Sustainable Proteins & Plant-Based Market Set To Expand In Asia

Sunday, August 22nd, 2021

Plant-based solutions that offer taste, health and nutrition, clean-label, and a strong sustainability message have the potential to win over consumers in Asia. By Juan Aguiriano, Group Head of Sustainability, Kerry Group.

As consumers become more aware of health, environmental, and ethical concerns, they are increasingly seeking out plant-based alternatives. Their demands and preferences are evolving and is accelerating market growth in sustainable food alternatives. This is evident in NYU Stern’s Center for Sustainable Business (2019) report which indicated that products marketed as sustainable are growing 7.1 times faster than products that are not. 

 “Plant-based” are products that do not contain ingredients derived from animals and can be used as a general term to include vegan and variations of vegetarian diets (lacto and ovo). Studies suggest that Asia has great potential for plant-based food as meat-free diets are already prevalent in the region. According to the 2019 Innova Trends Survey, vegetarian is the most widely followed diet globally with Asian consumers making up the majority. Almost 40 percent of consumers surveyed in India and 20 percent in both China and Indonesia indicated that they follow a vegetarian diet, while combined vegetarian consumers in Europe and North America only made up 10 percent. Asia also had the highest percentage of new launches tagged with vegetarian claims in 2020, further establishing the growing demand.

A 2018 MarketsandMarkets report estimates a 14 percent CAGR in the global alternative meat market in the next five years, eventually hitting US$9.5 billion by 2023—a sizeable market with high demand.

The growth can be attributed to the rise of the flexitarian, a consumer group that eats both plant- and animal-based products. Since they consume both plant- and animal-based products, they expect and demand more from plant-based offerings and will not compromise on taste and nutrition.

Four Key Pillars In The Plant-Based Space

According to data from Kerry Trendspotter’s AI-driven insights, consumers are talking more about plant-based products on social media. Their demands fall broadly under four key pillars: taste, health and nutrition, clean-label, and sustainability. 


Consumers cite taste experience as the most important factor. However, taste has been one of the main challenges for plant-based foods. To win over consumers, brands need to achieve a good balance between providing health benefits and a desirable taste profile—32 percent of Asian consumers said taste and texture would keep them from buying plant-based alternatives. Adding chefs, flavourists, and sensory scientists to innovation processes can help brands create products that deliver strong consumer appeal.

Health & Nutrition

When it comes to nutrition, protein is a recurring consumer demand and there is increased awareness of the quality and origin of protein. A common concern about meat-free diets is that it lacks amino acids which are found in meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy. But plant-based protein can also provide complete amino acid nutrition when consumed as part of a balanced diet—food manufacturers just have to assess the amino acid profile of their protein source as well as its quality and absorption. 

Globally, soy continues to lead in meat substitute and dairy alternative launches. Pea protein is the top ingredient in new products with plant-related claims, and bean and pumpkin are the fastest growing protein ingredients in new launches, according to Innova Market Insights 2019.


While 69 percent of Asian consumers view plant-based foods as healthier, the general consumer is now looking for expanded definitions on ‘clean-labels’. Traditionally, clean-labels only showed claims such as ‘natural’, ‘free from additives’, and ‘vegan or organic’. These days, clean-labels have evolved to also include information on animal welfare, supply chain transparency, sustainable sourcing, and plant-powered nutrition, further elevating the health perception of plant-based foods and beverages.


Understanding how sustainability is perceived in Asia can shed some light on what consumers look for in plant-based offerings. In Asia, it’s about food safety and environmental impact as it directly affects their health and wellbeing. They want to safeguard their health from harmful ingredients and want reassurance that their food comes from safe environments. For example, Bloomberg predicts pork consumption in China to drop by about 35 percent this year due to African swine fever and COVID-19.


How To Optimise Plant-Based Protein For Taste?

Consider that consumers look for flame grilled aroma and taste, a product that is handcrafted with authentic colour, contains recognisable ingredients, and offers balanced nutrition while respecting the environment.

Combining technology and integrated solutions capabilities, food manufacturers can work with salt optimisation, stocks, smoke and grill flavours, cooking character flavours, fermentation (umami) or fermentation for freshness, protein, seasonings, marinades, brines, as well as extrusion, drying, baking, processing to create a plant-based protein that consumers will crave.  Plant-protein producers must also understand how to create a desirable flavour profile. For example, umami and kokumi ingredients allow customers to create a balanced and succulent taste profile.


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Singapore Is World’s First To Approve Sales of Lab-Grown Chicken Meat

COVID-19’s Impact On Food & Drink Markets In Southeast Asia

KH Roberts Partners Leistritz To Advance Plant-Based Foods Innovations In Southeast Asia

New Plant-Based Eating Experience Launched In Singapore