Meat and seafood consumption in Asia is projected to soar, fuelled by growing middle classes in booming economies, but green groups warn of the environmental damage such a trend could bring.
Demand for plant-based meat alternatives is still nascent in Asia, but is nevertheless rising by about 30% annually and is particularly strong in developed markets such as South Korea, Hong Kong and Singapore, industry players say.
“We do see that there is a growing environmental consciousness among consumers around the world – and that’s not different in Asia,” said Andre Menezes of Country Foods, which distributes products made by US alternative meat outfit Impossible Foods in Singapore.
Meat consumption is an environmental threat as cattle produce methane, a potent greenhouse gas, while logging forests, which take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, to make way for animals destroys natural barriers to climate change, environmentalists warn.
Eating seafood, meanwhile, can deplete already under-pressure fish stocks.
US alternative meat titans have already seen the opportunity in Asia, with Impossible Foods seeking to establish a presence in China and rival Beyond Meat planning to open a production facility in the region.
But they face competition from local start-ups, which are thinking beyond simply making faux burgers and may be better in tune with what consumers want.
They are planning products ranging from Chinese-style steamed dumplings filled with fake pork made from jackfruit to imitation crab and fish balls.
Startup Karana is behind the jackfruit dumplings, which it plans to launch this year.
Co-founder Blair Crichton hopes to create familiar products that can win over meat eaters.
“We’re not necessarily going to be promoting that it’s jackfruit ... it’s about packaging it in a way that is familiar to consumers,” he said.
Singapore-based start-up Sophie’s BioNutrients is working with scientists at a local university to grow microalgae in nutrient-rich soybean residue, a waste product from the food processing industry.
They plan to convert the algae to protein powder to be used to make imitation seafood products.
Several sustainable food start-ups have chosen to launch in Singapore and use it as a base to sell products across the region, with the city-state’s sovereign wealth fund Temasek providing some financial backing.
Still, such companies may have a hard time convincing consumers with traditional tastes to change to their products.
Seow Chin Juen, an analyst focusing on food and nutrition in the region at consultancy Euromonitor International, said the “novelty aspect” was currently driving most sales of alternative meats.
But this was “not sufficient to convert mass market consumers to consume these products on a regular basis”, he added. — AFP
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