July 19, 2021 — Meeting Asia’s growing appetite for alternative proteins may unlock new growth potential for sustainable food producers. Over the past two decades, global protein consumption has grown by around 45%, while Asian countries generated 63% of that overall increase between 2000 and 2019, according to a new report.
Since then, local companies have quickly stepped up their research into cultured meats, yeast engineering, insect-based ingredients, fermented technology, and other smart solutions. However, barriers to wider consumer acceptance today still include demands for clean labels for less processed and more commonly ‘known’ ingredients, as well as a clear desire for more ‘higher quality animal protein. “.
These ideas and correlated implications were presented by Food Industry Asia (FIA) and AlphaBeta, titled The Future of Proteins in Asia, which illustrates the key market factors that could impact food businesses in this region over the next decade.
The report summarizes key developments in the protein demand landscape, focusing broadly on protein consumption in Asia, with specific information on China, Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam – “l ‘Asia-5’.
“With more than 500 million new people moving to cities in the region over the next decade and more than 800 million new people entering the consumer class, growth prospects are solid,” Jiang said. Yifan, head of scientific and regulatory affairs at the FIA. FoodIngredientsFirst.
However, she notes, a country-specific approach is needed to develop a focused business strategy. “Asian consumers are extremely diverse in terms of tastes and preferences across regions, urban and rural areas, age groups, income levels, and food cultures and traditions. “
“Major trends are also manifesting themselves differently within markets, including the shift to plant-based foods, national food policies affecting supply and the development of non-traditional categories. “
Fraser Thompson, Founder and CEO of AlphaBeta, adds: “Meeting the growing demand for protein in Asia could open up exciting new business models for the protein industry, building on promising developments in the sustainable production of protein. traditional proteins as well as technological breakthroughs in aquaculture and non-traditional proteins.
A regional market in full maturity
While the alternative protein category is still in its infancy in most Asian markets, significant investments have been made in cultured meats, yeast engineering, fermentation, and machine learning to discover new edible plants. .
The current focus is also on developing alternative meat products more familiar to the Asian diet, including ground pork and seafood.
Preferences for traditional food retail outlets, such as wet markets, may shift to modern grocery shopping and e-commerce. This particularly applies to urban areas in China, the Philippines and Vietnam. Consumption may also be shifted from foodservices to food retailing as the trend to eat out is on the decline in some markets.
“We are seeing an increasing number of customers purchasing alternative meat products and also a growing number of catering establishments using non-traditional proteins in their preparations, including for Asian dishes – but the overall market share remains very high. low and food applications remain largely in the West. stylish dishes, ”says Shivin Kohli, partner at AlphaBeta FoodIngredientsFirst.
Over the past few months, the region’s local food scene has been revitalized with fresh herbal introductions inspiring new iterations of traditional cooking staples.
Tokyo-based Next Meat, for example, unveiled vegan Japanese grilled yakiniku meat in Singapore, while Haofood’s peanut-based chicken made its debut in Chinese and Indonesian recipes through various partnerships with Shanghai catering. .
“There is a series of exciting developments, particularly in ‘core markets’ like Singapore, where new products regularly hit shelves and industry stakeholders – especially government, large food companies and start-ups. -ups in food technology – push the boundaries of innovation, ”Yifan says.
Last December, Eat Just’s cultured chicken meat was given the green light for sale in Singapore as an ingredient in chicken bites. The food tech pioneer recently teamed up with Madame Fa of JW Marriott Singapore South Beach to replace conventional chicken with cultured chicken at set times of the day.
Also recently, cell-based protein technology has been making waves in the seafood category with Singapore-based Shiok Meats announcing his US $ 12.6 million Series A funding round. The funds will be used to build a “first of its kind” commercial pilot plant from which the company plans to launch its chopped shrimp product in 2022.
Obstacles to Wider Consumer Acceptance
The Asian diet has also traditionally included a number of “alternative” proteins, including vegetarian protein options such as jackfruit, tofu, and tempeh.
The report points out that insects are also commonly eaten as a source of protein in Southeast Asia and particularly in Vietnam, where a range of insect protein companies, including Cricket One, are developing insect protein powders at use in snacks.
However, there are also barriers to widespread acceptance. For example, Asian consumers appreciate own-brand products (ie containing “fresh” and “known” ingredients) and are wary of overly “processed” products.
“This has important implications for alternative protein companies to guide investment in research, production and product sales in the region,” note the report’s authors.
And while consumers in China, Indonesia and Vietnam have attributed a preference for the plant-based diet to health and environmental concerns, others in the same markets are demanding more of the associated ‘premium’ animal protein. to “luxury, festivities and tradition. . “
On the supply side, government regulation and advocacy, especially in the pursuit of food security goals, could increase production of certain priority products to the detriment of alternative protein companies.
The Chinese Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs recently developed a “Five-Year Action Plan for the Promotion of Meat, Beef and Mutton Development” to improve and secure local beef supply. and in sheep.
Growing middle class revitalizes markets
Rising incomes have played an important role in increasing the demand for protein in developing Asian countries compared to other countries. The report points out that this contribution will increase over the next decade, with 50 million people from Asia-5 expected to be added to the global middle class each year.
This “middle class effect” could lead to above-historical average protein consumption growth in the Asia-5 region through 2030 – 2.9% per year, compared to 2.5% per year between 2000 and 2019.
China currently leads the category of alternative proteins – which already account for 26 percent of global protein consumption – due to both the size of the market and the growing acceptance of consumers.
“For example, research has shown that one in two Chinese consumers are likely to consume cultured meats,” notes Shivin Kohli, partner at AlphaBeta.
A survey in China found that 34% of consumers said they ate less pork than the year before the study because of the perceived negative health attributes of meat such as saturated fat, calories and high cholesterol. Meanwhile, 36 percent of consumers said they would cut back on their meat intake over the next 12 months.
China itself has rapidly developed as an “alternative protein hub,” being the largest producing country outside of the United States for plant-based meats.
Filling the gaps in the country analysis
While the growing consumer acceptance of non-traditional proteins in Asia is clearly demonstrated, the report points to a lack of rigorous information on the health and nutritional benefits of various categories of alternative proteins, particularly suited to the Asian phenotype. .
Differences between Western and Asian phenotypes could influence the latter’s tolerance to certain food groups and ingredients, and recommended consumption levels.
Current research such as the EAT-Lancet Commission report referenced in the report provides only a regional overview of current dietary reference intakes and deficiencies, with a lack of information at country level, as well as of intakes. reference food through parameters such as age groups and ethnicities.
“It is imperative that industry stakeholders conduct rigorous scientific research to fill the gaps in our still emerging understanding of the nutritional benefits of proteins and other food groups,” warn the report’s authors.
“Industry associations and research groups could collaborate on this research at a pre-competitive level. Strong financial and technical support from local governments will also be essential to support this research.
By Benjamin Ferrer
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