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Plant protein is on the rise among Asian consumers, with a strong shift in consumer preferences motivated by lifestyle changes during the Covid-19 pandemic and a developing taste for new flavours for meat, dairy and even seafood alternatives. With the emerging popularity of veganism and plant-based diets, the demand for meat alternatives has never been greater. Using our Foresight Engine technology, we have been able to accurately uncover insights and curate trends in the food and beverage industry across China, India and Southeast Asia.

Let’s have a look at each market and how it evolved with plant protein trends and new product developments.

China Pivots Towards Plant Protein

Plant-based protein products have always been heavily featured in the Chinese market, with soy-based products a common sight. It is no surprise then that the average Chinese consumer is willing to adopt a plant-based diet as the appetite and demand for such products are already inculcated in their minds. 

Quick service restaurants (QSR) and retail establishments have introduced a more diverse selection of products starting from international offerings like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods who have partnered with QSRs like Starbucks and Wagas. US-based JUST Egg and Hong Kong’s Omnipork have also been rolling out their products in supermarkets and popular eCommerce sites. 

Vegan Burger

Locally, new products from homegrown firms like Zhenmeat, Jinzi, and Starfield are becoming increasingly available in many forms as they offer more plant-based alternatives for consumers. The increasing uptake in these meat alternatives is an encouraging sight as it shows a clear and positive demand for such products. If KFC is able to introduce plant-based chicken nuggets, the potential for other major players to offer more of such innovative products is massive.    

New Age Diets and Novelty Experiences in India

Similar to China, the large vegan and vegetarian population in the nation contributed to the popularity of plant-based protein. Based on our analysis, the popularity of plant-based protein in India surged in 2020 as the topic registered a 129% growth year-on-year. 

This is likely driven by new product launches of dairy alternatives, as Indian consumers are seeking better alternatives to supplement their nutritional needs. For example, Starbucks has introduced a vegan cold brew, made with the essence of soy.

Food and beverage companies that have a focus on vegan alternatives are also sprouting up with the likes of Goodmylk and EVO Foods launching new dairy alternatives and plant-based eggs respectively. The possibilities for innovation are seemingly endless here, as ADM has established a partnership with Imagine Meats, an India-based plant protein company to recreate classic Indian recipes like biryani and butter chicken. 

Localisation to Suit Taste Preferences of Each Nation

The ASEAN markets which include Singapore, the Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia have welcomed vegan and vegetarian options with open arms. The motivation factor for shifting to plant protein varies from country to country. In Singapore, Thailand, and the Philippines, these nations associate plant-based products as healthier and a contributing factor towards maintaining a healthy lifestyle. 

In Indonesia, consumers are keen to try out new diets, particularly exploring plant-based diets, causing interest to peak at around June and July 2020. Meanwhile in Malaysia, interest in plant-based protein products are still relatively emerging and not as popular compared to the neighbouring countries.

Soy Meat

Some of the noteworthy product launches of the past year are Oatly’s Almond Milk Latte which is available at Starbucks stores across ASEAN, Mos Burger and BreadTalk’s collaborations with Impossible Foods in Singapore, and Snappea, a pea-based milk launched in Malaysia. Some of these products were also developed to cater to the local palate. 

These new launches are not only popular among the vegan and vegetarian consumers, but also general consumers who are interested to try such products. Appealing to a more general consumer base would be beneficial for companies looking to conceptualise their plant-based products. Fresh and interesting vegan products that are created with local consumers in mind can act as an accessible gateway towards encouraging more people to take up a meat-free diet.

Turning the Challenges into a Opportunistic Market

The main issue with the plant-based protein model is converting customers from a “try it once” mentality to adopting a meat-free diet. Prior to the year before last, meat alternatives were a premium and were scarcely available in mainstream restaurants. Plant-based alternatives are now increasingly common due to the rising demand for such food and contributed by popular establishments like Starbucks offering a wider selection of meat alternatives in their menu. 

Tapping into the discerning consumer’s knowledge of food is key in leveraging the plant-based protein market. The average consumer is now aware of the benefits of adopting a total or partial vegan diet, and have shown interest in trying out such products. Ramping up the availability of meat substitutes in popular restaurants and establishments will not only provide vegans with more choices but will also encourage general consumers to embrace plant-based foods. 

The growing spectre of food shortages around the world will also impact the way consumers see food. This challenge in the global food industry should be seen as a huge opportunity for corporations to develop new and innovative plant-based products. Shifting the focus to make plant-based foods more readily available and delicious for the general population would greatly reduce the environmental impact of animal-based food production.

This article is based on Plant-based Protein Report .