Is Indian Market Ripe for Alternate-Meat Revolution?
Several foodtech startups are gearing to take a bite of the fast-growing alternate-meat sector
Last month, a Twitter feud broke out between Amul India and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) after the latter urged the Indian dairy cooperative society to switch to producing vegan milk. The animal rights organization said Amul should not "fight the inevitable vegan global trend'.
It's indeed true that the vegan trend is on a rise worldwide. As more and more people adopt vegan diets, there's been an equal rise in the number of businesses opening up to cater to the market need. One of the trends of the vegan sector that is fast gaining ground globally is alternative meat, or also widely known as smart protein.
Mock meat is a food item that imitates meat in terms of texture, taste and nutrition but is made from plants. The key difference between a vegetarian product and alternate meat is that the latter attempts to appeal to non-vegetarian eaters in order to influence their meat buying decisions.
As Indians are fast catching up on the trend of "conscious' eating, a slew of homegrown startups are taking a bite out of the alternative meat market. But, the question to ask is whether the Indian market is ready for it?
Market in the Making
Several startups in the plant-based meat segment have been launched in the last few years. Abhishek Sinha, co-founder and CEO, Good Dot, an early entrant in the alternative meat market, said though awareness around alternative protein has increased significantly in the last one-two years, there's still a lot of ground to cover.
"It has been easy for us to promote plant based meat in our distribution partner, RCM's channel, but in modern trade, general trade and D2C space, much more effort needs to be put in to create awareness. It's an upcoming field with little awareness amongst the customers about plant based meats," he said. Good Dot sells ready to eat meat substitutes for INR 85-249.
In comparison to mock meat, acceptability of plant-based egg has been relatively easier, as per Kartik Dixit, co-founder and CEO, EVO Food, India's first plant-based egg company. "Surprisingly, it was not that difficult because people already want a cholesterol free and antibiotics free egg," he said. The company is yet to roll out its product but claims to have LOIs (letter of intent) with more than 55 restaurants already and over 1,000 signups on its website.
Another category of meat alternative is lab-grown meat, which uses animals' cells to cultivate cultured meat. Clear Meat is doing exactly that and will soon be launching its lab-grown muscle meat in the market. Synthetic meat doesn't fall in the vegan category, but eliminates the need to rear and slaughter animals.
So far, the sector has not gained notable attention from VCs either. Only a handful of startups have managed to raise small amounts from investors, majority of whom are global players. Indian VCs and angel investors have largely steered clear from this category so far.
That said, industry stakeholders are confident that the segment is set to make noise in the coming years. "You can expect deals to be made extensively in this space in the next year or two. In fact this is going to be like a new IT space very soon," said Sinha.
"Globally, investment in the space has grown significantly over the last few years--investment totalled over USD 3.1 billion in 2020, up 3x from the year prior, as per our global calculations-- and it's only a matter of time before India shows similarly impressive growth," said Varun Deshpande, MD, The Good Food Institute (GFI) India.
GFI India, established in 2017, is the central convener body and ecosystem-builder in the alternate-protein sector. "We work with universities, entrepreneurs, large corporations, investors, government agencies, and a host of other stakeholders to build a fertile ecosystem for smart protein growth in the country," said Deshpande. GFI has also been a catalyst in establishing funds focused on the alternate meat space by Big Idea Ventures and Magnetic (founded by former head of JM Morgan Stanley India).
The Indian government is also supporting companies and research institutes via funds and grants in their effort to create a market for sustainable food products that not only combats animal cruelty but also mitigates the impact of meat and dairy production on the climate.
GFI has an agreement with the Maharashtra government to set up a research centre in the state for research on cell-based meat and production. Additionally, the institute has also worked with the Centre for Cellular Molecular Biology (CCMB) and National Research Centre on Meat (NRCMeat) to secure INR 4.6 crore funding for cultivated meat research from the government.
"All research indicates that India will emerge as a major market for the smart protein sector over the next decade," Varun Deshpande, MD, The Good Food Institute (GFI) India.
Opportunity and Challenges
Deshpande said India has the potential to emerge as a major global market for the smart protein sector over the next decade. "India offers a 'dual market opportunity' - catering to domestic consumers as demand for meat, eggs, and dairy continues to grow over the next decades, as well as to the rapidly growing mature global market for smart protein."
However, the road is marred with challenges. Foremost, proactive efforts need to be made to raise awareness around plant-based and lab-grown meat. Shah believes a national-level awareness campaign is the answer to the problem, which will require heavy investment.
Lack of capital for R&D and infrastructure building and a conducive regulatory landscape are the major impediments to the sector's growth.
"Governments in Singapore, Israel, Canada, the Netherlands, and other countries are investing heavily in the smart protein sector, seeing it as a key piece of their food security and economic growth goals. The relative dearth of well-funded labs, research funding, degree programs, and patient deep-technology-oriented capital has traditionally meant India's technologists and entrepreneurs have to be even more resourceful than other countries, or migrate to those other countries," said Deshpande.
Environmental Benefits of Cultivated Meat Products
35-67% less land used
70% of nutrient pollution reduction
95% less land used
74-87% of climate change emission reduction
94% of nutrient pollution reduction
Source: Good Food Institute
Global Investment Landscape in Alternate Meat
$4.4 billion invested across 419 deals
$505 million across 125 deals
Source: Good Food Institute