India’s plant-based meat market is estimated at $30-40 million, largely driven by consumer packaged food. The market size in India is likely to touch $500 million in three years.
Akshara Srivastava reports.
Kritika Ahuja calls herself a “flexitarian”: A vegetarian, who regularly enjoys chicken and meat, mostly away from the eyes of her vegetarian parents.
“I started eating chicken while I was in school and though I liked the taste, there was always guilt attached to the indulgence.
"Over time that guilt grew from hiding from my parents to larger questions like animal cruelty.”
For many flexitarians like Ahuja, mock meat has become the perfect way to satiate their craving and assuage the guilt that comes with consuming non-vegetarian food.
Ahuja shifted to mock meat after trying fast-food chain Burgrill’s green meat pounder that was launched on October 8, 2021— the first day of Navaratri.
Shreh Madan, head of marketing at Burgrill, says, “There were a lot of people willing to make the shift but they did not have a choice.”
The chain collaborated with Greenest— a brand selling mock meat — to create a vegetarian patty that resembled chicken.
“We are known for innovation and we had been trying a lot of ingredients.
"One of which was jackfruit, but people did not respond well to it,” says Madan.
“We now use a process of exclusion and use isolated protein from chickpea, soya and pea to make the patty,” he adds.
He says interestingly, Burgrill sees a huge surge in the number of orders for the green meat pounder on Tuesdays and Thursdays, days on which practising Hindus abstain from consuming non-vegetarian items.
Already a global rage, mock meat, touted to be healthier, sustainable and cruelty-free, is gaining ground in India.
Evolving from 'soya chaap', which resembles chicken in look, brands now use protein extracted from a variety of products including chickpea, legumes, peas and soya to recreate a fleshy, meat-like product.
On January 10, Fast food giant KFC, too, collaborated with Beyond Meats to launch plant-based meat nuggets in the US.
“KFC already has a range of signature craveable vegetarian offerings exclusively in India, and the global partnership between Yum and Beyond Meat for plant-based products represents another emerging opportunity we would actively evaluate for the market,” says a KFC spokesperson.
The Indian plant-based meat or mock meat market, still in its nascent stage, has been growing at unprecedented levels.
According to a September 2021 report by Nirmal Bang, India’s plant-based meat market is estimated at $30-40 million, largely driven by consumer packaged food.
In a normal scenario, the report adds, the market size in India is likely to touch $500 million in three years.
With more than 70 per cent of the Indian population consuming meat, the market potential is huge, and ITC’s recent foray into the space is telling of its tremendous potential.
The brand launched “Incredible” burger patties and “Incredible” nuggets that retail at Rs 630 for 330 gm and Rs 475 for 250 gm.
“The plant protein products are mostly targeted to non-vegetarians who are looking at animal protein replacement, besides a large section of vegetarian consumers,” says Ashu Phakey, vice-president and business head, Frozen Foods, ITC Ltd.
“While the current range of plant proteins is based on chickpea, we are looking at expanding the range across ingredient options such as soya and legumes.
"Given the growing consumer franchise towards wellness and sustainability, India has the potential to emerge as a large market for plant-based meat alternatives,” Phakey adds.
Health and sustainability
While the company is the first pan-Indian brand to foray into the mock-meat market, the space has been heating up with new players entering the rink every few months.
GoodDot is one of the earliest players in the market.
Launched in 2017, the brand recently tied up with track and field champion Neeraj Chopra as its brand ambassador.
“It started with a moral dilemma. I used to help animals but also consumed meat,” says CEO Abhishek Sinha.
The brand has witnessed 100 per cent year-on-year sales, says Sinha, and is now aiming for a more than 200 per cent sales growth this year, which points to the country’s large latent appetite for mock meat.
Banking on direct feedback from consumers at its 11 fast-food GoodDo outlets – named after Guddu, a goat Sinha and team rescued from a slaughterhouse in 2016 — the brand has seen a rising demand for its products even in Tier-II and Tier-III cities like Patna and Samastipur in Bihar, Visakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh, and Maharajganj and Mughalsarai in Uttar Pradesh.
Sinha points out that people are more receptive to the health aspect of mock-meats and subsequently the ethical aspects gain a stronghold.
Sandeep Singh, founder, Blue Tribe Foods, adds, “Animal farming, as painful as it is, also causes a lot of environmental destruction and I think plant-based meat is the way to live a more sustainable life.
"I think it is high time we got our act together.”
Blue Tribe Foods came into the market with plant-based chicken nuggets in early 2021, and has now expanded its range to five products.
“We understood that in India, eating meat is a celebration.
"As compared to the West, where people eat meat twice a day, here it mostly happens twice a week,” he says, adding, “So we had to give consumers a very close replica of the real deal — in terms of texture, feel and flavour.”
In late 2021, Bollywood actors Genelia and Riteish Deshmukh also entered the market with Imagine Meats.
Is the increased competition a hurdle?
Over a video call from the US, Singh confidently says, “We are not competing with one percent of the market.
"Our competition is animal products and more team players just means more noise around the sector.”
The brand has seen a month-on-month growth in consumer base, and has a customer retention rate of almost 50 per cent, says Singh.
However, as the space continues to grow, there are skeptics.
Mridul Kumar, 26, says, “I haven’t tried plant–based meat and don’t intend to, given that it is too processed and ultimately can’t be that healthy.”
Agrees Lovneet Batra, a nutritionist based in Delhi: “A problem with most meat substitutes is that they are not anti-inflammatory.”
While Batra concedes that it varies from one brand to another, she says, “It works if it’s pea protein and vegetable blends.
"However, if it has a lot of soy protein, gluten and emulsifying agents, then it can be more inflammatory as opposed to grass-fed chicken.”
As local brands move to expand their offerings from minced meat to cold cuts and diversify the meats on offer, the road ahead is long but holds promise.