The growing interest in plant-based food is not just a passing fad as consumers continue to seek out beneficial health food like meat-free diets and plant protein sources. While reducing the consumption of animal products, they are also looking at how they can help reduce their impact on the planet. Here are some key trends and challenges for plant-based food in Asia.
The global meat substitutes sector is worth over USD 20 billion and Euromonitor projects that it is set to exceed USD 23 billion by 2024. In Asia, the market for plant-based products is increasing as well. According to consumer data group Nielsen, sales of plant-based meat substitutes within the region rose by 264 percent in May 2020. Mintel also reported a nearly 40 percent increase in the launches of meat substitute products last year.
The region is witnessing a rising market for “flexitarian” dieters, those who occasionally substitute meat in their diet with plant-based protein. Global Data revealed that approximately 36 percent of Thai consumers eat protein substitutes while over 53 percent of Japanese consumers have tried plant-based foods in search of a healthier lifestyle. Euromonitor’s data shows that there are nearly five million vegetarians in Asia Pacific with India having the largest vegetarian population of over 3.6 million.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also influenced consumers’ food choices and highlighted the importance of health and wellness. It has accelerated the growth of consumers’ interest in plant-based meat alternatives and increased interest in cleaner sources of protein. Post-pandemic surveys show that 49 percent of South Koreans agree that plant-based foods are better for the environment than meat and dairy products.
The main reasons for the increased demand for plant-based foods are improved personal health, as well as increased awareness of environmental sustainability, food safety and animal welfare.
As the industry continues to grow, there are still various challenges it needs to overcome in Asia. Plant-based food manufacturers need to find the best ways to ensure the quality of raw ingredients as well as improve the taste and texture of the food.
As with most food products, any occurrence of an unwanted accident or tainted ingredients may lead to recalls that could make consumers wary of buying and eating these alternatives. With any product recall, consumer confidence and the industry will be affected.
Beyond the quality of ingredients, taste and texture are also obstacles for consumer acceptance. One misconception about plant-based alternatives is they must be as close to meat as possible. In reality, it does not have to simulate meat 100 percent.
The two common parameters to overcome the challenge of product taste and texture are rheological properties and particle characterization. Food rheology is the study of deformation and flow of foods under well-defined conditions and is closely correlated with food texture. Particle characterization is a method often used for better controlling product quality, attaining an understanding of ingredients and enhancing the performance of a product.
Let us use the soybean as an example as the rheological properties and particle size distribution of soy protein is equally important along with the functional properties it possesses. Soybean is a rich and affordable source of plant protein and can be used as a protein supplement or ingredient in many food items.
Meanwhile, soy protein can replace many ingredients in food formulations in meat or dairy products without changing the taste and quality of foods. It can be used as an emulsifier, texture enhancer and an ingredient to increase or replace protein content in food products like bread, pastry products, beverages and meat.
Demand for plant-based food has shown steady growth across Asia in recent years. Reach out to us if your business is looking to assess different characteristics of plant-based food products in terms of their structure, composition, physicochemical properties and sensorial characteristics.
Ruethaitip Tiratrakulvichaya has been with DKSH in Thailand since 2009. As the Application Manager for the Malvern product range, she is responsible for technical and application support across Southeast Asia.
With a background in food science and agroindustry, she is experienced in delivering training to both internal colleagues and external customers on how to operate and obtained the best data.
Ruethaitip has extensive working knowledge in material characterization techniques including laser diffraction, dynamic light scattering, micro-calorimetry, size exclusion chromatography and morphological property.