A meaty challenge


December 12, 2022

Vegan meat brands in India must get pricing and taste right to grow

Christina Moniz, Financial Express

December 12, 2022

This year has seen the entry of several brands into the plant-based meat category, from large players like ITC and Tata Consumer Products to newer brands like Licious. Mock meat, a growing trend especially in Western markets, is a plant-based protein processed to resemble and taste like meat. From vegetarian ‘chicken nuggets’ and sausages to meat-free ‘mutton’ seekh kebabs, most Indian players use ingredients like soya and jackfruit to mimic the texture and taste of meat.

The Indian vegan meat market is rather small currently — estimated to be around Rs 250-300 crore. But consider the potential: About 41 percent of respondents in India identified as either vegan, vegetarian, or pescatarian in a 2021 survey. A report by Wazir Advisors estimates that this category will grow 8-10 times to reach Rs 3,500 crore in 2026.

Looking from a global perspective too, this new category cannot be written off as just a blip. Worldwide, the consumption of such meat substitutes grew from 133 million kg in 2013 to 470 million kg in 2020.

While the projections are fantastic for this market, it is still very small within the entire food category, points out Sandeep Singh, co-founder of Blue Tribe Foods, a two-year-old start-up in this segment. What is needed to grow the category, he believes, is innovation. “The food items need to move beyond burgers and nuggets to appeal to the Indian non-vegetarian consumer. For example, someone needs to create a good chicken tikka masala or a good kheema to attract the Indian palate,” he explains. Earlier this year, star couple Virat Kohli and Anushka Sharma announced their investment in Blue Tribe Foods, a move that has boosted awareness for the brand and category, says Singh.

Variety & cost

Tata Consumer Products, which launched its vegan meat brand, Simply Better, in July this year is tapping into the trend of consumers moving towards healthier and sustainable lifestyle choices. Deepika Bhan, president, packaged foods (India), Tata Consumer Products, maintains that the market holds great growth potential. “Over 70% of the Indian population is flexitarian (consumes both vegetarian and non-vegetarian food). Surveys also show that over 73% of Indians today are protein deficient. These data points signify untapped potential in the plant protein segment. The consumer cohort, which is aware of the health and environmental benefits of plant protein, is likely to expand to a more diverse audience seeking to supplement their diet with alternate, plant-based meat,” remarks Bhan.

Cost is a factor hindering growth. Currently, the pricing for plant-based meat is 1.5 times the price of real meat products. “For premium consumers, price is not a challenge but to gain scale and reach the masses, pricing needs to be more attractive,” observes Devangshu Dutta, CEO, Third Eyesight. Indians have for decades consumed soya nuggets and products as a source of protein and as a meat alternative, but brands today are targeting urban consumers who are not price sensitive. “The consumers that brands are targeting are influenced by trends in Western markets and adopting veganism for ethical or health reasons,” adds Dutta.

Another consumption trend that is unique to Indian consumers is that there are around 100-odd non-meat eating days annually, on account of religious or cultural occasions. Meat and seafood company Licious is targeting these consumers on non-meat eating days with its newly launched vegan meat brand, UnCrave. Simeran Bhasin, business head, alternative protein, Licious, states that all brands in the category are still on a journey to improve their offerings . “Our plan is to create relevance before aiming to take a share in it. Eating is believing, and we want more of our consumers to sample our alternative protein offerings. So, we send samples of UnCrave along with Licious food deliveries to encourage consumption and drive brand awareness,” explains Bhasin.

While UnCrave is currently present in only four cities (Mumbai, Delhi, Pune and Bangalore), she asserts that there is a market for the brand in non-metros too and expects the brand to reach the top 20 markets by the end of the next fiscal.

(Published in Financial Express)