Meat consumption is rising across Asia but consumers in the region still get twice as much protein from plants as animals and new Western plant-based brands are moving in on this territory.

With its rich and diverse culinary traditions, Asia has some of the largest vegetarian markets in the world; 30% of India’s population fall into this category, as do a quarter of Indonesians.

“Plant-based has been big in Asia for a very long time,” observed Ben McCarron, founder and managing director of responsible investment consultancy Asia Research & Engagement at the recent Disruption in Food and Sustainability Summit in Singapore.

Tofu, for example, has been a ‘meat substitute’ for thousands of years – although people eating it don’t see it in those terms – and mock meats based on shaped wheat gluten have been available for decades.

But, he suggested, the “silent Asian brands” behind such products are in danger of being overlooked as they haven’t adopted a business model of innovation – and few even have an online presence. (For more, read WARC’s report: Targeting Asia’s vegetarians with food innovation.)

A new wave of plant-based brands, such as Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods (which recently inked a distribution deal with Burger King), are now eyeing up this potentially lucrative region, but they don’t have an open goal in from of them, he cautioned.

“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,” McCarron said.

A one-size-fits-all approach is unlikely to succeed given the nuances displayed in different markets: for instance, vegetarians in China do not consume garlic or onion; some Buddhists opt for a vegetarian diet only on the first and 15th lunar days of the month; vegetarians in Thailand happily add fish sauce to their dishes.

Understanding what ‘vegetarian’ translates as in the different markets and appreciating that meat consumption rates are growing faster in some markets than others, are among the challenges that these new plant-based brands will have to address.

Sourced from WARC