Plant-based meat, a trend that caught on in the West in the past decade, has also reached India in the past few years. And Indians are now eyeing Western markets. Last year in September, India sent its first shipment of plant-based meat products to the US. The consignment of manufacturers Greenest and Wholesome Foods included momos, mini samosas, patties, nuggets, spring rolls, burgers, etc.
Plant-based meat is made of soya, mushrooms, peas, jackfruit, tempeh, lentils, chickpeas, millets, wheat, rice, etc. It imitates the texture, taste, looks and smell of actual meat. People who want to cut down on meat consumption or give it up completely, and vegetarians who want to increase protein intake are the target customers of manufacturers of plant-based meat.
India’s export potential
The export potential for plant-based meat in India by 2030 is projected from Rs 2,194 crore to Rs 6,824 crore, according to a report by The Good Food Institute (GFI) India and Deloitte India. The number range for plant-based dairy is Rs 459 crore to Rs 1,889 crore. The export potential for plant-based eggs in 2030 is between Rs 266 crore to Rs 631 crore
A United States Department of Agriculture report says a large vegetarian population and greater demand for healthy foods are fueling the rapid expansion of plant-based meat substitutes in India which offers opportunities for American exporters in both consumer-oriented products and raw materials to support local manufacturers. However, Indian companies are eying the American market because they have several advantages over American companies.
In the case of lab-grown and cultured meats, Indian companies cannot compete with Americans because India lacks the required technology. But plant-based meat is different. Indian exporters can leverage India’s strong tradition of plant-based foods. Traditionally, Indians know how to make vegetarian food tasty.
India has a large and growing workforce, low wages, and abundant raw materials, which together help to keep the cost of plant-based food production low compared to other countries. Food technology in India is already developed enough to create the best quality plant-based meat that tastes, looks and smells like real meat. India’s indigenous crops such as millets can be used to make plant-based food. Even traditional crops such as chickpeas are available aplenty.
Pulses are powering the plant-based protein industry, according to the GFI . Of the variety of crops grown around the world, pulses’ high protein content make them some of the most promising for use in plant-based meat, egg, and dairy products, says a GFI report. While pulses are commonly consumed as a whole food, the global trend toward plant-based eating provides an exciting growth opportunity. Demand for alternative protein products — and the growing need for more sustainable protein production methods — is creating new market possibilities for pulses and ingredients derived from them.
“For plant-based products, millets and other indigenous Indian crops provide an excellent opportunity to diversify the global inputs for plant-based meats, eggs, and dairy. Using these crops would create lucrative markets for farmers and strengthen value chains into which the government is already pouring significant investment,” says a GFI report.
Another factor that favours Indian exporters is a growing domestic market. It’s easier for companies to reach scale in India since India has a very large population of vegetarians and even those who eat meat could be willing to try plant-based options. A strong domestic market boosts exports too as it helps innovation in quality, design and range of products.
India’s apex export promotion body, Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Authority (APEDA), is trying to add more plant-based meat products in its export basket, without disturbing the conventional animal-based meat export market. It has planned to promote a variety of products to Australia, Israel and New Zealand. APEDA Chairman Rajesh Agrawal says India’s growing market for plant-based meat alternatives presents an opportunity to leverage the country’s crop biodiversity.
India’s growing domestic market
Plant-based meat is catching on fast in India. Last year, coffee chain Tata Starbucks tied up with plant-based food company Imagine Meats to sell its products. Imagine Meats was launched by Bollywood celebrities Ritesh and Genelia Deshmukh in 2020. Blue Tribe, another plant-based meat company, is funded by cricketer Virat Kohli and his wife, actor Anushka Sharma. Dozens of companies have sprung up in the plant-based meat segment in the past few years such as Good Dot, Shaka Harry, Urban Platter and Vegeta Gold,
While so far plant-based meat is largely a Western trend where it is promoted for environmental and ethical reasons, India is a natural market for it due to nearly 30 percent of its population being vegetarian. Even meat-eaters are willing to try the plant-based option sometimes to reduce meat consumption or for religious reasons. That’s why there is a sudden growth in this segment.
Researchers from the University of Bath, the Good Food Institute, and the Center for Long Term Priorities collaborated on the first quantitative comparison of consumer attitudes towards plant-based and cultivated meat across China, India, and the US. They found that 33 percent of U.S. consumers, 62 percent of Chinese consumers, and 63 percent of Indian consumers were “very or extremely likely to purchase plant-based meat regularly.” Cultivated meat clocked in at 30, 59, and 56 percent, respectively.
Not just startups and small companies, even the big ones are stepping into the plant-based meat sector.
Last year, online meat retailer Licious entered the plant-based meat business with a new brand called Uncrave. Unlike typical mock-meat brands that sell to vegan customers, Licious planned to offer Uncrave to its core meat-consuming customers as an alternative for occasions when they abstain from eating meat, such as Navaratri.
Tata Consumer Product Ltd too announced its entry into the plant-based meat products category last year, under a new brand ‘Tata Simply Better’ and introduced four variants: Nuggets, Burger Patty, Awadhi Seekh Kebab and Spicy Finger. Beyond Meat, a leading player in the US for plant-based meat, entered India last through a partnership with Allana Consumer Products.
India’s market for plant-based meat is estimated to increase dramatically, from a current estimate of $30-40 million to $500 million, according to a recent Assocham report. The plant-based dairy sector is expected to see a rise from $21 million to $63.9 million by 2024, with a compound annual growth rate of 20.7%. The overall vegan food market is expected to have a compound annual growth rate of 11.32% between 2022 and 2027.
The biggest challenge for exporters as well as domestic companies is high prices of plant-based meat products. Often, the price of such a product is more than double the price of the real meat product. This problem can be solved with the expansion of the market. Low prices can give a sharp edge to India’s exports.
Another challenge is taste. Consumers in the West can be lured to try plant-based meat only if it tastes like real meat. Indian companies will have to invest in technology to achieve similarity in taste, texture and appearance to real meat. Wakao Food, which has sent a consignment to the US recently, worked for eight months to decode the taste and palate of the US market and develop specifically suitable products.
The American market for plant-based food has slowed down in recent years due to various factors such as supply chain issues. Many also say that plant-based meat was just a fad which is now wearing off.
But a Bloomberg Intelligence report in 2021 painted an optimistic future for the plant-based proteins. The plant-based foods market could make up to 7.7% of the global protein market by 2030, with a value of over $162 billion, up from $29.4 billion in 2020, said the report.
However, it says, the Asia-Pacific region will grow more than the West. It is particularly vulnerable to limited food supply, with an expected population of 4.6 billion by 2030. As a result, the region is likely to dominate the plant-based protein market reaching $64.8 billion by 2030, up from $13.5 billion in 2020. The majority share of that market in Asia-Pacific will be of alternative dairy products, at 57% by 2030. Comparatively, Europe and North America will see roughly $40 billion in sales, with Africa, the Middle East and Latin America all seeing between $8-9 billion each.