Beyond Meat Is Great, But Asian Alternatives to Meat Might Be Even Greater

Localised ‘clean meat’ alternatives are gaining popularity in Asia, giving us hope for a more sustainable future.

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12 June 2019, 6:51am

Left: Screenshot from Youtube. Right: Courtesy of Shiok Meats.

Beyond Meat, a company that makes plant-based meat alternatives, has made the headlines again for its outstanding stock market performance. As of this week, its May Initial Public Offering (IPO) price of $25 per share jumped almost 600%, showing strong investor interest in the sustainability movement, and making it the best IPO offering of 2019 so far.

All this looks to have a palpable impact in Asia. While Beyond Meat has already started placing products in local supermarkets and food retailers, its presence is set to be much greater. Earlier this month, Beyond Meat CFO Mark Nelson told CNBC that because of Asia’s fast-growing meat consumption, it “has a desperate need for this [company]. So I’m going to be very aggressive in going into those markets.”

Impossible Foods, another plant-based meat company that made an impact with its Impossible Burger, is becoming common knowledge in cities like Singapore and Hong Kong. Their meat patty is renown for being the vegan patty that ‘bleeds’, making it appealing to big meat eaters or vegans who might miss the taste of meat, but are committed to more sustainable choices.

For those who want to occasionally indulge in a guilt-free meal, this is great. But opting for plant-based alternatives is less to do with personal preferences, and more an answer to an international crisis. Why? Let briefly break it down.

Recent reports state that if we don’t act to stop climate change now, human civilization may come to an end by 2050, and not eating meat helps. The animal agriculture industry causes 91% of deforestation in the Amazon, and accounts for at least 51% of global greenhouse gas emissions - more emissions than all forms of transport combined. That means that in a hypothetical scenario where all meat consumption ceased, greenhouse gas emissions would be halved. Amazing!

In reality, meat consumption globally is on the rise. The report Charting Asia’s Protein Journey by Asia Research and Engagement says that seafood and meat consumption in Asia will rise by 78% by 2050. And with that rise in consumption, the already catastrophic industry may potentially become even worse and destroy our environment.

That said, western companies like Beyond and Impossible alone are not going to cut it in Asia - burgers, sausages and minced meat will only do so much for a region with an extremely diverse palate. To truly reduce or swap out meat consumption in this region, we’re going to need localised alternatives.

The great news is that there are many other companies working on this. Singapore has become a hub for startups making meat alternatives due to favourable government incentives for new businesses. There’s Karana, for example, a Singapore-based company that specializes in making jackfruit a meat alternative for Asian cuisine. Jackfruit has already been used in countries like Indonesia in dishes as a meat replacement, so it’s something more familiar and adaptable to local tastes.

Then there’s Shiok Meats, a cell-based meat company that grows real shrimps in a lab using shrimp stem cells. Shiok Meats chose shrimp because of the popularity of seafood used across Southeast Asia, and will venture into making all sorts of cell-based crustaceans in the future.

And maybe this isn’t the only way to do it. Mock meat made of wheat gluten is pretty common in vegetarian and Buddhist cuisines, but these newer alternatives offer healthier and more tantalising options to the traditional substitutes.

With dozens of these sustainable meat suppliers popping up around Asia, and an army of consumers becoming more aware and open-minded, we might really stand a chance to revolutionise the entire food chain - a change that is now long overdue.

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