The growing need for wholesome nutrition, the rise of the flexitarian and changing attitudes towards meats are paving the way for plant-based products in Asia Pacific, the Middle East and Africa (APMEA)
KerryDigest Fast Facts:
- Plant-based food solutions are becoming increasingly important as consumption of natural resources stretch the earth’s ability to replenish.
- Flexitarians are leading the charge when it comes to embracing plant-based food.
- To thrive in the space, plant-based players should deliver on consumer expectations for taste and texture, health and nutrition, price and availability and suitability for local dishes.
- Consumers largely view the plant-based category as functional, with little emotional connection to it. There is an opportunity for innovations in plant-based to tap positive emotions and traditional language used in meat products to get consumers excited and craving plant-based products.
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KerryDigest Full Scoop:
Global population growth, urbanisation and greater purchasing power are using up natural resources faster than the Earth can replenish them. According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), 26% of total global greenhouse gas emissions are caused by food production.
As consumers in APMEA become more aware of health, environmental and ethical concerns, they are increasingly seeking out plant-based alternatives. Their demands and preferences are evolving and accelerating market growth in sustainable food alternatives.
Changing perceptions of meat
To understand consumers’ changing perceptions on meat, we must look at how they view sustainability as a whole. Compared to their western counterparts whose main motivations are clean label, health, sustainability and their impact on the planet and the environment, consumers in APMEA ─ and in Asia in particular ─ view sustainability in the context of their personal stakes; they are concerned about sustainability because of how it directly affects their health and wellbeing.
APMEA consumers want to safeguard their health from harmful ingredients and want reassurance that their food comes from safe environments. For example, Bloomberg predicts pork consumption in China will drop by about 35% this year due to the effects of African swine fever and COVID-19.
While meat is well-loved in the region, there is also a growing concern about food security and the harmful effects meat has on the body, such as fat and cholesterol. As a result, consumers are seeking new foods and alternatives that offer health benefits and meet nutritional requirements.
As wholesome, delicious plant-based alternatives find their way into traditional meat-based dishes like burgers or curries, and capture the consumer’s imagination, this has caused a shift in the perception of traditionally meat-based dishes. Reinvented meatless favourites are no longer a staple in diets but regarded as part of a special or indulgent meal.
Great opportunity for growth in plant-based food
“Plant-based” are products that do not contain ingredients derived from animals. The phrase can be used as a general term to include vegan and variations of vegetarian diets (such as lacto and ovo). A Kerry study on meat alternatives suggests that APMEA has great growth potential for plant-based food as meat-free diets are already common in many parts of the region.
The numbers are promising — 28% of APMEA consumers surveyed have already cut back on their meat consumption to a large extent and only eat it on rare occasions, and 44% who consume meat are open to trying alternatives.
On a global scale, a 2019 report published on Research And Markets estimates a 14% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) in the global alternative meat market in the next five years, eventually hitting US$9.5 billion by 2023 — a sizeable market with high demand.
The growth can be attributed to the rise of the flexitarian, a consumer segment that eats both plant- and animal-based products. This group of consumers are open to trying out new foods, as long as taste and nutrition are not compromised.
Experimental consumer leading plant-based trend
Plant-based consumers in APMEA can be broadly categorised into three segments — those who have health concerns and want to eat cleaner, the socially aware consumer championing ethical causes and the experimental consumer with a flexible diet who is open to new foods.
There is space for plant-based alternatives for each of these, but the experimental flexitarian has the most potential for plant-based brands. Thanks to their openness, flexitarians are willing to go beyond their own cultural and geographical borders to look for new tastes and food experiences that can give them better health and nutritional benefits.
While the different segments have varied motivations for seeking out meat alternatives, they cite the same barriers when it comes to plant-based entry. To capture their interest, plant-based manufacturers must focus on these key pillars: taste and texture, health and nutrition, affordability and a product’s suitability for local cuisines.
Consumers expect meat alternatives to have the same taste and texture as meat
Taste and texture are the most important factors for consumers. According to the meat alternative study by Kerry, consumers in APMEA have high expectations of the taste and texture of their meat alternatives — 37% expect meat alternatives to taste like actual meat while 20% expect the texture to be the same.
However, taste and texture are some of the main challenges for plant-based foods and there is much room for growth. In the same study, 47% of consumers indicated that current meat alternative offerings don’t have the same taste as meat and 45% find they don’t have the same texture. But they are willing to continue trying – for example, although 77% of consumers surveyed in Thailand indicated that taste and texture of alternatives are questionable now, the same number are willing to purchase if new solutions are available.
To win over consumers, brands need to achieve a good balance between providing health benefits and a desirable taste profile. Including chefs, flavourists and sensory scientists at the heart of innovation processes can help brands create products that deliver strong consumer appeal.
Plant-based options are the preferred meat alternatives
When it comes to health and nutrition, protein is a recurring consumer demand and there is increased awareness of its quality and origin. A common concern about meat-free diets is that it lacks amino acids which are found in meat, poultry, fish, eggs and dairy. But plant-based protein can also provide complete amino acid nutrition when consumed as part of a balanced diet — food manufacturers just need to assess the amino acid profile of their protein source as well as its quality and absorption.
Kerry research found that soy (and its variants) is the most popular choice for plant-based meat alternatives, largely as a result of the cultural adoption of soy and its bi-products in Southeast Asia and China. Research from an Innova study on plant protein ingredients supports this. Except for in North America, soy is the top plant protein globally — 65% of new launches in Asia had soy as the main ingredient as well as 40% of those in the Middle East and North Africa. Another Innova report on plant-based trends showed that a high percentage of new meat substitute products in the Middle East and Africa had protein claims, going from 0% in 2019 to over 60% in 2020.
While the majority of APMEA consumers are turning to meat alternatives they perceive to be part of a healthier lifestyle offering more wholesome nutrition, decisions behind protein choices can vary. In some countries, consumers are turning to meat alternatives to address existing health issues. For example, in the Philippines, chronic health ailments such as diabetes and high blood pressure are compelling more people to consider a plant-based diet.
Adjusted pricing may help increase conversion and widespread use
Across the board, 70% of APMEA consumers believe that the price for meal alternatives is currently too high but would purchase if this was resolved. According to consumers, the current price points for meat alternatives are not favourable for regular and widespread consumption. This often results in meat alternatives becoming one-off purchases as ingredients for home use. Indonesia and Thailand are key markets where 81% of the respondents felt the price was too high.
On top of that, 66% of consumers in APMEA believe that availability of these alternatives is an issue. The same respondents indicated that they would purchase plant-based products if they become more readily available. What’s more, there is often confusion over where meat alternatives can be found in the supermarket. Consumers expect them to be found in the chilled section as these are considered to be fresher than frozen food products.
Majority of plant-based consumption happens at home
Consumers in most markets in APMEA expect to enjoy their plant-based meals at home and opt for food products that are convenient and easy to prepare — 50% of respondents currently find preparing plant-based dishes inconvenient and 47% say they don’t have the time to do so.
Plant-based players can benefit from this trend with innovations that make application easier for everyone, such as creation of local cuisine in different formats — including pre-planned, pre-prepped meals that help save time and confusion.
Today’s consumers tend to view the plant-based category as functional, with little emotional connection to it. There is an opportunity for plant-based innovations to tap on positive emotions and traditional language used for meat products by adding elements of fun and indulgence. Instead of associating plant-based alternatives with a ‘negative’ emotion (i.e. highlighting the absence of real meat), which can lead to a clinical and prescriptive approach, consider positioning them as ‘delicious’, ‘juicy’, ‘succulent’, ‘sizzling’ rather than ‘meat free’, ‘alternative’ and ‘no-meat’. By highlighting the naturally appealing qualities of plant-based products, you’ll increase your likelihood of attracting new consumers.
Meatless Asian favourites such as plant-based meatball pho, or Thai green curry and beef bulgogi with plant-based meats are possibilities with the right innovation partner. Explore our Solution Finder to see how we can co-create with you to build plant-based products with great taste and functional benefits. To learn more, contact us.