AS EUROPE and the United States scale production of beef alternatives, Asia-based start-ups and food techs are developing pork and chicken substitutes.
Environmental concerns and nutritional profile are driving production of meat substitutes, but other factors such as minding consumers’ readiness and creating the conditions for them to conveniently switch to alternative meats play a part in the growth of the market.
Such is the case at Karana, whose mock meat options are whole foods from young jackfruit. Its Organic Young Jack is sold in jars online and has been “soft launched” by five chefs at select restaurants in Singapore.
Karana says the jackfruit is packed with fibre, vitamins, carbohydrates, and potassium – a nutritional profile that animal meat or other processed plant-based meats can’t offer. This underutilised fruit is a heart-healthy and diabetes-friendly ingredient that can be used in almost every cuisine.
Instead of recreating flavour and texture though protein isolates, binding ingredients and technologies such as extrusion, Karana uses its own innovation to optimise the jackfruit with natural flavours and create a stringy texture similar to pulled pork or chicken. This makes it ideal for recipes requiring meat fillings. The company is looking to micro-encapsulate fat into the young jackfruit.
Making change palatable
Real Treat is a subsidiary of Green Monday, a social venture that aims to tackle climate change, global food insecurity and public health issues. Guided by its overall mission to “Make Change Happen; Make Green Common,” it adopts a once-a-week plant-based meal philosophy, which has spread to more than 30 countries.
OmniMeat is Real Treat’s proprietary blend of peas, non-GMO soy, shiitake mushrooms and rice. Based in Hong Kong, the company has entered markets in Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand and Macau where it enjoys strong backing from restaurant and hotel chefs. Last year, Cathay Pacific began offering business class travellers the option to enjoy Omnipork Bolognese with Garganelli Pasta on long-haul flights.
Launched in Singapore in December, OmniMeat Retail Pack gives consumers access and opportunity to create their own meatless dishes. Because this product is raw, it needs to be cooked thoroughly at internal temperature reaching 76°C or above. Every 100 grams of this product contains 4.5g fibre, and compared to pork, it is 86% lower in saturated fat and 66% lower in calories, as well as 260% higher in calcium and 127% higher in iron.
Phuture Foods from Malaysia offers something similar. Its mock meat, Phuture Minced uses mung bean instead of pea and rice proteins, and coconut oil instead of palm oil. As such, it contains essential amino acids, vitamin B12 and iron, while also being trans-fat free and low in calories, fat and cholesterol. According to the company, its products are “designed for regular meat eaters who enjoy eating meat and its taste but may wish to have less of it due to health or environmental concerns.”
Phuture Foods sells through food service channels. Partnering with a dozen chefs and restaurant partners, it kick-started Meat the Future in April. The initiative seeks to increase awareness and acceptance by releasing in quick succession gastronomical delicacies whipped up by culinary stars.
Endorsements from celebrities and big labels are also expected to heat up. So, will partnering with dominant players in a new market, a strategy that leapfrogged OmniPork projections when it entered Taiwan in January with the island’s biggest quick service restaurant chain, Bafang Yunji. Together they’ve made OmniPork pan-fried dumplings and OmniPork boiled dumplings available at nearly 1,000 stores across Taiwan. With sales reaching more than one million per week when it launched, Mr Yeung says it is “a loud-and-clear statement that Asian markets are ready for change once tasty, innovative and affordable options are available to them”.
Green Monday has also partnered with convenience store chain FamilyMart to sell the very first instant cup meals containing vegan pork product in its more than 3,600 stores.
Cultural sensitivity and meeting religious requirements are increasingly becoming crucial in winning others to the fold.
Providers of meat substitutes understand these and are making their offering Kosher, Halal-compliant and/or Buddhist-friendly.
Real Treat for one has started substituting “pork” with “mince” in its product name in select markets where it seeks to apply for Halal certification for its finished products.
To appeal to a Buddhist following, Phuture Food says that it also pays close attention to its ingredient sourcing to ensure that there are no alliums in it, such as garlic, onion, scallion, shallot, leek, and chives.
OmniMeat founder David Yeung sees Asia as the biggest void and opportunity for impactful foodtech innovation. His company cites recent research that points to 68% Asian consumers being very interested in nutrition and healthy eating; 58% of Chinese aged 20-49 say they are willing to pay more for ethical brands; and 39% of Asians consider eating less meat to be important in achieving a healthy diet.
A recent article by Forbes revealed that “a full 70% of the world population is either reducing meat consumption or leaving meat off the table altogether.” Millennials are particularly driving these evolving consumer habits, as they are most likely to consider the food source, animal welfare issues, and environmental impacts while making their purchasing decisions.
“There should be no trade-off between food taste satisfaction and personal well-being,” maintains Mr Yeung. “Consumption and enjoyment of this generation should not become liability and suffering for future generations and other beings.”
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