“How can you eat vegetarian food all your life?” is a question asked too often to count. There is a common belief among non-vegetarians that vegetarian food simply cannot achieve the same taste or give them the same variety as meat does. This is what stops them from turning vegetarian, even if they are keen on making the switch for ethical or environmental reasons.
As oxymoronic as it sounds, plant-based meats are edibles made to look, feel, cook and taste exactly like meat despite being made out of ingredients derived from plants. This has gained immense popularity as an ethical alternative to meat. It is an excellent solution to environmental degradation and ensures the prevention of animal cruelty due to meat production.
Why make the shift?
Plant-based meat allows you to consume a low-carbon-footprint diet. It reduces the resource burden on the environment by using just a small fraction of the resources used to produce conventional meat. Rearing livestock for animal-based products requires far more land, water, and energy than producing grain; 27kg CO2 is generated per kilo beef in comparison to 0.9kg per kilo of lentils. The adoption of a vegan diet globally can cut down on food-related emissions by up to 70 percent.
Raising animals for human consumption takes up to 77 percent of the land, but provides for only 17% of our food. Thus, plant-based meat uses 47-99 percent less land and 72-99 % less water to manufacture, than conventional meat. Animal agriculture is a bigger driver of global climate change than exhaust emissions from the transportation sector. Plant-based meat causes 30-90% less greenhouse gas emission and results in 51-91 percent less aquatic pollution through runoff.
Plant-based diets have been proven to be healthier. It does not bear health concerns related to sourcing that meat and poultry do and is very environment-friendly. Popular plant-based meat products from Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, achieve the same taste and texture as meat using pea protein, beetroot juice, canola oil, methylcellulose and plant-based heme manufactured through genetically engineered yeast. While having the same calorie content, they do not contain cholesterol, have less fiber and more vitamins and sodium than actual meat. In addition, plant-based meat is antibiotic-free, making us less susceptible to antibiotic resistance.
Having established the benefits of clean meat, the success of plant-based meat in the Indian market is based on how likely are Indian consumers to realize the benefits and take to this trend.
Will it ‘meat’ the expectation of the Indian consumer?
Beyond Meat is a huge success in the American market- being the first alternative meat company to go public on Wall Street, it became the best-performing IPO in almost two decades, and has grown by over 240% ever since. Many fast-food chains in the US, Canada and Germany like White Castle, Burger King, Qdoa, TGI Fridays and McDonald’s have launched meatless burgers like the Impossible Burger, Beyond Burger, Impossible Tacos and Bowls, and the Big Vegan TS by Impossible Foods, Beyond Meat and Nestle. The West has clearly become conscious of and bought into this trend. In India, several cultural factors come into play to determine the integration of the product into the market.
What does the future of meatless meat in Indian and Chinese markets look like?
India and China have a huge demand for meat, and the market surveys show immense potential for the growth of plant-based meat companies- 62.4% Chinese and 62.8% of Indians have shown interest in purchasing plant-based meat.
The awareness and consciousness surrounding sustainable diets has vaguely translated into greater demand for alternate meat, but in India, this comes from a disproportionately small urban, rich, educated and ‘woke’ consumer base. Most Indians are Lacto vegetarians and do not consume meat mainly for religious and cultural reasons. A plant-based substitute might not draw people from this category-some of whom do not even consume mushrooms because their texture does not deem them vegetarian enough. Moreover, 32% of the 1.2 billion Indian population is vegetarian, from whom the demand for alternative meat is not likely to surge.
Good Dot, an Indian plant-based meat company offers soy and pea-protein based meat tailored specifically to the Indian palate. Although Good-Dot claims to sell 10,000-15,000 packets of meatless meat every day, it has not seen integration into mainstream restaurant chains outside Udaipur. Even if it does, it is unlikely that the alternative meat option might be popular because of the existence of a fairly large variety of vegetarian options that have been Indianized, for the supposedly ‘vegetarian’ nation. Many Indians who are ‘flexitarians’ consume meat outside their homes because it is not cooked or consumed at home for religious reasons. Plant-based meat could leverage this and gain popularity in Indian households as a clean alternative to meat.
Plant-based meat is unlikely to make a significant environmental impact in India because Indian farmers practice agro-silvo-pastoralism, which means that land is used for crops, trees, and livestock. The livestock also serves to plow fields and gives them milk and manure more than meat and leather. Thus, farmers depend on livestock economically in the long run, and shifting to plant-based meat might not see huge changes in land use and agricultural carbon footprint in India.
With 86 million tons of meat being consumed every year and an alternative-meat market of $918 million, China is a fail-safe market for mock meat. China has a historical presence of mock meat (it has been in existence for 1400 years, since the Tang dynasty), and already has many home-grown alternative meat companies like Whole Perfect Foods and Avant Meats which makeover 300 types of plant-based products. However, there is room for companies that use newer technologies to produce products that mimic meat more closely by cultivating new ingredients.
The plant-based meat industry in China has immense potential to grow. Everything that meatless meat stands for also aligns with China’s developmental goals: it is technology-intensive and encourages innovation and use of cutting-edge manufacturing methods, there is potential for China to become a global leader in this industry. It helps solve China’s food security issue and also encourages environmental sustainability, which is key for a developing nation like China. The only roadblock lies in an inefficient bureaucracy slowing down the approvals and checks needed for key ingredients in this meat, like the heme made from genetically modified yeast that is a major component of the Impossible Food’s meat.
Regardless of whether or not alternative meat could succeed in Asia, companies that are looking to enter the Asian market must create products exclusively for these markets, to tailor to local tastes and food habits- beef is unlikely to sell in these markets, but creating products to mimic the taste of chicken in India and pork in China with a dash of local flavour might do the trick for them. Plant-based meat could well be the “Future of Protein”, as Beyond Meat claims it to be. So, the next time a meat-eater asks a vegetarian where they get their protein from, or how they could ever possibly not have to make a trade-off between their dietary preferences and the environment, plant-based meat is the answer- after all, it’s a win for everyone.
Feature image: Beyond Burger