprocessed.

The researchers advocated more natural health messaging around these foods, experimenting with a short ingredient label to not confuse consumers, and to look qt more different processing methods to increase its ‘natural’ associations.

For specific markets such as Japan where functional food is in demand, manufacturers can explore additives that have multiple functional benefits.

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Industry experts recommend manufacturers to localise flavours to tackle taste concerns among consumers © Getty Images

Ready-to-eat (RTE) meals and snacks are also high-growth categories, appealing to consumers who seek out convenience and ease of meals preparation.

To tackle taste, plant-based meat should also be customised to localised dishes and cuisines.

For example, domestic plant-based meat brands in South Korea seeks a competitive edge over their overseas counterparts by imitating traditional meat dishes, such as marinated barbecued meat slices bulgogi​ and ground burger patty hambak steak​.

Industry experts also highlighted an opportunity for blended products using plant-based meats with animal ingredients to reduce cost and retain the taste of meat. Animal ingredients could be produced through cellular agriculture, such as cultivated fats, to improve the texture of plant-based meat.

In many developing countries where storage is a challenge, the shelf life of plant-based meat can be tackled with low moisture extrusion (LME) technology to produce ambient formats. For instance, shelf-stable, plant-based meat snacks such as jerky, packed in individual 150g to 500g packets, is a thriving category in Chinese supermarkets.

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