From Virat Kohli to Genelia, celebrity investors bet big on plant-based meats

Updated on Aug 15, 2022 04:16 PM IST

According to market insights from the Good Food Institute, “all research indicates that India will emerge as a major market for the smart protein sector over the next decade”

Veganism has led to a surge in plant-based meat substitutes like using vegan patties in burgers PREMIUM
Veganism has led to a surge in plant-based meat substitutes like using vegan patties in burgers

Cashing in on rising veganism, Indian agri startups are betting big on plant-based meats. They say a variety of healthier meat-imitating products will soon show up in premium grocery stores in what is a niche market. Soon, you will be able to gobble down fast foods, like plant-based meat burgers.

While most Indian consumers may not have heard about plant-based meats, companies say they see a great potential to upend the conventional food business. A key selling point is so-called “conscious-eating”, with plant-based protein being touted as healthier and greener.

According to research, animal farming contributes to 60% of greenhouse emissions from agriculture. Yet, some analysts say there is too little evidence currently on how environment-friendly is the plant-based meat industry.

The Indian market for plant-based meats seems promising, according to analysts, following in the footsteps of a phenomenal success in the western markets, especially the US.

Startups such as Bollywood couple Riteish & Genelia Deshmukh’s Imagine Meats, Blue Tribe Foods, founded by $5 billion-valued Alkem Labs's MD Sandeep Singh, Allana Ltd’s Beyond Meat as well as ITC Ltd have recently forayed into plant-based meats, promising to offer the consumer an array of products that taste and “feel” like meat, keema and kebabs.

Blue Tribe has raised an undisclosed sum from the husband-wife duo, actor Anushka Sharma and cricketer Virat Kohli. The company’s products are made with proprietary concoctions of pea, soybean, grains, lentils, and processed ingredients that extract proteins from plants.

“Virat and I have always been animal lovers. It's been years since we decided to adopt a meat-free lifestyle. The collaboration with Blue Tribe is a step to tell people how they can be more conscious and leave less impact on the planet by switching to a plant-based diet,” Anushka Sharma said in a Blue Tribe statement.

Globally, companies like Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat have raised hundreds of millions of dollars, gone public on the stock market and scaled across the globe, while using just a small fraction of the land, water, and energy that their conventional animal meat counterparts require, according to the Good Food Institute, an Indian plant-based advocacy group.

What are plant-based meats? Should you eat them and can they make agriculture greener? India’s per capita meat consumption is increasing rapidly and the demand for poultry meat in the country is projected to increase 850% by 2040 (from 1.05 to 9.92 million tonnes, annually), representing one of the steepest increases of any region in the world.

Plant-based foods have the same texture and taste as meat, eggs and dairy. They’re even made so that people genuinely crave them, rather than “settling” for them, according to the Good Food Institute. So, these products aren’t really targeted at vegans; they are specifically for non-vegetarian or ‘flexitarian’ populations who are open to alternatives.

They serve to fill the protein gap for individuals who long for the taste of meat, eggs, and dairy without damage done to personal and planetary health, says a spokesperson for Allana Consumer Products Private Limited.

Allana has diversified its products and introduced “Beyond Meat” in India. Beyond Meat is a plant-based meat substitute that it claims is “often hard to distinguish from the real meat”.

The biggest foray that can change the market dynamics is that of the food major ITC Ltd, which has deep penetrations and hold on the market. “ITC Limited’s food business will launch plant-based burger patties and nuggets providing the taste of chicken to consumers through retail, e-commerce, and food service establishments in the country’s top 8 cities, advised by expert nonprofit Good Food Institute India (GFI India) on product and positioning strategy,” the company said in a recent statement.

Most plant-based foods tend to sell their products as an environmentally friendly alternative to meat. That’s the unique selling point. That animal agriculture is a leading driver of ecosystem loss and environmental degradation worldwide is quite the case. Meat and dairy use 83% of the world’s farmland and are responsible for 60% of the greenhouse gas emissions from within agriculture.

A new study released on July 30, conducted by psychologists at the University of Bath, concludes that plant-based meat and dairy alternatives “offer a healthier and more environmentally sustainable solution which takes into account consumer preferences and behaviour”. The paper also found that these plant-based products caused lower levels of greenhouse gas emissions than the animal products they were replacing.

Yet, the meat industry and its supporters tend to dispute plant-based meat’s benefits as exaggerated. Food expert Will Coggin, possibly supported by meat producers, is at the forefront of a global campaign against plant-based meats.

According to one of Coggin’s papers published in Food Dynamics and an article based on it in USA Today, a lean beef burger has an average of nearly 20% fewer calories and 80% less sodium than the two most popular fake-meat burgers, the Impossible Burger and the Beyond Burger. Beyond Burger will soon make its advent in the Indian market.

The meat industry has cited studies to claim that plant-based meats are “ultra-processed” foods. Most nutritional experts don’t recommend ultra-processed foods. The US National Institutes of Health released a controlled, randomized study in May which showed that ultra-processed foods cause weight gain.

Good Food Institute says plant-based meats clearly have an edge over red meat, whose ill effects on health range from heart ailments, dyslipidemia (high cholesterol), high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity.

According to market insights from the Good Food Institute (GFI India), “all research indicates that India will emerge as a major market for the smart protein sector over the next decade”.

“Our large middle class, increased awareness of global trends and the need for protein transitions for human and planetary health, and deep-seated cultural views on meat consumption within India's diverse population make smart protein products ideally placed to cut across socio-cultural divides to address these challenges,” the institute said in an internal paper. GFI India's cross-country survey of consumer acceptance of plant-based and cultivated meat, (Bryant et al, Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems, 2019) indicated that 63% of Indian consumers are very or extremely likely to purchase plant-based meat, which compared favourably with the US and China.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Zia Haq reports on public policy, economy and agriculture. Particularly interested in development economics and growth theories.

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