The high-profile Oscar season pre-party is all set to go vegan this year. In solidarity with best actor nominee and longtime vegan Joaquin Phoenix, the buzz is that the menu will include burgers, spaghetti and meatballs and a range of other plant-based dishes for the A-list Hollywood celebrities.
In fact, many other award ceremonies this year removed animal products from their menu, including the Golden Globes and the Critics’ Choice Awards.
The trend is visible closer home too. Digest this: India has pipped China and US in plant-based meat consumers, reveals a recent study by Good Food Institute, a US-based nonprofit organisation that promotes plant-based alternatives to animal products. As per the study, 63% of Indian consumers were ‘very or extremely likely to purchase plant-based meat regularly,’ followed closely by Chinese consumers at 62% while US lags behind at 33%.
The findings are fascinating especially given that China has a 1200 year old history of mock meat with its range of imitation meat dishes and USA which has spent billions of dollars to popularise such products.
“Vegetarian values are deeply ingrained in the Indian psyche. India leads the world in percentage of vegetarian population at 28%. Even the rest 72% do not eat it daily as is common in other parts of the world. The per capita consumption of meat in India is one of the lowest in the world. The primary reasons for people comsume meat is for the taste and hence they are far more open to trying vegetarian options which can taste like animal meat,” says Abhishek Sinha, co-founder & CEO, Good Dot, an Udaipur-based food tech startup advocating plant based meat alternatives in India.
Sinha would know. The seed of his company, Good Dot, was sown way back in 2003-04 when he read an article on tissue culture based meat research being carried out in the Netherlands. “I was a meat eater back then but this piece of research fascinated me as a consumer. So I kept track of the alternate meat industry and in 2013, a product development team was formed to work on the project of such alternatives and finally in 2017, the first commercial product was launched,” he recalls.
(Pic Source: The Good Food Institute)
The global market for alternative meat
There has been an increased leaning towards non-meat based protein alternatives. International players such as Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat which offer substitute products for meat have been doing brisk business. Infact, reports predict that the global meat substitute market size which was valued at $4.1 billion in 2017 is expected to scale up to $8.1 billion by 2026. Europe dominated the market in 2017, accounting for 38.5% of the total revenue.
There are two broad categories that exist — plant based meat and cultured meat. Plant-based meat extracts proteins from sources like soyabean or wheat, cultured meat is grown in labs from the cells of a live animal. The latter is not commercially available at present.
Sinha knew that there would be an avid set of consumers for such products in the India market as well. The rationale is obvious. “The opportunity in the Indian market is immense. Meat eaters are looking for healthier and environmentally more sustainable alternatives to animal meat. There is also a strong trend of flexitarians — people who consume both animal meat and plant based meats,” he adds.
Moreover, around 74% of Indians are meat eaters who represent the biggest consumer segment of plant based meat. And even for vegetarians, such alternatives translate to innovative cuisine and novel sources of protein. “People are curious and experimental, they want to know what plant-based meat is all about,” says Sinha, who gave up on non-vegetarian food six years back and, by his own admission, doesn’t miss it at all.
Abhishek Sinha, CEO, Good Dot
The market differentiator
Interestingly, 85% of Good Dot’s clientele are meat eaters. The company sells around 12k-15k units of their products daily which implies that around 50,000 consumers are eating such food products on a daily basis.
Sinha says that their products cut across the clutter, be it in taste, price or shelf stability at room temperature. “We make upstream products (chunks of meat) as compared to downstream products of many players (like burger patty, sausages). This opens a larger generic market for us. We are also at price parity with animal meat. In fact some of our products are more affordable than animal meat. The global products are much more expensive than animal meats,” he said.
Besides this, their products are shelf-stable at room temperature as opposed to global products that are either frozen or refrigerated. “This reduces the storage and transportation costs and opens up a much larger market for our products,” he added.
The company currently has vegan alternatives for lamb, chicken in the market retailed out of their website, Amazon and their partnership with RCM, a direct selling company. Products like alternatives to pork, beef and fish are in various stages of development. The startup claims that there are no side effects of the products as the ingredients are plant based and they are healthier than animal meat. The products are high in protein, dietary fibres, zero cholesterol and have no antibiotics and hormones. “Meat is a very inefficient form of protein production. Moreover the ecological, health and ethical aspects of animal meat have a large negative footprint. Thus there is an urgent need to include tasty, affordable and healthy alternatives to animal meat,” Sinha explains.
Learnings and line ups
Sinha reminisces how the texture of their first product – vegan mutton – was akin to the mutton thigh. Around 24 different ingredients and spices were blended in the formulation with different calorific values. “It went through different heat and pressure processes with the addition of oil and water along the way. Finally when our first product was developed and we sent it to the lab for nutritional analysis, the calorific value of that product came to 224 calories, which is the same as an actual mutton thigh calorie value. This is practically impossible to plan and develop,” he recalls enthusiastically.
Such was the euphoria about this that the startup framed the number 224 in their offices to remind themselves about the happy coincidence.
Without divulging any numbers, Sinha says that the plan ahead is to target an exponential growth of over 100% vis-a-vis the last year. “We will keep scaling up massively. We are exporting to Dubai and Canada and have been approached by companies of Australia, US, Africa, Singapore and UK. Our plan in the next five years is to be the world’s largest plant based meat manufacturer in terms of volume of meat sales,” he adds.
The company also plans to set up Vegan QSRs across India called GoodDo, named after a rescued goat. These are being set up under a sister company and 13 outlets have been opened so far.
Sinha is bullish about the road ahead. He firmly believes that plant based alternatives provide a clear and actionable path to the problems plaguing the current food system. “We give value to the green dot which is the good dot. It is good for health. Green dot is also our brand logo. This is indeed my life’s calling,” he beams.
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