India has among the world’s highest vegetarian population. And, nine out of 10 Indians are protein-deficient, according to a survey by the Indian Market Research Bureau (IMRB) conducted as early as 2015. Things are changing though, especially after the pandemic highlighted this deficiency. People are not only becoming more aware about protein requirements but are also seeking ‘clean proteins’.
And so, foodtech companies are leveraging science and emerging technology to bring plant-based egg and meat alternatives to consumers’ tables.
Global statistics in recent years show a trend toward plant-based eating. It’s no wonder that the global foodtech market is forecast to exceed $342 billion by 2027.
The numbers in India were valued at Rs 28,936 crore in 2019 and are expected to reach Rs 186,819 crore by 2025, expanding at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of up to 39 per cent during the 2021-2025 period.
This shows that businesses in foodtech will be the ones to watch for in 2022 to satiate this hunger for better quality, plant-driven food.
Recently, Kerry, a global nutrition company, identified India as a potential market for plant-based food. It found that 63 per cent of Indian consumers are willing to buy plant-based food items regularly, and 60 per cent would even agree to pay a premium for it.
With these statistics, several foodtech companies believe that the ‘clean label’ needs to become the new prerequisite in plant-based foods.
The clean alt protein philosophy
Shraddha Bhansali, co-founder of EVO Foods, a Mumbai-based foodtech startup that produces cholesterol- and antibiotic-free plant-based egg alternatives made from legumes, says quality counts with consumers.
“We wanted to change the conversation around food, which is why we decided to start a plant-based alt protein company that would be based in India but would service the world,” she says. “Our mission was very simple; we wanted to remove animals from the food chain.”
Adds Dibyendu Bindal, founder and chief executive officer (CEO) of Mighty Foods, another Mumbai-headquartered plant-based, ready-to-cook protein range, “Our philosophy is to provide people with a protein-rich diet, which is high on taste as well.” He clarifies that his company does not advocate replacing meat. “Rather, we are focused on catering to a taste-first market by providing a healthy, protein-filled food option.”
Priyanka Srinivas, founder and CEO of The Live Green Company (TLGC), a Chile-based startup that uses an artificial intelligence/machine learning (AI/ML) recommendation engine, Charaka, to research and develop next-gen plant-based foods, says that the ‘clean label’ is the desired standard in the food industry.
“Clean protein alternatives have made great strides in the food industry’s revolution, and although this sustainable food movement is off to a great start, food products will need to graduate to be both convenient and to taste great, while also being healthier for our bodies and for the planet through credible ingredients,” she says. “To truly achieve this, the ‘clean label’ needs to be the new standard in the food industry.”
Clean label products are vegan, but without harmful chemicals and additives, introducing alternatives that are all-plant, allergen-free, and 360-degree green.
Are people with it?
Are people really ready to make a change in their diets?
Yugandar Movva, who works at eBay and is a father of two, says he and his family would consider a shift to clean alt protein food.
“I choose plant-based meat alternatives where good choices exist – not a 100 per cent transition, but I would say close to 50 per cent of the time lately,” he says. “The simple reason is that alt proteins are good for you, good for the planet and have become tastier and cleaner.”
Dimple Roy, a mother of twins, echoes this view. “I would love to make that shift since what we tried and tasted is a phenomenal product,” she says with gusto. “Not only the taste and the texture, but in terms of health benefits, too, it’s the answer to probably a cleaner, healthier option.”
The Covid-19 epiphany for ‘clean food’ consumption
Covid-19 has changed the world’s perspective on health in general. People are ready to give up hedonistic food choices for a naturally tasty, healthier option.
“Covid-19 has made people aware of the importance of immunity, which is a by-product of a healthy food lifestyle. A diet rich with balanced protein has become a conscious choice,” says Bindal.
Bhansali adds that there is definitely a shift towards alt protein, whether Covid-19 is the reason or not.
“I definitely feel there’s a shift. I don’t know if it’s the pandemic or if they (people) feel like it’s better for their health or digestibility,” she says.
The writer is Editor of The Tech Panda