Charting Asian market growth of plant-based protein with AI

Rapid advancements in the artificial intelligence sphere have certainly shaped how consumers live, work, and grow as a society. Comparably, predictive analytics in artificial intelligence (AI) can also scale up the efficiency and growth of the food and beverage industry.

AI Palette further this cause and utilised machine learning technology and Foresight Engine to predict growing food tends and aid the industry in new product development. The company has formulation a report based on real-time insights, on the increasing popularity of plant protein as a meat alternative in the Asian market.

The Asian market, specially, China, India and countries within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have opened itself to various new products out of which plant-based protein has gathered the most consumers this past year owing to the COVID-19 pandemic. A large portion of this is due to the elevated consciousness surrounding general health. In addition to COVID-19 and health awareness, there are several other trend drivers AI Palette has analysed using Foresight Engine related to plant-based protein products, specific to different regions.

Localising plant-based products in China and India
Meat alternative in the form of plant protein has overtaken other forms of meat alternatives like dairy, egg, and cheese in China. The leading trend driver is the desire for nourishment by the necessary nutrients provided by plants. However, taste must not be compromised amid the longing for nourishment.

Brands like Beyond Meat, Impossible Foods, and Zhenment have joined the bandwagon by collaborating with quick-service restaurants (QSRs) like Starbucks and Wagas in offering plant-based environmentally friendly products. Local brands like Jinzi and Starfield have also launched plant-based Jinzi Ham, and partnered up with Papa John’s, HeyTea, and Element Fresh respectively to attract consumers by localising plant products.

There was a peak in engagement from Jan-Jun 2020, with AI Palette’s technology predicting growth in 2021. In this ongoing scenario, brands are introducing such products to encourage more consumers to incorporate plant-based products into their regular diets.

In India, the demand for plant protein was at its top last October, with high consumer interest demonstrated in dairy recipes followed by meat, cheese, and egg. Even though the fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) sector and QSRs are absorbing this trend into their portfolios and menus, there is nominal adjustment to the food products to accommodate the local palette and satisfy consumer needs.

To name a few examples, Starbucks launched Vegan Cold Brew, a cold coffee brew made with elements of soy, and Goodmylk, a Bangalore-based company broadened its range of dairy alternatives. Advancements to meat alternatives have also risen in India, with companies like ADM and Imagine Meats collaborating to reinvent classic products like biryani and butter chicken with plant-based meats to cater to local taste buds.

Plant protein on a spectrum in ASEAN
Using trend analyses, ASEAN nations like Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, and the Philippines have displayed heightened enthusiasm about plant-based protein alternatives from Jan-Aug 2020, set side by side with the same timeline last year. According to consumer preferences, the trend is in the emerging phase in Singapore, and in the dormant phase in Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Thailand.

Diet-specific eaters like vegans, vegetarians, as well as health-conscious dieters in Indonesia justify the peak in Oct and Nov 2020. This peak was also driven by product launches by brands and QSRs. Thailand and Philippines followed suit as consumer interest in these nations were driven by a built connection between health and dietary preferences and plant-based protein options.

In Thailand, price was a key evaluation criterion as well. Singapore saw a consistent increase in consumer curiosity in 2020 also driven by relating the impression of plant protein with health as well as dietary preferences. Malaysia, sticking to their roots and familiar sources of protein, has not yet presented high consumer interest in plant-based protein despite interest of its neighbouring countries are at an all time high.

Overall, in ASEAN markets, the food and beverage industry are not only targeting a niche group of vegans and vegetarians but all kinds of diet-seekers. Cases like Japanese fast-food chain MOS Burger and bakery chain BreadTalk in Singapore partnering with Impossible Foods to launch plant-based options, and Starbucks introducing an Impossible Wrap and Impossible Rendang Pie in Singapore, and a Beyond Meat Sandwich in Thailand only prove that brands and QSRs aim to cater plant-based options to the general public.

We see how the growth of plant protein as well as its key drivers vary across different markets. Thus, it is crucial to be able to pinpoint its phase in each nation leading to its use in developing new and innovative products to gain food insights aiding in maintaining consumer interest and satisfying their preferences.


This article is provided by AI Palette, which supports FMCG companies in their product innovation through the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning to create consumer winning products.