Butter chickenless, UnMutton keema — vegan meats hope to become the next ‘paneer’ but health concerns remain
- In a bid to reduce the carbon footprint linked to animal farming, the mock meat category is gaining popularity in India, where 70% of the population is non-vegetarian.
- As per trading firm Nirmal Bang’s report, India’s meat substitute market is estimated to be around ₹300 crore and ₹3500 crores in 3 years.
- Climate change warriors are rooting for this category but nutritionists caution against it.
AdvertisementButter chicken, keema pav, anda burji but without anda or chicken and mutton, served as vegetarian items on a platter? It may sound like an anomaly but it’s now a reality, thanks to start-ups and even FMCG players.
Apart from companies like GoodDots, Imagine Meats, Shaka Harry, Blue Tribe and Vegan Meri Jaan – FMCG major ITC too has launched products which offer ready-to-eat or ready-to-cook alternatives.
The latest entrant is coffee company coffee brand Continental’s Greenbird. It offers chicken-like nuggets, seekh kebab, sausage and mutton-like keema.
“Given the growing awareness of holistic wellness, sustainable living and widespread consumer acceptance in this area, India has the potential to emerge as one of the largest markets for plant-based products,” Praveen Jaipuriar, CEO, CCL Products told Business Insider India.
Mock meat brands claim to mimic the taste and texture as mutton, chicken or fish but are made of soya bean, jackfruit, beans and wheat gluten.
As per retail broking firm Nirmal Bang’s report, India’s meat substitute market is estimated to be around ₹300 crore and expected to touch ₹3500 crore per annum, in three years.
Tier II, III markets take a bigger bite
Most plant-based companies are targeting meat-eaters, flexitarians who follow a vegetarian diet but occasionally eat meat, and former non-vegetarians who have quit meat to protect animals.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, Indians consume soybeans, jackfruit, dairy, and pulses for protein. And almost 70% of Indians are non-vegetarian.
One of the oldest players in the market, GoodDot had run a nationwide mass-media campaign with Olympic champion Neeraj Chopra earlier this year who promoted plant-based meat over real meat.
AdvertisementWhen GoodDot started in 2017, consumers had a lot of apprehensions but its founder Abhishek Sinha says that they are seeing good demand for their Unmutton Keema Kit, UnMutton Dhaba curry and biryani packs, in smaller towns and metros alike.
“We believe that just like paneer became a constant feature in the menus of restaurants and hotels 25-30 years back, plant-based meat will be an integral part of restaurant menus in the next 3-4 years,” Sinha told Business Insider India.
What’s on the sticker?
Price is one of the biggest challenges in the mock meat market, just like most others in the ready-to-eat category. In some cases, they are priced higher than meat.
ITC’s chicken burger patty of 550 grams is priced at ₹260, whereas its plant-based burger of 330 grams comes at ₹630.
|Brand||Plant-based Product||Quantity (Grams)||Price (₹)|
|Blue Tribe||Chicken nuggets||250||295|
|Shakka Harry||Chicken nuggets||250||249|
|Imagine Meats||Chicken nuggets||500||575|
While home-grown brands have been able to bring the price down, their plant-based products are still 10 times more expensive than meat.
So, to further make a dent in the Indian meat industry, mock meat brands will have to reduce the price gap.
“Comparing the price of plant-based meat to that of traditional meat and vegetarian options, is somewhat more expensive, and there are not many manufacturers in India. But despite being a new category and a niche segment, it has enormous potential,” said Jaipuriar.
GoodDot has been able to get an edge here. “The price range of our products is between ₹95 to ₹379. In terms of per kg cost, some of our products are more affordable than meat whereas some others are at par with meat,” said Sinha.
However, now that a new tax has been levied onto labelled meats, it might help reduce the gap between the two food categories. “Meat is an expensive product and is not a very frequent buy for many consumers. With the increasing cost of fodder and taxing of meat with GST, meat would become even more expensive. Plant-based meat products have been levied GST of 18 % since inception, so their prices have already factored in GST costs,” said Sinha.
Processed meat is like eating 4 bhaturas
It’s always a good idea to shift to a more humane approach, but is mock meat a healthier option? Jaipuriar claims that plant-based meats are more nutritious as they lack saturated fat and are high on fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals.
Nutritionists feel otherwise.
“There’s nothing healthy about plant-based meat. The maximum it can offer you is a look-alike, taste indulgence but minimum nutrition. It's hyper-processed, which means nutrition comes to an end, so it becomes very toxic. For the sake of saving a life, you're just putting your life at risk because you're consuming toxic chemicals and it’s not recommended,” Amit Srivastava, founder of nutraceutical community platform Nutrify Today told Business Insider India.
To improve their nutritional profile, brands will have to up their budget and add in more amino acids, vitamins, minerals or medium-chain triglycerides. If they do that, their costs will shoot through the roof, and brands are already under stress to reduce prices.
According to Srivastava, the technology has not succeeded from a nutrition point-of-view. Some of them may even contain extra sodium, saturated fats, preservatives, refined oils, modified cornstarch and added sugar.
To convert a plant based source into something that simulates the taste of meats, it would need to add a lot of fat. Since most exist as fine powders, they are assimilated in no time and provide an instant amino acid release into the bloodstream. All in all, this ‘instant’ release might make people gain weight.
According to Srivastava, those who consume plant-based meat for more than three months, will gain weight.
“With real meat, it's the opposite effect. You tend to lose weight because the body has to burn a lot of energy to digest meat and protein-based mock meat is stored into the fat cells. If you eat four bhaturas, your body will have a very tough time going forward trying to take so much oil. It has the same impact with processed meat,” said Srivastava.
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