Plant-based foods have entered a new era – delicious, juicy, Sikh kebabs and mutton samosas, all 100% vegetarian. Today, animal-derived meat, egg, and dairy food alternatives (commonly referred to as ‘alternative proteins’ or ‘smart proteins’) look, cook, smell, and taste like their animal counterparts. Over the past 18 months, we’ve seen indigenous startups in India’s smart protein sector serving plant-based biryani, kebabs, minced meat, momos and more, looking for a common shift from animal products to support meat lovers. With the market booming and the wide range of plant-based products now available to consumers, questions about ‘why’ and ‘how’ to offer these foods are simply becoming – ‘What’s for dinner?’
Because? Requirements have been brought about by the broken food system.
Our existing protein product systems pose a serious threat to humanity across climate change, biodiversity loss, public health and much more. But asking consumers to switch from chicken to lentils is less likely to work. This is especially true in markets like India, where most meat consumption is likely to occur in the next decade. India is a vegetarian country cut against this myth, 70% of Indians eat ‘non-veg’ (a category that includes meat, seafood and eggs). However, its minimum per capita meat consumption is 3.6 kg – much lower than in countries such as the United States and China. As income levels and urbanization increase, per capita spending is set to rise, driven by consumer ambitions, tastes and meat consumption. Plant-based foods give people the opportunity to make their favorite foods more sustainable and efficient. These products are intended to reliably and predictably replace meat, eggs, and dairy products derived from animals, as they perfectly replicate the sensitive and cultural experience for consumers.
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India’s plant-based food industry has developed more than 40 companies in the meat, egg and dairy categories, launching next-generation plant-based foods online, in restaurants and retail stores, in formats and flavors that resonate well with Indian consumers. The industry is seeing growing demand from an ‘early adopter’ segment of consumers representing a market size of 50-70 million which includes India’s upper-middle-income and high-income segments, urban, up-and-coming mobile, internet-connected, ‘in-parts’ -The aspirational-part-part-moral ‘homogeneous, and very similar to the demand met with their global counterparts in New York, Tel Aviv or Sydney.
However, the real opportunity lies not only in the early adopter market of urban mega-cities, but also in the real mass market of a few million more. And the tide is changing. Companies are using mainstream media personalities in India to create departmental awareness for this growing industry. Ritesh and Genelia Deshmukh’s Imagine Meats have garnered support from many superstar friends – and they have Shah Rukh Khan tweeting to his millions of followers and Salman Khan announcing the launch of their plant-based meat company with the promotion of their products in the Bigg Boss season. Most recently, Olympian Neeraj Chopra has signed up as a brand ambassador for plant-based startup Gooddot, and vegan-superstar couple Virat Kohli and Anushka Sharma have announced a entry into a brand ambassador and investment partnership with Blue Tribe Foods.
In addition to raising awareness, much of the growth we see in smart protein consumption is being driven by critical drivers of taste, price, and convenience. At Good Food Institute India, we worked hand-in-hand with most startups and retailers in the smart protein sector, and saw price announcements through innovative promotions, as we saw Amazon announcing huge discounts for fresh plant-based meat products. Promoting consumer trials last year. We’ve also seen significant distribution growth in both retail and food services, with food service delivery giant Swiggy launching their fast-delivery platforms InstaMart and Haldiram getting a plant-based minced meat and minced meat samosa on their menus to make these products even more so. Accessible
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From burgers and sausages to biryani and kebabs – there are so many exciting innovations to taste. However, there is still a long way to go before tastes and prices reach parity and widespread distribution. This is especially important for India – and getting there will require improving the taste profile, pricing through local supply chains, and the ability to bring the market across the length and breadth of the country to market format.
Globally, alternative protein companies have raised about .1 11.1 billion in invested capital since 2010, of which 73 percent – 8 8 billion – was raised between 2020-2021. However, virtually none of this has reached India or other important markets. Although 2021 was the breakout year for smart proteins in India, the country saw only 10 10 million in investment, a fraction of the global total.
Finally, developing countries like India have the potential to make smart proteins part of the mainstream industry, feeding the majority of the world’s population in the next decade and beyond. India’s world-class talent pool, agro-biodiversity and growing production landscape enable us to showcase a model for advancing the global industry and its growth across the developing world. Our entrepreneurial strength and huge internal market could grow rapidly to compete with any ecosystem on the planet in the next decade, creating a story of great economic growth and resilience for our food system. But to unlock this possibility, we need to consider smart proteins as a movement that will remain here on our plate and as a pillar of India’s green economy.
About the Author: Nicole Rock is a Senior Innovation Specialist at GFI India (GFI India), Central Expert, think tank and convener of Indian ‘Alternative Protein’ or ‘Smart Protein’ sector.
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