Plant-based progress? Japan’s NEXT MEATS touts cleaner labels but better texture and taste

By Hui Ling Dang

- Last updated on GMT

Dr. FOODS, a spinoff from NEXT MEATS, has developed fully plant-based versions of foie gras and caviar. ©NEXT MEATS
Dr. FOODS, a spinoff from NEXT MEATS, has developed fully plant-based versions of foie gras and caviar. ©NEXT MEATS

Related tags plant-based alternative proteins Clean label Texture Taste Japan

Tokyo-based NEXT MEATS’s latest innovation claims to offer several advantages over existing plant-based products, including improved taste and texture despite minimal use of ingredients, and being ambient storage-friendly.

The firm unveiled the soy protein-based meat alternative named NEXT BEEF 1.0 at a trade fair in Thailand earlier this year.

“Based on feedback given to our plant-based short rib and skirt steak, we worked on improving the texture and taste during the development of NEXT BEEF 1.0.

“We put some of it into Japanese curry, and the response was very positive— everything that we prepared were wiped out by visitors at the event,” ​Mitsuru Anthony Ueno, chief operating officer of NEXT MEATS USA, told FoodNavigator-Asia​.

According to Ueno, the product is primarily made of soy protein, water and sunflower oil, and can be stored at room temperature for up to 12 months.

“I would say the biggest difference between us and our competitors is that we don’t use any artificial colouring or flavouring. We want our products to be healthy, so we decided not to go that direction [of using chemicals to enhance taste]. The fact that we only use three main ingredients was well received by many people that I talked to.

“Our partner company in Japan specialises in canned food and is equipped with technology to preserve food without using any chemical preservatives. Furthermore, the cost of shipping frozen food products is extremely high. As we are looking to expand into markets in Europe, US, India, and South East Asia (SEA), we decided to make an ambient product to facilitate exportation and to be more price competitive.”

Currently, the company is focusing on B2B sales of NEXT BEEF 1.0.

The unflavoured nature of the meat alternative has proven to be a hit among restaurant chefs, as they prefer to cook it in their own ways.

“We spoke to many professional chefs, who all said similar things about wanting to use it for different cuisines, such as Italian, Chinese and Korean. Hence, NEXT BEEF 1.0 is just like raw meat, which doesn’t have any flavour other than the taste of meat itself. It is up to the cook to create their own dishes by adding in condiments and sauces as they wish.”

Nevertheless, Ueno recognised that general consumers would likely prefer flavoured and ready-to-heat products for a quick meal.

“If we were to start focusing on B2C, we have to cater to the flavour preferences of consumers in different countries. That’s probably the next step for us, and we would like to find local partners that are willing to import our unflavoured plant-based meat, develop and produce finished products such as packaged or convenience food, and distribute them.”

Ethical replacements

A spinoff from NEXT MEATS, Dr. FOODS has developed fully plant-based versions of foie gras, caviar, and truffle butter.

“Because of the unethical way foie gras and caviar are typically obtained, the scientists and doctors working together at NEXT MEATS wanted to develop products that are ethically made and consumed. We started R&D and invented a vegan formula for foie gras, caviar and truffle butter, establishing Dr. FOODS thereafter,” ​Ueno shared.

As a number of countries around the world have banned the production of foie gras, Dr. FOODS aims to provide a cost-effective substitute.

“Our vegan caviar is made of a special Japanese seaweed that replicates the texture and taste as real caviar, and comes at a lower cost. Truffle itself is vegan — what we did was to create the butter not from dairy milk, but from vegetable oil.

“As for our vegan foie gras, we are still working on the texture but the taste is quite similar, so it can be used as an alternative solution to real foie gras. It is also much cheaper.”

Bigger opportunities abroad

Although started and headquartered in Japan, NEXT MEATS admitted that its domestic market is “not really ready” for plant-based meat alternatives just yet.

However, the historic high number of travellers to Japan in the post-COVID era has seen an increasing demand for vegan options.

“Approximately 10% of foreign visitors are vegan, but there are not that many vegan restaurants here. That’s where we come in and how we are picking up sales in B2B channels,” ​said Ueno.

More importantly, the firm has turned its attention to overseas markets, such as Europe, the US and SEA, where veganism is more widely accepted and the vegan populations comparatively larger.

Besides offices in Singapore and the US, it is partnering fruit and vegetable supplier Van Gelder to expand in the Netherlands and is “actively moving towards” Thailand.

“Our biggest market is the Netherlands, followed by the US and SEA. We are sending some products to India as well, owing to the big vegetarian community in the country. There has been interest from Thailand, and we hope to use it as a springboard to neighbouring countries.

At the same time, NEXT MEATS is looking to leverage its stake in US hamburger chain Wayback Burgers to grow the business. 

“We have the rights to Wayback Burgers in Japan and SEA. In our domestic market, we have created vegan burgers, which are not available in the US. This was made possible because of NEXT MEATS and Dr. FOODS.”


Protein Trends and Healthier Product Innovation will be major topics of focus at Growth Asia Summit 2024 – join us in Singapore to learn about market opportunities and glean insights from major industry experts. Find out more here

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