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- Alt protein to all protein (Part 2: Meat, Eggs, and Alts)
Alt protein to all protein (Part 2: Meat, Eggs, and Alts)
The way forward for Asia
As I looked into meat consumption, I was reminded of a couple of lines from Warren Belasco’s Meals to Come that really resonated.
“All over the world and throughout time, women have struggled and sacrificed to feed others, while men philosophize – and also eat better than women. Ironically, a nutritional case can be made that women should eat more meat (especially for iron), while men, who suffer more from heart disease, should eat a lot less.”
No, I’m not making this a “women vs men” thing, though it could make for an interesting marketing message to promote meat products for women… Just saying.
It just got me curious about iron-deficiency anemia. Take a little gander at the heatmap of anemia prevalence globally. Curious little overlap there with the high vs low animal protein consuming countries (see last week’s Exhibit A), no?
Prevalence of anemia by country, 2021
As it turns out, protein does play a role in iron metabolism and specific proteins aid the transport and storage of iron. So, protein deficiency could lower the synthesis of various proteins, including the ones needed for iron metabolism. There are a lot of ifs and maybes, and nutrition is notoriously complex and non-standardize, so I’m not saying anything more than this is something interesting to ponder about.
And now, back to business.
With growing affluence, meat consumption has also grown in Asia. Across the region, fresh meat from wet markets dominate the sector, mainly because it’s easily available and often cheaper.
But increasing urbanization has led to a demand for convenient, ready-to-eat meat products that save on preparation time. Improvements in cold chain infrastructure has brought into the market frozen or chilled meat products as well.
These are still growing segments as consumers make the slow shift from fresh meat to more processed versions. And consumers looking for convenient options still want them to be healthy.
In Southeast Asia and China, there is a growing demand for processed meats that are lower in salt and fat, avoid the use of artificial preservatives/additives, and call out high protein content.
However, there is a dearth of products available satisfying these conditions, indicating a significant opportunity for new or non-local brands.
GourmetPro expert Rob Hall, CEO at Brand4Humans, also highlighted the growing demand for high-quality meat especially among upper-income consumers in SEA. “In Bangkok, for example, there are now a number of specialist butchers catering to the demand for high-quality, grass-fed, organic meats. These are expensive, but they do indicate a demand for quality products. Such offerings are likely to do well in countries like Indonesia and Malaysia as well.”
In India, the organized meat sector is still not as evolved as the dairy sector in part due to the complicated consumption patterns. What people consume is highly dependent on where they live, their faith, or even the day of the week.
Processed (cleaned and packaged) meat is still an emerging sector in India, with most people buying fresh from the local butcher. Though interestingly, a lot of meat processing happens for the export market.
In urban areas, specialized meat delivery services like Licious have emerged that take a tech-based approach to ordering and safety. These are premium services that operate in urban centers, but still cater to the demand for fresh products.
One sector that is still largely untapped across SEA and India is meat-based snacks. There are some frozen products that are available like nuggets, but branded ambient meat snacks are practically non-existent, partly because there are so many freshly made products available, either in restaurants or as street food.
In Thailand, Chao Sua Snacks introduced its first meat snack – “Pork Crunchy”.
These are crispy pork sticks that are combined with either almonds or roasted chilis and have 9g of protein.
The packaged meat snacks market in Thailand is pegged to grow by more than 50%.
India got its first branded ready-to-eat meat snack only as recently as April 2023.
Doki Foods makes high-protein jerky and chips with chicken and buffalo, in international flavors like Korean Gochujang, Tokyo Teriyaki, and Tellicherry Pepper.
Each 30g serving has around 14-16g of protein.
This is a premium product and the company focuses on quality and safety first.
Image source: Doki Foods
The high-protein meat snacks segment is going to be a fascinating space to watch and I suspect the segment’s growth will hinge heavily on how well these products are received.
In India, Doki sells its product online at present but being placed on shelves as an ambient meat snack may cause retailers some pause because of how sensitive an issue meat is.
For Thailand, the biggest competition will come from street food, whose pricing will likely be far more affordable for a wider consumer base.
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Asia is also the world’s largest producer of eggs, with five Asian countries featuring among the top 10 countries, according to Statista. The APAC region accounts for around 65% of the global egg market. So, supply is not much of an issue here.
Eggs are another popular source of affordable protein across Asia and consumption is quite high in East and Southeast Asian countries.
Eggs are popular in South Asia as well but doesn’t come close to the rest of Asia in terms of per capita consumption per year.
In India, egg consumption (like meat) is constrained by religious factors alongside economic ones. Despite this, the demand for eggs is projected to grow.
Across Asia, there is a strong preference for fresh eggs, though specifics may vary (like size and shell color). But that’s not to say there isn’t innovation happening. Fresh eggs are becoming more sophisticated in terms of claims. “Designer eggs” – which are nutritionally fortified – are available for those who can afford them, adding extra benefits alongside protein and various micronutrients.
There are eggs that are enriched with:
Omega-3 fatty acid for cardiovascular health and brain development
Lutein for improved yolk color and retinal development
Selenium to reduce joint inflammation
Iodine and various vitamins
These modifications depend on the breed of chicken and what the chickens are fed, once again opening the possibility of all kinds of fortification, perhaps even protein..
There may be potential to make packaged liquid or powdered eggs for specific applications for home use, but such products may not appeal to markets where the fresh product is available in plenty. These are also likely to be very expensive compared to fresh eggs.
However, they may be an option to protect against the fluctuating prices of eggs and losses due to diseases, which are becoming increasingly common in the region. They may also be convenient for people who want to focus on the protein aspect and just want the egg whites without having to deal with the yolks.
Asia is no stranger to plant-based protein
Yes, I said I’d be making a case for animal protein, and I did. Animal sources can’t be ignored when addressing the protein gap in diets in Asia – at least for the time being.
But, I also did say that it isn’t the most sustainable way to get protein. We looked at the emerging alternative protein space in Asia in our AFTEA posts Part 1 and Part 2, and so I won’t go into much detail here.
Plant-based sources like legumes (soy, peas, lentils, etc.) are gaining a lot of ground in the global alternatives space, but these are already staples in Asia and innovation for staples tends to be slow and limited. Mushrooms and seaweed/algae also hold potential as plant-based protein sources. Because these are common ingredients in these parts, the average consumer may not see them as “meat or protein alternatives”, just as a normal part of the diet.
That doesn’t mean there isn’t scope to innovate and change that perception. A recent survey found that two-thirds of Thailand’s population wants to eat less meat over the next two years and replace it with plant-based alternatives. The main drivers for this are health and nutrition, but price and availability are key barriers. This is true in other countries in SEA as well.
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In Southeast and East Asia, one plant source that stands out and has high consumption is soy protein. Soybeans have one of the highest protein concentrations among plant products and are among the few complete plant protein sources. Soy is processed and consumed in different forms, including tofu, tempeh, and soy-based drinks, in Southeast and East Asia.
Tempeh and tofu products have recently started to enter the Indian market as well, but as slightly more premium products. They don’t always position themselves as meat alternatives, since the meat association can put off a lot of customers. The high-protein and plant-based ingredients are the major claims.
Source: Hello Tempayy
Lentils are a staple food in South Asia, and in combination with rice, are touted as constituting a complete protein. As this is a staple food, innovation in lentils has been minimal, but that appears to be changing. There are a number of new launches that incorporate lentil flour or sprouted lentils into ready-to-eat or ready-to-cook products. Lentils are an interesting set of ingredients as they have become a popular base for plant-based egg alternatives, like Singapore-based Float Food’s product, called OnlyEg.
It’s important for plant-based substitutes to be accessible to Asian consumers, in terms of taste, health, and price, for them to keep coming back. Highly processed products may also not find takers, so an element of freshness is needed.
Everybody loves protein
We’re at a time when people love protein unconditionally, while maintaining an on-off relationship with its macronutrient siblings, carbohydrates and fats. The health and wellness benefits of protein are important for consumers and this has boosted the protein market as a whole. This shift is also happening in South and Southeast Asia, but it’s still in an early stage.
F&B brands can vouch for protein becoming a sure-fire selling point. According to market research firm Innova, protein claims globally have grown by a CAGR of 10% in new product launches between 2017 and 2022, with regional variations.
Source: Innova/Nutritional Outlook
For Asia, with its high protein deficiency, there is a lot of potential to get consumers to increase their protein intake by calling out the protein content on pack. Not all sources may be obvious sources of protein for consumers, especially when it is linked to plants, but claims can go a long way in helping Asian consumers make the connection between the food and its links to protein. This in turn could help improve the nutritional profile of the region.
Key opportunity areas
In many cases, simply highlighting protein content in different foods could go a long way in helping Asian consumers understand the diversity in sources.
Packaged ambient meat snacks: new to South and Southeast Asia, we’re keeping an eye on these
Eggs: Designer eggs, with different fortification options
Alternatives: Soy, lentils, certain vegetables are good sources of protein, but are so commonplace that consumers may not be willing to pay the premium for the processed stuff. Tasty, affordable products will be key.
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