Meat Your Future — How Plant-Based Proteins are Changing the Way People Eat Around the Globe
Recently I was invited to a Hungry Planet tasting session hosted by Fundel, an innovative fund headquartered in Singapore and expanding rapidly throughout the Asia Pacific region. It was a great experience, with a wide variety of foods provided, all based on Hungry Planet’s patented plant-based meat replacement. I’m not new to plant-based protein by any means — I’ve tried plenty in the past, and my wife even went vegan for a couple of weeks after we watched Game Changers on Netflix! But I was pretty shocked at just how much choice the sector now has to offer compared to what was out there even just a few years ago. The Hungry Planet team offered up potstickers, lamb satay, bolognese pasta, chicken nuggets, a vegan cheeseburger, and even Singapore chili crab dip mantou — none of which contained an ounce of real meat. Even more impressive than the variation was the taste, as most of the dishes served were delicious. It was a real eyeopener as to how far plant-based proteins have come from the days of bland tofu hotdogs being the only real option. Needless to say, it got me thinking — with such convincing faux meat now available to consumers, how are these products impacting meat consumption, and where is the plant-based protein market headed, both globally and in Southeast Asia specifically?
The Global Outlook on Plant-Based Proteins
Globally, plant-based protein already represents a huge and rapidly growing market. The industry currently sits at roughly 12 billion USD, and the projections indicate growth to almost triple that number by 2026. The vast majority of that global market exists in the United States and Europe — two regions with traditionally higher meat consumption rates than in many parts of Asia, with only 10% of Europeans and 5% of U.S. adults identifying as vegetarian. That strong appetite for meat combined with growing awareness of the health benefits of plant-based foods has led to plant-based faux meats outpacing growth in meat consumption by about eleven to one — 23% to 2% in 2018.
While the American and European markets are certainly expected to continue to dominate the industry in the near future, the Asian market should begin to close the gap throughout the 2020s. China is already looking to plant-based meat substitutes in the face of rising costs of staple meats like pork, and relatively low penetration across Asia as a whole represents a huge opportunity for growth, especially considering the fact that Asia is home to four of the world’s top five vegetarian markets. The Asia Pacific market, in particular, is set to double by 2025, slightly lagging the growth in the market as a whole, but still representing a major opportunity for both established global brands and newer local players.
The Major Players in Plant-Based Protein
There have been some significant deals inked recently by some of the major players in plant-based meat products. Beyond Meats is by far the largest company in the space, having gone public in 2019 with a valuation of $9 billion USD. The company’s flagship product, the Beyond Burger, has enjoyed significant success both on grocery store shelves and in the fast-food market, where its inclusion on the menu generated a 10% sales increase for A&W Canada. Another multi-billion-dollar player is Impossible Foods, who raised $300 million in Series E funding in 2019 and is now valued at $2 billion. Much like Beyond Meats’ success in the fast-food market, Impossible Foods has partnered with Burger King to offer the Impossible Whopper at stores across North America. While these two giants and many others focus on proprietary soy, wheat, and pea protein blends, startups like Nutriati and InnovoPro are betting on chickpeas as the next big protein source. Chickpeas offer a lot of benefits, not the least of which are the quality of protein and relatively environmentally friendly production process, and while chickpea protein is currently a small segment of the overall market, it’s expected to be worth almost $17 billion by 2025.
Is Snacking the Next Big Driver of Plant-Based Protein Growth?
While the major players currently focus primarily on meat-substitutes like burger patties and sausages, an underserved market is beginning to take the industry in a new direction — snacking. When my wife went vegan briefly, there were a few things that brought her back to meat. The availability of vegan dishes in restaurants and ingredients on grocery store shelves were certainly major factors, but another big one was how hard it was to find snacks. It’s actually shocking how few snack foods meet vegan standards, and for snackers (which my wife and I most certainly are) that can make maintaining a vegan lifestyle very difficult. As a result, the vegan snack food market is set to explode, with an 8.7% compound annual growth rate projected through 2028, driven primarily by salted plant-based snacks, which will account for just over 40% of the total. Having seen firsthand how the availability (or lack thereof) of plant-based snack foods and options in general can undercut veganism, it’s reasonable to infer that growth in that area will likely coincide with a larger number of people choosing to (or continuing to) go vegan — a positive driver for the plant-based foods market as a whole.
What Plant-Based Protein Growth Means for South-East Asia
Plant-based meat substitutes are already starting to take hold in Southeast Asia, and if you want proof, look no further than the fact that Impossible Foods has recently expanded into the region — including Singapore — in order to gain an early foothold in the market. Much like in the Chinese market, the primary driver of plant-based meat growth in SEA is likely to be skyrocketing pork prices. Pork is ubiquitous in dishes of all types in the region, and faux pork is already starting to see some adoption — although the process is likely to be slow as changes to traditional dishes are likely to be met with resistance. But, despite the cultural hurdles that faux meat will need to overcome to gain large scale penetration, the race for market share is on, and local innovators are developing solutions designed specifically for the Asian market in order to compete with the global giants flooding the region.
Whether or not the people of Southeast Asia are ready to trade their pork for plants is yet to be seen, but what is certain is that plant-based meats are here to stay, and we need them now more than ever with global meat prices on the rise and the environmental and social impacts of animal-based protein production becoming more and more difficult to ignore. Those impacts are drawing socially-focused funds like Big Idea Ventures into the protein production space in addition to the heavy investment from traditional venture capitalists like us at DSGCP — focusing on plant-based, vegan snacking as a trend with our latest investment with Temasek in The Growthwell Group. It’s clear that plant-based proteins have a lot to offer Southeast Asia and the world, in both financial and human terms, making the space extremely exciting!
P.S. Happy New Year everyone!
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