More than 4 billion people – over half of the planet’s population – live in Asia. By 2050, the number is expected to reach 5 billion. That means a huge challenge for the continent: how to feed all those people. Alternative proteins play a key role here. They are an important building block in the ability to continue to produce sufficient and well-balanced foods in future while also using resources responsibly.
Growing market for alternative proteins
Organisations such as the Boston Consulting Group predict that by 2035, 1 in 10 portions of meat, eggs or dairy products consumed will consist of alternative proteins. That not only enhances food safety but also helps our environment: it would save as much CO2 as Japan currently emits each year, for example, and enough water to supply London for 40 years.
The Asian market for alternative proteins will likely grow the fastest due to its size alone. It is set to account for 2 thirds of the world’s consumption by 2035. According to forecasts by the research organisation DuPont, the demand for plant-based meat products – one of the most widely available forms of alternative proteins today – will increase over 200% in China and Thailand alone in the next 5 years. Currently, the number of start-ups focusing on alternative proteins is growing rapidly. So for METRO’s subsidiary Classic Fine Foods (CFF), highly focused on Asian markets, it’s the perfect time to push forward with the development of alternative proteins as a pioneer there.
What Are Alternative Proteins?
‘Alternative proteins’ is a common term that regroups different technologies aiming at replacing animal proteins in the food system, in order to limit its inefficiencies. There are 3 categories of alternative proteins:
1. Plant-based proteins made from various ingredients, most notably soybeans, peas, wheat.
2. Fermentation, a technic that includes cultivation of microbes like yeasts for the production of either Meat-like substitutes, eggs and dairy proteins or special ingredients.
3. Cultivated meat, that is obtained by taking cells from animals and cultivating them where they can reproduce quickly with the right nutrients and environment. More: Clean Meat – Beefing Up the Options
While plant-based proteins are already relatively widely available on the market, proteins from the other 2 sources are still in the development stages. According to forecasts, they will be complementing the market for alternative proteins starting around 2030. In addition, there are ‘conscious proteins’, or sustainable animal protein sources. A wide range of sustainable protein sources, both plant- and animal-based, is 1 of 8 focus areas in the METRO sustainability Strategy. As part of this, METRO has established a Position on Conscious Proteins.
It’s not just Asia’s size but also its diversity that make it the ideal test market for alternative proteins, according to Mickael Penvern, Group Category Manager for Alternative proteins at CFF. ‘In Asia, there are many different cultures which all have strong culinary traditions. This diversity makes it very interesting for alternative proteins brands to launch new products here and see how their ingredients can be integrated into various cuisines and cooking methods.’ Plant-based products like tofu, seitan, soya and seaweed have been integral to Asian culture for centuries, so many people are quite open to alternative proteins. At the same time, big cities such as Singapore and Hong Kong are characterised by modern eating habits, great spending propensity and high consumer expectations and offer an innovative environment for companies and new product developments.
Alternative proteins as the key topic
‘We want to become the choice partner for the best Alternative protein brands, and to be recognized as a trailblazer, introducing innovations to our customers. We can see that more and more customers, especially the younger generations, are asking for alternative proteins, and an increasing number of restaurateurs are also integrating sustainable products into their menus., We expect alternative proteins to account for about 10% of our business by 2025. says Christophe Barret, CEO of CFF.
To that end, CFF is working with various players such as start-ups, governments, investors and media and promoting dialogue. This group includes Big Idea Ventures, a venture capital firm that focuses exclusively on alternative proteins. Through this collaboration, CFF regularly takes part in mentoring programs for start-ups in Singapore and advises founders and research and development (R&D) teams on product development. In addition, CFF takes part in many projects promoting this ecosystem like the world’s first virtual tasting for alternative proteins, which took place during the coronavirus pandemic.
Lobster, gazpacho, shrimp balls: innovative recipes for alternative proteins
TheTasteLab serves as CFF’s training and R&D hub. Here, start-ups can work with chef José Luis Del Amo to develop recipes, test products and share their experiences. For Del Amo, this is a very special responsibility: ‘I love collaborating with FoodTech companies because the field is evolving at an extremely fast pace. The road of alternative protein hasn’t been paved yet and it comes with plenty of new challenges – from the selection of new ingredients to adapting my cooking techniques. I need to be creative and test many new approaches. Also, it’s really exciting to be at the forefront of the shift from animal-based to a plant-based food system.’ With his work at TheTasteLab, he helps start-ups create products whose flavour, consistency and ultimately also price will compare to animal proteins – which is the basis for a successful market launch and for a broad acceptance of these products.
Among the highlights he has experienced was the development of a recipe for the world’s first-ever public tasting of cell-based lobster made by the start-up Shiok Meats. Del Amo: ‘It was especially interesting to understand the science behind how cultured seafood is made and to be one of the very first people in the world to be able to cook with such a product. It is an incredible breakthrough in the world of food and I feel extremely lucky to be a part of this milestone.’ In March 2021, CFF in Singapore was also a part of the market launch of Tindle, a plant-based chicken alternative brand by the start-up Next Gen. CFF handles the commercialisation of Tindle products in selected Food service establishments helping the brand to create a positive experience for the final consumers. After Singapore, the rollout of Tindle will take place in other Asian cities like Hong Kong, Macao and Kuala Lumpur. After receiving a further US$20 million in funding, Tindle announced that the company will also enter the U.S. as well as the UAE market. CFF will also handle the distribution in the UAE.
This is right in line with the trend: the Boston Consulting Group forecasts that chicken alternatives will dominate the market, following alternative milk products and on a par with alternative fish products.
Tasty and economical
By developing alternative proteins, CFF aims to contribute to a more sustainable and efficient food system. And not just in Asia, of course, but in all METRO countries. ‘We want to share the knowledge we have gained in our projects to date with other countries and, as a sales partner, establish contact between manufacturers and customers. We see huge potential here,’ says Michael Poggenpohl, Value Creation Director FSD at METRO. In doing so, the METRO subsidiary plays an important role in turning the vision in the Food for Thought report into reality: by around 2035, it should be possible to prepare 90% of the world’s most popular dishes with alternative proteins – and make them tasty and economical.
Alternative Proteins: Sharing Experiences
In order to spread the word about the options in terms of alternative proteins, METRO is promoting the knowledge transfer to other countries with strategies such as online tastings. In early March 2021, CFF Singapore exchanged market information virtually with Rungis Express and introduced 3 brands: Impossible Foods, Karana and Tindle. While CFF chef José Luis Del Amo prepared the products live in Singapore, Rungis Express chef Andre Wolff was cooking in parallel in Germany, so the participants in the online tasting could get to know and try the products together.
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