Health and sustainability, these trends are increasingly ruling consumer diets these days and thereby their food purchases. There is enough science to back up the benefits of a plant-based diet. While many religions and communities in Asia have been vegetarian since ages, the recent controversies such as contaminated beef from Brazil are driving consumers to look for alternative and healthier meat choices.
A study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition said vegetarian diets are most effective in reducing body weight, compared to typical caloric-restriction diets. Thus, it is no surprise that a plant-based diet has been ranked as the best diet on the US News and World Report for the seventh straight year, citing its numerous health and environmental benefits.
POWER OF PLANTS
A study by JAMA Network said high animal protein intake was positively
associated with cardiovascular mortality, while high plant protein intake was inversely associated with all-cause and cardiovascular mortality, largely among individuals with at least one lifestyle risk factor.
Substitution of plant protein for animal protein, especially that from processed red meat, was associated with lower mortality, suggesting the importance of protein source. It is thus only a commonly held myth that animal protein is superior to plant protein for muscle building.
Instead consuming a plant-based diet is significantly better for the planet as studies further emphasize on the negative impact of livestock production, particularly beef and dairy products on the environment.
At the Institute of Food Technologists conference, held in June this year in the US, scientists, activists and industry executives said that this movement towards plant-based eating is being driven by two mega-trends in the food space: protein demand and clean eating.
At the Institute of Food Technologists conference, held
in June this year in the US, scientists, activists and
industry executives said that this movement towards
plant-based eating is being driven by two mega-trends
in the food space: protein demand and clean eating.
Christie Lagally, senior scientist at the Good Food Institute, a nonprofit organization promoting the development of plant-based and clean meat, said in an interview that growing awareness of health, nutrition and the food industry’s environmental footprint is driving demand for plantbased proteins rather than those from whey or beef.
Brian Kateman, co-founder and president of The Reducetarian Foundation and editor of The Reducetarian Solution: How the Surprisingly Simple Act of Reducing the Amount of Meat in Your Diet Can Transform Your Health and the Planet, said at an event in New York in April this year: “In the next five to 10 years, factory-farmed meat won’t be the star of the plate. We’ll see more cauliflower steaks and beds of quinoa, plant-based meats that are indistinguishable from conventional meat, and cultured meat will be the swanky new ingredient in every high-end restaurant. A few years on, cultured meat will be in grocery stores and fast-food chains. Factory farming is already a dirty term, but it’ll soon be unthinkable that we farmed billions of animals every year in wasteful, cruel and inefficient process.”
From 2012-2016, plant-based product claims in the US grew at a CAGR of 35.8%, with 220 related product launches in 2016 and 320 in 2015, according to consulting company Healthfocus International.
Increasingly, restaurants in Asia too are embracing this trend. A splurge of
vegan-only restaurants have cropped up in Singapore, Hong Kong, India
and Vietnam. Celebrated chefs and restaurateurs are throwing their weight behind ethical and community-focused food and drink initiatives.
JOINING THE MOVEMENT
Manufacturers are responding to this shift actively. Multinational food corporation Unilever, ingredient suppliers Avril and Ingredion, and flavour specialist Givaudan have recently joined a food development project, the Plant Meat Matters (PMM) Consortium. This project is spearheaded by researchers at Wageningen University who have been working to develop a plant-based alternative to steak since 2015.
They unveiled the first iteration at The
Netherlands-based meat alternative
company The Vegetarian Butcher’s “Plant-Based Plant” facility two years ago.
The innovative sheercell technology, developed by Wageningen University researchers, transforms vegetable protein — be it soy, wheat, pea, rapeseed or corn — into a layered, fibrous structure that closely matches the appearance and texture of steak.
They have since then been working with eight companies in a variety of industries to bring its plant-based steak — made using “sheer cell technology” — to roll out fully in the next two years. The innovative sheer-cell technology, developed by Wageningen University researchers, transforms vegetable protein — be it soy, wheat, pea, rapeseed or corn — into a layered, fibrous structure that closely matches the appearance and texture of steak.
In addition to being fully derived from plant sources, the processing methods have a smaller carbon footprint than conventional methods such as extrusion, at least at the laband pilot-scale so far. According to Euromonitor data, the sale of meat substitutes is enjoying double-digit growth in Germany, outpacing the single-digit growth of processed
meat. But to spark a revolution in the food industry, the plant-based meat will have to be as identical to the real thing, said marketers at The Vegetarian Butcher.
In the US, plant-based meat producers such as Beyond Meat and Impossible Burger have made plant-based proteins more palatable than ever. At NRA Show 2017, Beyond Burger came out as the top name at the Innovation Zone.
Black bean and mushroom patty burgers are loose substitutes, and Ethan Brown, CEO of Beyond Burger,a vegan, himself realised the need for a meat patty that was as close to real meat as possible. After a seven-year journey to develop the miracle “meat”, it hit the retail market for the first time in 2009. A plant-based burger with a patty that looked just like a meat patty quickly became popular.
In April this year, the Beyond Burger by Beyond Meat entered Asia with its first outpost in Hong Kong. Made mainly from pea protein, beet juice and coconut oil, the 100% vegan patty is packed with 20gm of plant protein and contains zero cholesterol, no hormones, no antibiotics and even has a higher protein content than that of a traditional beef patty.
While innovations in the plant-based protein market continue to evolve, manufacturers know they should see it as an ally to meat instead of its replacement. These innovations will open new markets for vegetarian products appealing to meat lovers and flexitarians alike.
And the various developers of plant meats such as Impossible Foods vegetable heme-bleeding burger, Mark Post’s lab-grown meat, The Vegeterian Butcher or Beyond Meat all thrive on the same ambition — to develop more sustainable food products.