Evolve or dissolve

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18th July 2019

Our summer '19 intern, Aryaan Dubash, investigates plant based alternatives in the Indian context

Food is one of the first battlegrounds in the campaign against climate change and it is through this fight that plant-based meats came to be. These vegan meat replacements can be manufactured to not only give consumers the look, taste, and even texture of meat- but are done so in a cholesterol-free, environmentally friendly, and humane manner.

Worth $11.93BN today, the global plant-based meat market is growing at a CAGR of 8.6% and is expected to reach $21.23BN by 2025. The outstanding growth and potential of this market has attracted some of the world’s biggest companies who are all looking to take a bite of the growing plant-based meat industry- these include Nestle, Unilever, and the world’s second largest processor and marketer of meats Tyson Foods. Just take a look at some headlines:

While the market today is primarily dominated by U.S-based start-ups, we will soon see barriers to entry rise as international brands begin to enter the market and its current big-players begin to expand. For instance, Los Angles based Beyond meat, the current leader of the plant-based meat market, has recently purchased its first European plant in The Netherlands. On May 2nd of this year, Beyond Meat went public after raising $240MM with an initial public offering $25 a share; after a 12-month record opening day, investors in Beyond Meat have been more than content with their bet on a plant-based future observing the price of each of their shares skyrocket to $166.20 (15th July After-Hours).

With the plant-based-craze all around the world today, we must ask ourselves- will India adopt the plant-based meat movement? One thing that we do know, is that this innovation has the potential to solve several of the problems faced by the typical Indian consumer.

Not only do plant-based meats have the ability to round-off people’s diets and reduce their cholesterol intake, but can also act as the rich-source of protein that several Indians so desperately need. Plant-based meats can also act as a suitable alternative to beef in India which, as a result of cow slaughter being banned in 24 of 29 states, over 80 million people are deprived of eating. It is a huge fallacy that most of India is vegetarian; in reality, 71% of Indians eat meat, and with meat consumption growing at an outstanding CAGR of 20%, this figure is only going to become larger.

The opportunity for penetration in the Indian market is indeed significant. In fact, an analysis conducted by Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems found that 47.8% of Indians are extremely likely to purchase plant-based meat.

That being said, let’s play devil’s advocate for minute. The very same survey mentioned above found that Indians experience significantly higher food neophobia- which is an extremely important determinant of a customer’s tendency to purchase plant-based meats- than people from other countries. Mark Khan, the founder of Omnivore Partners, said in an interview that ‘Indian Vegetarians are so meat-averse that many don’t eat mushrooms because of the texture’; he went on to state his belief that plant-based meats are an ‘example of a consumer trend that has been ported out of California and is a cultural misfit in India’.

Does the Indian market allow for a direct-to-consumer brand with a mission statement strong enough to attract a meaningful and substantial community, while at the same time having the ability to provide for a better user-experience than the consumption of traditional meats? We at Lightbox believe that such a company could be key in allowing for a thriving plant-based meat industry in India.

Should plant-based meats be marketed and viewed as simply another imitation meat along the lines tofu and soy based substitutes? Or are they something new entirely? Whether or not plant-based meats are seen as a ground-breaking revolution or simply the latest fad, one thing is for certain: its creators do not believe they’ve found a niche in the market- they believe they’ve created the future of protein- and here’s to hoping that they’re right.