Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Cultivating the Plant-Based Food Sector

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India has a rich culture of food and has one of the largest diversities in food dishes. It is popularly known for its ‘chappan bhog pratha’ means creating 56 dishes for the lord and as prasad. A country that has such rich diversity in food especially vegetarian foods is now also emerging towards the trend of plant based foods and stepping ahead with the world. However it is not an easily emerging revolution. There is also a large proportion of people who are meat or non-vegetarians and for whom the adaptation to this new category is a Herculean task. But still this trend is facing huge popularity in the urban sector of the country.

Getting soya biryanis instead of the long steaming chicken biryanis or buying of plant based nuggies over fish fillets is a trend that is gaining fast entrée in the urban cities.  Plant based food diets has changed the perception about the whole dietary menus. The new protein and enzymes based diet has quench the needs for both plant and animal based proteins, making a delectable serve on the platter.

Recently, Plant Based Foods Industry Association (PBFIA) along with Agricultural and Processed Foods Export Development Authority (APEDA), Ministry of Food Processing Industries (MoFPI) and Indian Chamber of Commerce (ICC) had organized the 2nd Plant Based Summit in Le Meridien, New Delhi where key members and stakeholders such as the Parliament member Maneka Gandhi, scientific community, researchers, non-profit organizations, HoReCa community, consumer organizations, and other food industry professionals from not only India but also UK and US were present to discuss the growth and the future of Plant Based Industry in India.

The summit points out the shift in consumer mind towards health and sustainability, especially after alarming exposure of COVID-19 pandemic. People around the globe have started taking their health and immunity more seriously than ever. They are opting for healthy options, rather than their regular diets, and gradually adapting to plant based alternatives. This has a significant impact on the plant based food market around the world. The global plant-based food market size has reached USD 10.24B in 2022, according to Blueweave Consulting report. The market size is expected to grow at a significant CAGR of 11.82%, reaching a value of USD 22.27 B by 2029, during the forecast period 2023- 2029. Europe is way ahead in the race of innovation of plant based meat and dairy alternatives. However, India is inching close towards innovations in this industry with its variety of raw ingredients available in the meat alternatives. ‘‘We are one of the major countries which produce protein rich crops and there is a huge potential that we can play a leading role even in the global market,’’ says Mercy Ipao, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Micro Small & Medium Enterprises.

People are also inclining towards dairy-free beverages. The estimated market size of plant-based dairy is the highest among plant-based food segments across India with a market share of 65.34% in 2022 and is expected to have a market share of 57.48% in 2030, according to report by Renub Research. Also, there is a swap from animal based meat to plant based alternatives. A survey by the Good Food Institute, India revealed that 63% of Indians are extremely likely to purchase plant-based meats. Right from home-based kitchens, cloud kitchens, restaurants, entrepreneurs and even conglomerates like ITC, Good Dot, Evo, etc. are all jumping into the plant-based fray.

Formation of Plant Based Cluster

Although a lot of brands and start-ups are jumping in this sector, it is not easy to sustain in it. Plant based food companies are dependent on imports of high quality ingredients and lack processing facilities, making plant based products much more expensive than the conventional products.

Sanjay Sethia, Executive Director, PBFIA talks about ‘Plant Protein Clusters’ initiative which is an economically viable model for plant based industry that can serve as a solution to sustain this arid terrain. ‘‘Plant Cluster has gained millions of dollar of investment and began with a very small, humble beginning from a village which is in Bhiwadi region. MSME provides support to this cluster as the ministry understood that no other economic zones can provide much prosperity to the plant based sector than cluster approach,’’ says Sanjay Sethia. ‘‘So plant based movement in India has caught on to this idea and 12 such clusters, nominated by APIDA, which  took the lead in the first meeting that took place in Nagpur where the cluster’s idea was mooted. He further adds ‘‘The formation of this cluster helped in securing high quality raw material, and bringing down the price of the technology, that is utilized by plant based industry. The cluster also has the potential to negotiate for the local manufacturing of the machinery components, helping India to become self-reliant over the years.’’

India’s jump to plant based food market

India has long been recognized as the land of non violence and vegetarianism However, over time, the Indian diets are becoming more protein and fat heavy, particularly from animal sources. But the statistics are at a lower scale, as compared to western countries, where there is much higher consumption of meat and meat products. With the rise of the disposable incomes, the new middle class in India have been increasingly shifting to meat-based diets.  Being labeled as diabetes capital of the world, India is struggling with many lifestyle disorders like obesity, arthritis, hypertension and heart diseases. So, to deal with the grievous matter, many brands and food related industry are opting for plant based alternatives.

The pandemic year of 2021 saw most number of plant-based startups launching their products in India. From oat, rice, almond and millet milks to vegan sausages and jackfruit patties, the plant-based sector is seeing a huge influx of products. In late 2021, an FMCG companies announced plans to expand into the plant-based market, according to the report.

In India the plant-based sector has increasingly drawn the interest of venture capitalists. Due to its agrarian nature, India has access to raw materials that are easily available to entrepreneurs to produce vegan or plant-based alternatives but the companies exclusive to this sector need to work on its quality and supply of raw material needed for plant based food manufacturing. However, this opens the horizon for many brands and food manufacturing units to introduce plant based food items that help them produce new dishes which could be highly possible alternative to meat based dishes. These dishes can then be distributed via chain of retailers and supply chain management to reach the end-consumers.

Bringing plant based dishes to our lives

Plant based dishes could be a part of many restaurants and fine dine providing vast varieties of options to not just vegetarians but also meat eaters. These plant based products could be great alternatives for days when many Indians don’t eat meat as cultural trends or those not eat meat at all. It even offers more options to meat eaters who may have been agitate with the same meat dishes over and over again. Plant based food has a huge expanse to sail through with food items like plant based fish nuggets that are not made of fish but tastes like one, plant based pizza breads, plant based biryanis and other food items that cater to the palettes of the  Indian consumers. The brands are using plant-alternatives for already popular food item list, giving a new twist to the dishes and attracting people to try it out.

‘‘We are also looking at already a rich vegetarian cuisine culture which is there in India. We definitely anticipate that with the innovation which is happening in the plant-based protein space, we will be seeing an explosion of the varieties which are available for the consumers,” says Ahmed Watson, Partner and Leader, Ernst Young, India.

The 2nd summit displayed many items produced by different brand showcasing the growing potential of this industry in India and around the world. The Summit boost the capacity of the plant based foods sector, strengthen operations and provide support with technical personnel, investment, technology and mentoring. These plant based items, as displayed by the summit, cannot just be a part of restaurants, fine dines and retailers outlets but also a part of marriage menus. ‘India being a capital hub of big fat marriages can be open to plant based dishes on its buffet expanding its horizon. Banquet halls and hotels, as well as catering services, can add plant based dishes to its menus which can offer greater varieties to these menus and an upper hand benefits to such hotels and caterings for offering an extra sparkle to the old, retarded menus that are present at every wedding’’, says Parliamentarian Maneka Gandhi, present at the summit.  As we have continental, Italian and other section to the buffet, one can also add vegan or plant based section to enhance the charm of food varieties in Indian weddings.

Saving the ecosystem with plant based alternatives

According to UN environmental program, animal products like meat and dairy require more resources and cause higher emission, leading to ecological imbalances in the environment.  Animal agriculture contributes to the production of greenhouse gases like methane and the run-offs from animal farms that are polluting the groundwater. Making space for grazing destroys the forest ecosystem whereas overfishing disturbs the marine ecosystem, endangered species of sea life as collateral damage. Therefore, it is better to choose plant based analogues, usually made with concentrated sources of plant proteins of peas, soy, wheat, mung beans or other legumes.

More recently mushrooms and jackfruit have gained popularity as core ingredients for meat alternatives. Dairy alternatives like oats, rice, almonds, coconut, peanuts, hemp and lately even millets have gained more popularity in the plant based sector owing to the health-conscious and gym going consumers as well as due to the trends of dairy substitute that have been openly accepted by celebrities. Manufacturing of plant-based foods are much less resource intensive. For instance, a plant-based burger patty has a 99% less impact on water scarcity, 93% less impact on land use, produces 90% fewer greenhouse gas emissions and requires nearly 50% less energy, as per PBFIA.

Introducing Clean Label Products

Protein, an essential raw material for plant based products, needs to be extracted without chemicals. Many tech and energy companies are producing technology and processes to extract chemical free protein to produce plant based food item that can be labeled as clean label products. Customers today are keen to buy such products even at a premium price. Plant industry is striving hard to derive technologies and processes that could help them attain clean plant based products for the mass segment, offering higher natural and nutritional value.

Need for Plant Based Alternatives

India, being a land of culture and tradition, is not majorly a meat consuming country. ‘‘We only consume 5.5 kilogram of meat per capita per year whereas the rest of the words consumes 10, 15, 20, 30, 40 in some cases 50 kilogram’’, says Sanjay. ‘’But the way the meat consumption is rising in India, we will not have enough land to grow fodder and would have to import more food as we would require to grow fodder here. As a result, we will become dependent on other countries for grains.’’ Today we are able to grow and export grains as the India has sufficient produce for its own needs but with the rising of meat consumption, this balance could be disturbed and weaken India economically as well as defensively.  Therefore, India needs alternative sources to meet the growing demands for meat.

Although there are many factors that can aid the boost of plant based industry in India, the industry is still growing slow due to high product costs owing to the import of high quality raw material from other countries. Also, India has inadequate infrastructure and under developed supply chain may affect the quality and availability of plant based products. Moreover climatic changes like droughts, floods, and land degradation can impact the supply chain of plant based foods. However, the industry is picking up pace with the help of the celebrities and brands that are aiding this sector.

Endorsing the plant industry/brands

Celebrity endorsement of plant based foods such as cricketer MS Dhoni, who endorsed Shaka Harry plant based meat or actor Ritesh Desmukh and his wife Genelia D’Souza, who are the founders of Imagine Meats is creating a buzz among millennial and Gen-z who wants to try and experiment the product.


At the moment, there is growing curiosity to try plant based foods and India can capitalize on this curiosity, building new avenues in the arena, experimenting new food dishes and items for customers to try and building a popular brand can bring out category or niche out of it, if only one is ready to dive deeply into sector and fish out the essential resources necessary to keep the category afloat among the traditional and conventional categories that have established their taste and presence on Indian tongues.

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