The emergence of the plant-based meat sector in India today

Updated: Sep 24, 2021

For some time now, there has been a growing movement to fight climate change, fix malpractices in animal farming and meat production and people seeking out a plant-based diet to do their bit for the planet. That's in the west though - for us Indians, we're still on the cusp of that food revolution.

 

Plant-based meat or mock meat, is a billion dollar industry worldwide. With the world getting smaller and increasing upward mobility among Indians, clean, conscious eating is catching up. We now want ethically-sourced, climate-friendly products that will feel light on our stomachs, albeit a tab bit heavy on the pocket.


The traditional animal-based meat production practice is considered as one of the leading causes of many irreversible environmental issues such as deforestation, greenhouse gas emissions, land and water depletion.


Helpless animals like goats, chickens, cows and pigs, in slaughterhouses across the world are tortured and slaughtered for meat (Representation image / Image user credit: Tras Los Muros)


On the other hand, plant-based meat is designed to imitate meat. They mimic the taste, texture, smell and appearance of animal meats, thereby redefining our understanding of meat. Still nascent in India, the industry in the west has a rather strong presence. Plant-based burgers, ground meat, sausages, nuggets and seafood can be found in grocery stores and restaurant menus.


Plant based products are readily available across grocery stores in the western countries (Image credit: Barrons)


Jumping on this new green revolution is the Indian start-up ecosystem.


Demand for plant-based meat today

Good Dot, an Udaipur based food tech start-up is bringing plant-based proteins at an affordable price, which can be distributed anywhere and bought by everyone. Their products provide a taste of meat, only healthier and cruelty-free.


The team of Good Dot admits that there is a demand for plant-based meat, in their home state Rajasthan and across India. “Taste and price are the key drivers for the fast adoption of plant based meat”, says the team.


To meet this growing demand, Good Dot has tied up with e-commerce platforms to increase the availability of their products.

The team says, “Selling our products through our website, Amazon and RCM, has ensured that our products are readily available all across India.”

Dr P Raja, the director of BioTrack Foods which owns the brand Vegetagold (manufactures plant-based meat products), reiterates the huge demand, as many people are turning vegetarian and vegan for health reasons.

Dr Raja says, “People are looking for new types of food, especially in restaurants and events. Catering is a big sector for mock meats, as it can give the taste and feel of non-vegetarian food even on auspicious days. In addition, since the soya content in mock meats are rich in proteins, some prefer this as their protein alternatives.”

Megha Gupta, the content marketing manager of Moky, a vegan startup based out of Chennai, gives three reasons for the growing demand of plant-based products - sustainable diet choice, improving health and people's migration towards vegetarianism.


Some of the major products of Moky, which are branded as healthy, delicious and pure (Image credit: eatmoky.com)


Challenges faced in this space

Despite the accessibility of mock meat online, Dr Raja isn’t very optimistic about the demand growing too high.

He says, “Plant-based meats are physically not available across many stores because it is a frozen product. Not all shops in India have freezers to maintain the products.”

The mock-meats produced at Vegetagold have to be kept frozen at extremely low temperatures -18 degrees Celsius. (Image credit: Vegetagold Facebook)


It is also more expensive than animal meat.

“On an average, the price ranges are on the higher side ranging between Rs 800 to Rs 1,000. Since most of the raw materials have to be imported to give the texture and taste, the manufacturing price is high, which soars up the prices”, adds Dr Raja.
Megha Gupta of Moky echoes the same concerns, “While these products are readily available online, the prices (average prices of the Moky products start from Rs 600 per kg) aren't viable enough for regular usage for a middle class Indian family today.”

It’s not just about availability or affordability, it’s been a bit of an uphill task to create awareness.

“The major challenge is awareness about the product, there is not much promotion about this product in the market. Also, there is a trust issue with pure vegetarians, who are often skeptical of the words mock meat or veg chicken. In addition, since the product is frozen, transport and delivery is challenging and expensive.” Dr. Raja says.

Perhaps big market players can help grow the plant-based industry, believes Gupta.


Towards a greener future?

Limited availability, awareness and trust aside, there are presently only a handful of players in the market - Goodot, Vegetagold, Moky, Vezlay, Veggie Champ & Urban platter. This could mean a potential for grand expansion of the sector in the near future.

Good Dot seems to be rather optimistic about this potential - “There will indeed be an increased consumption of plant based meat, which will be majorly driven by health, ethical and environmental considerations.”

With growing consciousness, awareness is bound to increase in India in the near future.

“A shift in preference towards plant-based meat is definitely expected to happen in the near future. However, reaching that stage requires more innovation, investment and competition to make it a mainstream product”, says Gupta.

With countries like the US, UK, Australia, Japan and Singapore, delving into the manufacturing of plant based meats, India’s progress needs to be looked at carefully. It needs to be seen how long a country like India, with still a very low percentage of vegetarians (National Average Vegetarianism in India is only 29 percent) takes to imbibe this western influence.


In spite of facing certain challenges now in terms of accessibility and affordability, especially in the non-metro cities, the next few years might just pave the way for middle-class Indians, consciously transforming towards a plant-based diet, ditching the idea of having animals on one’s plate.

 

Edited by Aparna Chandrashekhar

 

Some resources and links to help you learn more about plant-based meats:

  1. How scientists make plant-based foods taste and look more like meat

  2. Plant-based food sales to rise fivefold by 2030, says report