With not much data about Asia’s plant-based proteins market, it can be challenging to gauge the opportunities it presents, Ben McCarron, founder and managing director of responsible investment consultancy Asia Research & Engagement (ARE), observed at the recent Disruption in Food and Sustainability Summit in Singapore.

Three ways to size up the market in the region are by volume, value or people, he said.

Asia is synonymous with culinary diversity thanks to its varied food cultures – this comes down even to the definition of what constitutes vegetarianism.

“There’s this challenge of what vegetarian translates as in all sorts of different ways across Asia,” said McCarron.

“Just because somebody is born a vegetarian doesn’t necessarily mean they are going to change their consumption patterns to take on some of the new innovative disruptive plant-based foods,” he said.

For instance, vegetarians in China do not consume garlic or onion. This largely stems from a strict vegetarian diet that many Buddhists follow, where pungent vegetables from the allium family such as garlic, onion, chives, scallions and leeks are excluded from the diet. In addition, some Buddhists opt for a vegetarian diet only on the first and 15th lunar days of the month.