Although plant-based products have been one of the most rapidly growing food categories over the past few years, several major players in western markets from Beyond Meat to Planterra Foods have been facing financial troubles, with some of these even filing for bankruptcy.
APAC is a considerably younger, less mature player in the plant-based scene, and for this reason industry experts believe it may have a good chance of escaping this slump as long as stakeholders here play their cards right.
“The plant-based sector here in APAC is still very much an emerging category and it is safe to say that its potential has not been fully established,” Roquette Asia Pacific CEO Rohit Markan told FoodNavigator-Asia.
“It is also crucial to remember that a lot of the growth over the past few years has been very centralised on plant-based meats, but there are in fact many more products and categories out there from beverages to yoghurts that have not yet had their time in the limelight.
“So the key word here is diversification, and this is what is really needed in the industry in order to keep growth going and boost demand.”
In the interest of providing diversification and variety, he added that it is important to broaden the scope and investment into areas beyond soy protein despite this being the most traditional and well-known plant-based proteins, as there are many other options in this region that can contribute to the development of products with different flavours and textures.
“APAC has access to a very diverse source of such foods, from peas to almonds to fava beans to various lentils and this is a very good opportunity to increase plant-based variety even further,” he said.
Another important strategy to implement more widely in this region is that of hybrid innovation, which would allow Asian consumers to make a more gradual transition instead of ‘forcing’ them away from traditional diets.
“Hybrid formulation is something that is gaining traction here as well, so products that are not 100% plant-based but have an increased content of plant-based blended with conventional animal protein,” Markan said.
“We have started this as well in working with a seafood manufacturer to create our first hybrid tuna, and we are seeing big things for this particularly in Japan where hybrid products are growing in a very big way.
“This is because when formulated well, there is the opportunity for consumers to still get the taste they are used to and demand, yet also incorporate the healthier and more sustainable benefits into these products so they get the best of both worlds.”
At the end of the day, product taste and texture remain the most important consideration to reach Asian consumers even with health and sustainability rising in popularity in Asia – and increasingly the consumption experience is being judged by the impact of foods on various senses.
“The Asian consumer is very different from others with a particularly strong focus on taste – so even if they know a product is healthier and more sustainable, it is still a must to suit their palates and for it to taste good as they will not compromise,” he said.
“It is not only taste that plays an important role [in the consumption experience] but also the other senses such as smell and mouthfeel, so we launched a Consumer Experience Centre here in Singapore complete with a sensory lab in order to drill down on product areas that might require improvement from a sensory perspective.
“Asian consumers always want more and more variety, but new products – whether plant-based or not - still need to fulfil these sensory requirements in order to be considered desirable so thorough analysis and review is very important.”