Cover Photo: Growthwell Foods

The Growthwell Foods CEO shares how the plant‑based food innovation company is catering to Asian palates

When plant-based meat alternatives broke into the mainstream in recent years, many were excited about the proposition of eating “meat” while minimising the health, environmental and ethical impacts of its consumption.

That is, until new research revealed that some alternative meats are highly processed, high in sodium, and contain saturated fats, added sugars and refined oils. Not to mention, many were developed for Western palates.

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“A lot of the initial players in the alternative meat industry were trying their hardest to make the meat indistinguishable from its animal equivalent,” notes Manuel Bossi, group CEO of Singapore-based Growthwell Foods. “It’s a product primarily for meat lovers and flexitarians, so the taste has to be there.” He adds, though, that “technology is evolving and we need to be able to adapt and ensure that the taste is still there while cleaning up the labels.”

In a bid to achieve its goal of inspiring a billion people to go green, the food innovation company recently opened a fully automated plant-based meat and seafood factory—said to be the first in Singapore—and it looks set to dominate the industry with its focus on health, innovation and diversity.

“One thing Growthwell does differently is that we’re very diversified and present in many different categories. We don’t just focus on plant-based alternatives to red meat; we also target seafood and dairy, among others, and make them as healthy and innovative as possible,” Bossi shares. And just as the tastes of modern consumers are constantly evolving, there is still much to learn about the environmental impacts of our actions when it comes to what we eat.

“We’re only just starting to realise how unsustainable the fishing industry is and how detrimental it will be to our planet if the demand for seafood remains high,” says Bossi. “That’s why we moved into selling plant-based alternatives to seafood products.”

Of course, taste will always be of paramount importance, especially as companies experiment and attempt to cater to all palates. “A lot of the American plant-based companies have come to Asia and they struggle because they have to adapt to Asian tastes, something they’re not entirely prepared for,” Bossi notes. 

“We recognise that unless we actually understand Asian cooking and what Asians want as an everyday staple, we will only have people trying things maybe once and then giving up. But we want people to try it and stay.”

It was with this in mind that Growthwell introduced products such as ready-to-eat Asian meals, sold under Gomama, and OKK, which carries egg-free plant-based meat and seafood made from soya and mushroom, and konnyaku respectively. “We’re always looking at how we can make our offerings uniquely Asian but also different so that they stand out,” says Bossi.

That said, he admits that the challenge of penetrating the Asian market still lies in the balance between health and taste. He adds that Growthwell’s primary focus has always been in mimicking the nutritional value of the products it is trying to replicate and that being innovative is key.

Its fish products, for instance, are actually “all made with konjac,” says Bossi. “We’re one of the few companies in the world to use konjac in our plant-based meat alternatives and konjac is so healthy. It’s naturally free of cholesterol and high in fibre, and helps to lower blood sugar [levels] and cholesterol. It’s also very low in calories.”

The recently launched salmon flakes, he shares, is the company’s healthiest product to date under its Happiee! range.

The portfolio brand also offers a range of seafood made with konjac. With the opening of its new manufacturing centre at JTC Foodhub Senoko, Growthwell has even more innovations and products in the works.

The brand is looking to expand its Happiee! range with products such as plant-based calamari rings and salmon poppers, and is also looking to explore more markets in Asia and Europe.

“With alternative meats, it’s difficult to be better than the real thing, but we can try and come as close as possible to it, to cater to more people and to help our earth even more,” Bossi says. “I think that in itself is a very positive thing.”

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