Sandeep Singh, Alkem Laboratories, Health News, ET HealthWorld

Shahid Akhter, Editor-in-Chief, ETHealthworld, spoke with Sandep SinghManaging Director, Alkem Laboratories and also Co-Founder, Blue Tribe Foods, to learn more about the advent of plant-based meat and how it is gradually entering the Indian market.

Plant-based meat: Trends
Plant-based meat sounds like an oxymoron if it’s plant-based, how could it be meat? Well, I think the perception has changed. Thanks to science and food science, plant-based meat is basically plant-based meat. Now what is meat? Meat is fatty, meat is water, meat is fibrous, and if you can do the same with plants, then you get plant-based meat. In fact, it all started in the United States many years ago when global companies like Impossible Foods, Beyond Meat established their presence in the United States. Many non-vegetarian food consumers are now consuming these products in the US to begin with and they can’t even tell them apart. So plant-based meat is basically plant-based meat and it is possible, and food science has already done it.

What made the CEO of Alkem Laboratories think of a brand of plant-based meat?
I’ve been working in the health sector for 20 years and realized that this has to be global, it can’t just be about an individual, so the health of the planet and the soil is very important, and you can’t cure only an individual and not thinking of the mother planet.

These factors got me thinking about what factory animal farming is doing to the planet and if we can reduce global warming by reducing animal farming around the world, we can certainly make the planet a better place healthier for life and for future generations.

Therefore, I started thinking about what we should do next so the health of the planet can be taken care of as we don’t realize the impact of the massive livestock cull. From antibiotic resistance in poultry to methane emissions from large animals, we can eliminate them from the food chain at the same time consumers enjoy the product, we’ve made the planet an unhealthy place.

Plant-based meat: Indian market
Plant-based meat started on a global scale, maybe ten years ago. In India, it has recently arrived. The Indian meat industry itself is about three hundred thousand crores which is one of the largest in the world and Indians by nature feel guilty for eating meat so the Plant-based meat can be a great substitute for many people who are environmentally conscious or have animal ethics in mind. It is nascent right now but growing globally. Currently we have 5 or 6 companies that have come and some of them have big names, we have big celebrities joining and endorsing plant based meat like Virat Kohli, Anushka Sharma. Now if you look at the trend, normally things are innovating in the west and they are moving east and India is one of them. Big brands in the US have already started replacing meat of animal origin like Impossible Foods, Beyond Meat, they’ve really taken a lot of market share from the meat itself, and if you go to any QSR in the US you will have an option of a vegetable patty there.

In India this is growing, the market is small but it is growing fast and the level of awareness as they increase you will see plant based meat increase tremendously in India.

Plant-based meat: Indian consumers

So Indian consumers are very interesting consumers of plant-based meat because a large proportion of Indian consumers are said to be non-vegetarians. However if you look under the hood they aren’t really non-vegetarians because when you say people in the west are not vegetarians they eat meat twice a day but in India most of the non-vegetarians eat meat twice a week. is a huge difference. I believe that’s obviously the economic scenario but also inherently I think there’s a guilt attached to most Indians when they eat non-veg food they obviously like the taste and the so called nutrition, but somewhere in the mind they feel guilty about it.

This has been debated immensely and the debate will continue, but we understand that no amount of lecturing on the environment or animal rights is going to make people give up on non-vegetarian food because it doesn’t work. This will only work if you give them an option, for example, plant-based chicken nuggets are indistinguishable from animal-based chicken nuggets. When we did this consumer survey, 90% of them told us they would stick with plant-based chicken nuggets because there is no difference.

People don’t eat meat because they are sadistic or because they want to kill animals or damage the environment and eat it. They consume it simply because its aspiration and it is tasty as long as plant-based meat companies can cater to it, consumers will change and we are seeing that change. 60% of consumers swear by us that they can’t tell the difference with meat of animal origin and most of them are return customers, and if we meet the qualities like meat of animal origin that ‘they stay with us, we find out, very rarely in life have I seen conversions of two things, conversions of what’s good for the planet and the world and what’s good for business.

Plant-based meat: Opportunities
Plant-based meat is that crossroads where, what you’re doing is great, for the planet, for sustainability and at the same time it’s one of the best business opportunities I’ve seen in the last ten to twenty years of my life. Because I’ve been an investor with a lot of startups outside of my pharma business, I’ve invested in a lot of startups and a lot of companies around the world, but plant meat was something, I said I wouldn’t be satisfied just by being an investor, I have to do it myself because, as I said, you rarely come across things where you can do business and at the same time good for society and that’s the one of those things.

I come from the pharmaceutical world, so this example comes to mind. You know, when people first started taking insulin in the early 1920s or 30s, the insulin came from the pancreas of pigs, and a lot of pigs had to be slaughtered just to get a small ounce of insulin, but today you don’t need pigs to make insulin, you make it recombinant. There’s the science that you can do things without animals. We did it with insulin which was used for medicine but you can do the same for meat and people are already doing it so in the beginning we had plant based meat but now we also have lab-grown meat and companies are already doing it. There is enough science, biotechnology has come a long way, you can make insulin, you can make animal cells, you can make animal meat and it’s already happening. Science will quickly disrupt this industry because look at technology, it has changed the way we work, but animal agriculture has not changed for thousands of years and it is about to change and biotechnology will.

Blue Tribe Foods
Blue Tribe Foods started in India. We started from the city of Mumbai to be precise, but we are currently present in 26 cities in India and we have also moved to a few countries, but we plan to really expand in Europe and the United States because the consumption of meat per capita in these countries is maximum. In terms of products we have a lot of product range right now but this is just the start we will eventually get into all products, foods where animals are used as a food source so whether dairy products or eggs, you will see, Blue Tribe Foods are launching these products as we go, our ambitions are global and we want to have an impact that will be felt for the next thirty-forty years.

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