Timo Recker, co-founder and executive chairman of food tech company Next Gen Foods, talks about the region's enormous potential for the plant-based food market.

The global phenomenon that is plant-based meat shows no signs of slowing down, especially in Asia, where the industry is poised for rapid growth. According to the Good Food Institute Asia Pacific, in 2020 a record US$3.1billion was invested in companies creating alternatives to animal-based foods, triple the capital raised in 2019. Singapore in particular—where Next Gen Foods is based—is establishing itself as a hub for alternative protein startups. The country, which has an ambitious “30 by 30” goal of producing 30 per cent of its food domestically by 2030, has spearheaded a series of “firsts” in alternative protein companies. Apart from being the first in the world to approve a lab-grown meat product, its sovereign fund, Temasek, also recently established the Asia Sustainable Foods platform to accelerate the growth of sustainable foods in Asia by taking food-tech companies from incubation to commercialisation.

Here’s why plant-based meat is here to stay, and what it takes to succeed in Asia’s fledgling markets.

The rise of plant-based meat in Asia and the rest of the world

The plant-based foods market holds tremendous potential: as Bloomberg Intelligence reported, it could make up to 7.7 per cent of the global protein market by 2030, with a value of over US$162 billion. The report showed that the Asia-Pacific region, with its population projected to 4.6 billion by 2030, will be particularly vulnerable to limited food supplies—making the region a prime candidate to dominate the plant-based protein market. The report also predicts that the alternative meat market can potentially grow from US$4.2 billion to $74 billion in the next ten years, fuelled by increasingly competitive prices as well as recognition of its positive impacts on health and sustainability.

We chose to launch TiNDLE, our plant-based chicken product, in Singapore for many reasons: it’s a global culinary hub, has a wealth of international talent and is a gateway to Asia. TiNDLE is now available in around 100 restaurants here and its versatility means it has performed well across diverse cuisines, including Chinese, Indian and Thai. TiNDLE is now also present in other culinary epicentres and major markets including Hong Kong, Malaysia, Dubai, Amsterdam, the US, UK and most recently, Germany.

One key learning has been to follow an asset-light business model, meaning we do not build and invest in heavy assets like production machinery. Instead we really focus on key value drivers like R&D, product development, communication and brand, and building our business networks.

Most alternative protein brands welcome other brands in the plant-based meat space as every high-quality product helps to persuade consumers that plant-based meat is a good alternative to animal protein. It’s not a case of winner-takes-all as the potential is just too big. The meat industry is currently a US$1.5 trillion industry, with chicken alone at US$300 billion. If TiNDLE generated US$1 billion in revenue, that would be just 0.3% of the chicken market.

Plant-based proteins offer taste and health benefits

In many Asian countries, meat is aspirational. The biggest challenge for our industry is consumer adoption and conversion—to get more people to choose plant-based protein over meat derived from animals. First there needs to be consumer education and awareness of the impact that eating meat has on the body, animals, and the environment. Alternative-protein companies in turn need to have a very clear product focus and create a cult brand that’s just as aspirational and desirable as animal meat.

Our focus is plant-based chicken, and TiNDLE is designed to deliver the taste, texture, versatility and affordability of chicken. It has just nine simple ingredients, including water, soy, coconut oil and oat fibre; this means that, unlike some cell-based meat products, there are no unusual ingredients that require special regulatory approval. Furthermore, with 17g of protein, 8g fibre and just 120 calories per 100g serving—from a nutritional standpoint TiNDLE is as close to chicken as you can get. In comparison, animal chicken breast has 165 calories per 100g. TiNDLE is also cholesterol-free and very low in sodium and saturated fat compared with other plant-based meats, so much so that it obtained the Singapore Health Promotion Board’s healthier choice symbol.

This is food that helps fight climate change

Pressing climate change issues and the adoption of net-zero targets worldwide have highlighted the need for food sources that minimise environmental harm.

According to a recent Blue Horizon report, “chicken” made from plants (such as TiNDLE) uses 82 per cent less water and 74 per cent less land and produces 88% less greenhouse gas emissions than chicken obtained from birds. The Good Food Institute also found that alternative proteins, such as plant-based meat, free up significant amounts of land for additional climate mitigation strategies, food security and biodiversity protection. Growing plant-based protein eases the pressures conventional farming places on land resources, and also allows for efficient scaling of food production, a valuable advantage especially for land-strapped countries such as Singapore.

Another unforeseen result of the pandemic is that it has driven demand for foods that reduce the risk of zoonotic diseases. Plant-based meat eliminates this risk entirely, in addition to being free from the hormones and antibiotics used in conventional meat production.

Given all these—and with progressively lower prices meaning that you get the same taste for the same price—plant-based meat simply stands out as the better choice.

Timo Recker is the co-founder and executive chairman of Next Gen, a Singapore-based food tech company which owns TiNDLE, a plant-based chicken manufacturer. He is a member of Tatler Asia's Generation T 2021 list.

This piece is part of a collaboration between Tatler Asia and Young Presidents’ Organisation (YPO), a global leadership community of chief executives, which counts more than 30000 members from 142 countries among its members.

Read Timo Recker's full profile on Generation T.


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