Christian H. Cadeo, Managing Partner, Big Idea Ventures
Wherever you travel in Asia you will find local dishes made from almost every part of almost every animal that can be eaten. When you venture outside the urban centers you can discover local ethnic delicacies that even use the blood, hooves, and everything else from the animal that most of Western society might deem as being unfit for consumption.
While the older generation harkens back to time-honored traditions of eating beef and pork, lamb and of course the various flavors of poultry, the younger generations are questioning how important meat is to them. Millenials in particular are incredibly astute when it comes to climate-related issues as well as health and diet, so the recent advancements in alternative proteins have created a paradigm of questioning whether we really need to be eating as much traditional meat as we once did.
The question is are we seeing the same level of interest and investment into alternative proteins as we are in the West?
The answer is a resounding yes, interestingly the take on alternative protein is also taking on an Asian flavor as well. You only need to look at what we are investing in at Big Idea Ventures which is the VC fund I work at to realize the appetite is ravenous.
What is similar between East and West is the shared goal of aiming to keep the eater happy; as long as it tastes and feels like the meat they are used to generally the end consumer will be satisfied. And truth be told in many Asian dishes like curries and soups it’s often difficult to discern what you are even eating!
What is important is the strong relationship between the ingredients and the taste of the dish. For this reason companies like Karana have bet big on whole plants as meat replacements, starting with young Jackfruit because it’s consistency is already very meat-like (especially like pulled pork or chicken). When it is harvested early it has a neutral taste that can easily take in the flavors of the spices it is being cooked in. Pulled pork tacos are a favorite dish jackfruit is being substituted for with dozens of recipes popping up across the internet, Karana is now optimising Jackfruit for Asian applications such as charsiu.
One of the success factors of Jackfruit is that it is widely abundant across most of the tropical and subtropical Asian countries. Because it is eaten as a fruit and as an ingredient transferring it into a meat substitute isn’t a far fetch. Add in the plant’s massive yield (2-3 tons of fruit per year) and it makes the equation difficult to ignore.
Pork is a target for alternative proteins because of the detriment to the climate, the harshness the conditions of raising pigs for slaughter, and also its religious implications. With 62% of the global population of Mulsims living in Asia the opportunity to introduce a pork substitute has clear financial implications. Enter Phuture Meat which is another Big Idea Ventures investment that make a 100% plant-based pork mince product that like most other plant-based proteins, look and taste like pork mince.
What is critical for these technologies to work though is not only that they look, feel, and taste like meat, but they must be more sustainable than the animal-based protein. According to Phuture, one day of a diet using Phuture will equate to 20lbs less C02 emissions, 1,100 gallons of water, 45 pounds off grain, and 30 square feet of forest land (based on savings from now having to farm a pig).
Watch out for other vegan delights like Confetti foods mixing meaty Asian flavors into their delicious crispy vegetable chips and healthy plant-based vitamin supplements from Lvl Life to get your healthy kick on .
While plant-based protein solves for the vegetarian and vegan alternative meat seekers, some meat eaters who seek protein alternatives want to continue eating meat without the negative impact that traditional meat processing has. Enter lab-grown meat, also called cultivated meat (as defined by the NGO Good Food Institute).
Cultivated meat is sometimes considered controversial due to the idea that humans shouldn’t be “playing God”. If you can get past this issue the future is looking bright as there are numerous cultivated meat companies emerging around the world and in the Asia Pacific region.
An animal-based food that has been recently focused on is the delicacy made from duck or goose livers, foie gras. GOURMEY is making strides in tackling the difficult task of producing foie gras from duck cells and recreating the effect of force feeding directly at the cell level so aficionados can enjoy a rich and savory guiltfree version. With a global backlash on foie gras due to linked animal cruelty, GOURMEY may be the catalyst to spark a resurgance of foie gras enjoyment.
Another Singapore-based company is targeting cultivated seafood for Asian dishes like dim sum. Shiok Meats is targeting the massive seafood industry growing cell-based shellfish such as crab, lobster, and shrimp to replace ocean trawling that often results in dolphins and tortoises accidentally being caught and killed by accident.
Whether it’s seafood, foie gras, beef, pork, or even lamb (check out another one of our investment Black Sheep Foods), there is no denying the supply of satisfying alternative proteins is available to meet the global growing demand.
The shift to alternative proteins is happening; while it may take time culturally for the older generations to adapt, the youth will dictate where they will be spending their money. With the likes of Impossible Foods, Beyond Meats, and Just are making waves in the US, there are plenty of platforms emerging in Asia to watch out for.