Friday, June 14, 2024

Plant-Based Progress: The 4 Codes to Market Penetration

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The significant role of the four codes consisting of Taste, Price, Availability, and Permissibility, serve as the foundational pillars of the plant-based industry. These components empower a plant-based brand to establish, expand, and maintain its presence in the market. While exploring these codes can stimulate growth in the plant-based sector, it is imperative for the industry to also prioritize innovations in plant-based products, ensuring that the aspiring chefs are adequately prepared to address the challenges of this rapidly evolving field.

The plant-based industry is experiencing rapid growth worldwide, with a substantial number of consumers embracing plant-based products. This trend has seen steady upward momentum over the years. In India, however, the concept of plant-based eating isn’t entirely new. Traditional meals have long been predominantly plant-based, and are somewhat common, especially for vegetarians. However, the emergence of plant protein sources and related products represents a relatively newer concept in the country. 

Moreover, the influx of newer international cuisines like Umami cuisine into the Indian subcontinent is significantly propelling the plant-based sector forward. These cuisines often rely on plant protein sources as key ingredients, further increasing the demand for such products in the market. As Indian consumers become more exposed to diverse global culinary influences, there is a growing interest and acceptance of plant-based alternatives in their diets. This not only aligns with changing dietary preferences but also reflects a broader shift towards more sustainable and health-conscious food choices. Thus, the integration of plant protein sources into these emerging culinary trends is playing a crucial role in driving the growth of the plant-based industry in India.

According to a report by Bloomberg Intelligence (BI), the plant-based foods market is projected to increase its share in the global protein market by 7.7% by 2030. This growth could elevate its value to over $162 billion, a significant surge from $29.4 billion in 2020. While the sector appears to have ample room for expansion and proliferation, numerous aspects make it a tough territory to crack.

Let’s look into some of these aspects : 

1. Ingredient Sourcing: Sourcing high-quality plant-based ingredients at scale can be challenging, especially as most of the products are imported to India.’’ Five years ago, there was a surge of foreign sellers introducing their plant-based products to the Indian market. Many indigenous startups lacked expertise in formulating these products. These foreign sellers offered texture, protein binding kits, and other crucial ingredients, leading to procurement and formulation which challenges the Indian startups’’, says  Gaurav Sharma, CEO, Greenest. ’’Therefore, we quickly recognized that to successfully launch a product in the market, we needed to reduce our reliance on imported foreign ingredients and work with indigenous sources like jackfruit and chickpeas.’’ Manish Sharma, Executive Chef, at The Oberoi further emphasizes that exploring our regional cuisines and our culinary traditions is sufficient. He highlights India’s dependency on external sources and suggests that focusing on regional and local ingredients naturally promotes sustainability. ‘‘There’s no need to search for plant-based ingredients elsewhere when you embrace what’s available locally, ‘‘ he asserts. 

2. Nutritional Profile: Ensuring that plant-based products offer a comparable nutritional profile over their animal-based counterparts is difficult and requires careful formulation and fortification with essential nutrients like protein, vitamins, and minerals. Addressing this nutritional aspect, Chef Manish explains, “Imagine if you take mushrooms as your product. Now, there are two different ways of cooking it. Firstly, I could thinly slice it, dust it with a bit of cornflour, deep fry it, add garlic chips, and serve it. It’s still plant-based, and undoubtedly tasty, but its nutritional value is debatable. Some might argue that frying the mushroom compromises its nutritional content. Now, consider a different approach. I take the same mushroom and confit it. Confitting involves cooking it for an extended period, using a base such as stock or water. Once done, we pull these mushrooms to resemble noodles. Next, I take the dried mushrooms, soak them in water, extract the liquid, and deeply reduce it to create a consommé. Then, I add a dash of almond milk to create a mushroom tea. Serving this mushroom tea alongside the confited mushrooms offers a different nutritional profile. This approach blends various nutritional elements seamlessly.”

3. Cost of Production: The cost of producing plant-based alternatives, especially those that rely on specialized ingredients or processes, can be higher than traditional animal-based products. This can affect pricing and consumer adoption. ‘‘Foreign sellers who were pitching their products in the Indian market are unreasonably more expensive than what the domestic market would accept. We will have to limit our dependency on foreign imported ingredients, especially after COVID as the pandemic impacted the international supply chains as well. Margin structure and value chain cost is one of the critical challenges in the plant-based sector as it impacts the input cost leading to more expensive end products,’’ says Gaurav. 

4. Consumer Acceptance: Despite growing interest in plant-based diets, there is still resistance from some consumers who may be hesitant to try new products or perceive plant-based options as inferior in taste or nutrition. Further, Ashu Phakey, Vice President & Business Head- Frozen & Fresh Foods, ITC, highlights that India has a very distinct landscape, with little interest in mock meat per se. ”The focus is more on providing high-quality protein options, preferably sourced from vegetarian sources than products that taste like meat,” says Ashu.

5. Regulatory Hurdles: Navigating complex regulatory frameworks and labeling requirements for plant-based products can pose challenges for manufacturers, especially when it comes to accurately communicating nutritional information and claims. Gaurav emphasized on the importance of an excellent macro-nutrient profile of the product. He says, ‘‘Our Shami Kebab boasts 17 grams of protein, 11 grams of fiber, approximately 5 grams of fat, and 8 grams of carbs. We prioritize the use of wholesome ingredients in our recipes. Subsequently, we subject our end product to rigorous testing in the lab. If we identify any parameters that require enhancement or optimization, we revisit the drawing board to refine our approach.’’

Nilesh Amritkar, President, Association of Food Scientists and Technologists further talks about the intricate fermentation process required for producing plant-based foods, emphasizing on the precise execution of the fermentation process to meet the standards set by regulatory bodies. This involves careful monitoring of microbial activity, maintaining optimal environmental conditions, and controlling various parameters such as temperature, pH, and nutrient levels throughout the fermentation process. Nilesh highlighted the importance of this diligent approach in guaranteeing the viability and acceptance of plant-based food products in the market. ”The fermentation process must be carefully managed because any deviation can lead to the formation of undesired by-products, which could pose risks to human health if consumed,” says Nilesh. Therefore, considerable efforts are being made nationwide, throughout universities, colleges, and organizations like AFSTI, to train the next generation in the intricacies of fermentation. ”This training ensures that individuals understand the importance of precise control during fermentation to prevent the formation of harmful substances. By imparting this knowledge and expertise, we aim to safeguard consumer health and promote the production of high-quality, safe fermented foods,” says Amritkar.

Apart from these factors that play a significant role in the plant-based industry, there is another innovative approach set up by Gaurav Sharma that helped in the penetration of the plant-based industry

Cracking the 4 Codes in Plant-Based Sector

Gaurav Sharma highlights the vital role of the four codes in penetrating the plant-based market. These code comprises Taste, Price, Availability, and Permissibility, serving as the foundational pillars that enable a plant-based brand to establish, grow, and endure in the market.

 He says, ‘‘We adhere to a four codes: taste, which is indispensable at the table; price, crucial for commercial viability; availability, facilitated by our robust distribution network developed over the years; and permissibility, ensuring that after successfully addressing the first three elements, our product meets all necessary standards.’’

Exploring these codes can certainly drive growth in the plant-based sector, yet the industry must also prioritize plant-based innovations, ensuring that aspiring chefs are equipped to navigate the challenges of this evolving field. This entails fostering an environment where aspiring chefs are not only familiar with traditional culinary practices but are adaptive at harnessing the latest advancements in the plant-based sector that include cooking techniques, ingredients, and technologies. By doing so, the industry can ensure that future culinary professionals are well-prepared to navigate and innovate within this sector. 

Plant-Based Culinary Innovators Shaping the Future of India’s Gastronomy

Training chefs for the plant-based food industry requires a comprehensive approach that encompasses practical skills and a profound understanding of plant-based ingredients, flavors, and culinary techniques. Many emerging chefs must delve into the diverse and rich indigenous cuisines of India to foster acceptance and innovation in plant-based cuisine. In the Second Plant-Based Summit, Parliamentarian Menka Gandhi emphasized the integration of plant-based dishes into wedding buffets and restaurant menus to bolster their demand. However, for such shifts to materialize, the culinary sector needs chefs who can grasp the nutritional profiles and nuances of plant-based ingredients, enabling them to bring innovative plant-based dishes to the table. 

‘‘A lot of chefs need to primarily explore indigenous cuisine. Simply venturing into regions like Uttarakhand or Eastern India reveals an abundance of ingredients, cooking techniques, and spice usage that can truly astonish. So the budding chefs need to travel more, engage in extensive reading, and invest more time in comprehending the detailed requirements of plant-based cuisines to pave the way for fresh innovations,” explains Chef Manish.

Chef K. Thiru, Principal, Welcomgroup School of Hotel Administration, Manipal University, further highlights the importance of culinary industry mentors that guide the new chefs in elevating culinary ventures within the plant-based sector. Mentors play a pivotal role in offering invaluable insights, and practical wisdom that not only provide technical expertise to these novel chefs but also mentor them in areas such as menu development, sourcing of ingredients, kitchen management, and customer satisfaction.

“The future workforce is brimming with ideas. Our task is to identify the most promising ones and present them to consumers, says Chef Thiru. He further mentions that these mentors can help newcomers navigate the complexities of the culinary world and foster a culture of continuous learning and innovation. Mentors can hone their skills, refine their culinary vision, and make meaningful contributions to the plant-based food industry.

Moreover, mentors can also play a crucial role in facilitating networking, professional development, and personal growth. They provide aspiring chefs with valuable connections within the industry, enabling them to access new opportunities and overcome challenges along their culinary journey. By offering guidance and support, mentors empower these budding chefs to build meaningful relationships, expand their professional network, and advance their careers in the competitive culinary landscape. In essence, he highlights the transformative impact of mentorship in nurturing talent, fostering creativity, and driving culinary excellence within the burgeoning plant-based food sector. 

Navigating the Path Forward in the Plant-Based Sector

The plant-based industry is gaining momentum with consumers increasingly indulging in plant-based products. While India has a long-standing tradition of plant-based meals, there are still nuances of plant protein sources that need innovations and proper structure before coming to full light. The integration of indigenous ingredients into plant-based cuisines is necessary for driving the plant-based sector which needs to be aligned with changing dietary preferences, sustainability, and health-conscious trends of the consumers.

However, there are several aspects that need to be dealt with to boost the plant-based sector. These include ingredient sourcing difficulties, ensuring nutritional equivalence, high production costs, consumer acceptance barriers, and navigating regulatory complexities. Overcoming these challenges requires innovative approaches and adherence to foundational principles such as taste, price, availability, and permissibility.

Training chefs for the plant-based food industry is another crucial factor to further thrust the sector, necessitating a deep understanding of indigenous cuisines and mentorship from culinary industry veterans. Mentors provide invaluable guidance in menu development, ingredient sourcing, kitchen management, and professional growth, facilitating networking and fostering innovation within the sector.

Overall the plant-based industry in India holds immense potential but requires concerted efforts in order to address challenges in the culinary landscape and needs to nurture talent through mentorship, culinary exploration, and innovation to bring this novel segment to new heights.

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