Over the past five years, the plant-based food movement in India has taken center stage among the most defining trends in the food industry. As the global alternative protein industry experiences unprecedented growth in investment and research and development opportunities, it is no longer limited to a niche segment of animal welfare advocates. In 2020, $ 3.1 billion was raised by alternative protein companies, globally.
Using techniques such as fermentation, extrusion, and prolamin fractionation, these companies have created herbal products that present themselves like their animal counterparts, mimicking both feel and texture. Some companies extract the protein directly from the plant source – one example is a pea protein used by Beyond Meat. Other companies extract plant DNA and multiply it using fermentation to create molecules like “heme,” which has now become a staple in attempts to achieve that “meaty” flavor profile – as in the case of Impossible Foods plant-based burger patties, sausages, and chicken nuggets.
Some of the world’s largest meat companies have quickly invested in innovations in the plant protein sector. Tyson Foods, as part of its Raised and Roasted product line, has created plant-based burgers, Italian sausages and whole grain tenders that contain 75% less saturated fat than their meat-based counterparts. Cargill, under its plant-based protein brand PlantEver, created meatless chicken nuggets that were available at Chinese KFC centers, meeting growing demand in China in the wake of the Covid-19 outbreak.
NestlÃ© markets a pea-based drink, Wundais, as a carbon-neutral alternative to cow’s milk.
Start-ups in India are capitalizing on this dynamic market trend by customizing alternatives to suit the tastes of the Indian consumer. Good Dot, one of the first herbal companies to launch in India, created ready-to-eat products. Vezlay, created soy products including shawarma, chops and shammi kebab.
In its products, Imagine Meat has tried to narrow the gap between taste and sustainability by creating herbal products like chettinad biryani, keema, seekh kabab and nuggets.
Evo Foods creates a nutritious egg substitute and claims that its liquid egg substitute tastes the same as eggs and is rich in vitamins B12, D3, and BCAAs. Even start-ups like Epigamia which offer traditional dairy products are venturing into the plant space by launching alternatives without dairy products.
Plant-based alternatives to meat, dairy and eggs are significantly better for the environment, public health and animal welfare, making them increasingly attractive to traditional businesses and start-ups.
The world’s population is expected to reach 11 billion over the next 30 years, posing an increased threat to food security. Using animals to convert plant protein to animal protein like meat, milk or eggs is inefficient and unsustainable and this makes increased reliance on sustainable plant-based food resources can help the world meet the goals United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG).
Plant-based alternatives have been found to require 47-99% less land, 72-99% less water and emit 30-90% less greenhouse gases compared to products from animal origin. Whole foods and plant-based diets have been shown to reduce the incidence of major chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes. The herbal alternatives entirely bypass the need for animal husbandry and thus achieve a high score in animal welfare.
As the world grapples with the harsh realities of climate change, hunger and pandemics, there is an opportunity for a renewed food system – one that respects the environment, which improves the health of current and future generations, guarantees our food safety and prioritizes animal welfare. .
Indian consumers have an important role to play in the transition to such a system, as do Indian entrepreneurs. Together, we must do our best to ensure that our food system is technologically advanced, environmentally friendly, cruelty-free, and anchored by innovative products that satisfy our need for a more secure future without putting aside our desires for the future. ‘a tasty and satisfying meal!
Shreya is Head of Human Entrepreneurship Program and Priyanka is Campaigner, Institutional Policy, Farm Animal Protection, Humane Society International India