The plant-based movement is continuing to grow as modern consumers strive for healthier food options. Plant-based foods are made of ingredients derived from vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, seeds and/or legumes.
The segment has seen a paradigm shift in recent years, with people opting for vegan and flexitarian diets. And then there is the mainstream appeal of brands such as Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods.
Both companies have had their products featured in restaurants and in fast food chains across the world. In 2019, Burger King launched the Impossible Whopper in select markets, replacing beef patties with Impossible Foods patties.
Beyond Meat on the other hand have supplied their beef-less “beef” and plant-based sausage to Carl’s Jr. and Dunkin’. The company is also behind McDonald’s new McPlant Burger, currently rolling out across the globe. Recently in January, KFC launched a Zero Chicken Burger in Singapore. The limited offering features meat-free chicken burger, the fast-food giant’s first ever meat-free alternative product.
According to market research, the plant-based foods segment is expected to be worth USD74.2 billion ($S98.9b) by 2027. The market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 11.9 percent between 2020 to 2027. In Asia, more consumers are beginning to accept these meat-free options as part of their diet. As such, the segment has begun to see extended growth with more players arriving in the market.
It’s Not Pork, It’s Jackfruit
Asia is viewed as a key market for this burgeoning segment and enterprising companies have been quick to capitalise. Singapore start-up Karana for one has launched a whole plant based ‘pork’, made from jackfruit. Billed as a guilt-free meat alternative that can be enjoyed without compromises, the product features in several local restaurants already.
Karana’s product is made from jackfruit that is sourced responsibly from small holder farms in Sri Lanka. Presently the pork alternative is offered shredded or minced. The company takes pride in not utilising harsh chemicals or heavy processing to enhance the texture of its meat-like product.
Co-founder, Blair Crichton explains the company saw an opportunity for minimally processed plant-based alternatives with the right texture and versatility. Working with its team of experts, Karana found a way to process young jackfruit to make it more meat-like and easier to cook whilst retaining its integrity and benefits of the whole plant.
Dan Riegler, the company’s other half, adds that jackfruit was specifically chosen as it is an extremely efficient crop: “With high yields and low water usage, it is friendly to smallholder farmers and is typically grown intercropped, promoting biodiversity.” Riegler also reveals that 60 percent of jackfruit is currently being wasted. This way, Karana will not only help reduce wastage but also work alongside farmers to support the local economy.
Plant-Based For Asian Palates
The arrival of these new innovative meat-free products has also allowed chefs to be more creative and adventurous. Karana is currently available in restaurants such as Candlenut, Butcher Boy, Open Farm Community, Morsels, Atout and Grain Traders.
Malcolm Lee, chef-owner of Michelin-starred Candlenut, is looking forward to introducing Karana dishes to diners. “At Candlenut we believe in using the best possible ingredients and keeping things simple,” says Lee. “We’re thrilled to be a launch partner for Karana, Asia’s first whole-plant meat substitute.”
To prove how versatile its plant-based foods are, The Vegetarian Butcher has partnered several Chinese restaurants for Chinese New Year. The Vegetarian Butcher produces plant-based proteins, which compete with animal meat with respect to taste, texture, and nutritional value.
While Chinese restaurants have no shortage of meat-free dishes, the brand’s meat substitutes will surely appease vegetarian and flexitarian diners. Steamboat venues like City Hot Pot are offering a NoMeat Vegetarian Set with butcher-like offerings such as the NoBeef Burger and NoMeatballs.
The brand’s NoChicken Chunks are currently being utilised in The Nature Café’s Sweet & Sour Chicken Slice and Chicken Nugget with Dried Chilli, as well as Collin’s lo hei platter for the Lunar Year celebrations.
The Social Kitchen at Jurong Bird Park will also feature two new dishes in the spirit of Chinese New Year. Diners can look forward to Prosperity NoChicken Festive Salad, the restaurant’s interpretation of yusheng. It comprises thick chunks of The Vegetarian Butcher NoChicken meat and fresh vegetables tossed in sweet and tangy sauce. There is also the Happiness No “Bak Kwa”, a crispy thin crust pizza topped with fragrant chargrilled plant-based ‘bak kwa’.
Singapore’s Float Foods is the latest player in the plant-based foods market. Its product is Asia’s first commercial plant-based whole egg substitute, which it calls OnlyEg. The food technology start-up has produced legume-based substitutes for both egg yolk and egg white as two distinct components. This allows OnlyEg to be prepared in a wide variety of styles including sunny side-up, over easy, or soft boiled.
According to Float Foods, the product is one of the first to achieve this level of similarity to a real chicken egg. The closest alternatives presently are liquid blends that are limited to scrambled eggs and omelettes. CEO Vinita Choolani reveals that the company’s goal was to create a plant-based food ecosystem within Singapore that caters to the Asian diet.
“Eggs play a major role in Asian cuisine,” she adds. “Our goal is to apply food science and innovation to build plant-based products such as OnlyEg that enable cultural relevance. It also aims to contribute to a sustainable food ecosystem that can be a part of Singapore’s future food plans.”
OnlyEg not only offers versatility, functionality and nutritional value that matches that of a whole chicken egg. It also helps mitigate the potential for animal-to-human disease transmission, hormones or antibiotics residue and supply chain disruption. In turn, this helps reducing the planet’s carbon footprint and land use while adding to food diversity.
Float Foods is currently raising capital through a Series A round as it gears OnlyEg for commercial readiness by 2022. The global plant-based egg applications market itself is projected to reach over USD1.5 billion (S$2b) by the end of 2026.
The potential for growth in plant-based egg innovations in the region is there. Recently, American plant-based egg producer Eat Just Inc announced a USD120 million (S$200m) investment for a plant-protein facility in Singapore.