Being an investor and Asian distribution partner of Beyond Meat since its early days, I have the honor to take a front-row seat on their epic IPO. There is no doubt the record-shattering listing of BYND sent shockwave around the world, as people suddenly awaken to the disruption happening in the food industry. In the past few days, I along with the Green Monday/Green Common team have been receiving an overwhelming number of media, investor and general public enquiries about the outlook of the plant-based industry, especially here in Asia. While many remain skeptical whether the momentum will be carried over to Asia, here are five reasons I believe the phenomenon is about to be unleashed in this region in a big way.
1. Influence from Western Trend: From fashion to wellness to overall lifestyle, Asian consumers are strongly influenced by Western aspirational brands and trends. The time-lag varies country-by-country, but in the age of social media, it is unlikely to take long. Given how plant-based is officially disrupting the global food industry and consumer behavior, it is not exactly a bold prediction to foresee Asia picking up the trend very soon. In the case of Hong Kong and Singapore, it is already happening, as new-age titans Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods make regular headlines and take mainstream food scene by storm.
2. Proven Momentum of Plant-Based Brands: As Green Common introduces emerging brands in the Food 2.0 space not just in Hong Kong but also in Singapore, Taiwan and soon China and Thailand, we witness first-hand how the likes of Beyond Meat, Gardein, Daiya and Califia are swiftly gaining tremendous traction. Beyond Meat sales in this region has tripled every year since its launch in 2015. Omnipork, which targets Asian palettes and cuisines, has been incredibly well received since its launch. Non-dairy brands such as Oatly and Califia are natural fit and instant hit because many Asians are lactose-intolerant. Daiya and Miyoko’s are constantly surprising us on the positive side with its growing fan base.
3. Ramp-up in Investment & Innovation: Few years ago most people were wondering why Bill Gates, Li Ka-shing and Temasek invested in the “Future Food” industry. Not one single soul predicted the store and distribution network of Green Common to grow this fast in such short period of time (many in fact were predicting our demise). Today investors and entrepreneurs, along with certain governments are waking up to the urgency of the climate and food crisis and the opportunities that come with it. The awareness and activity level in the region is noticeably ramping up over the past 6 months. As more capital and resources come in, it will certainly lead to exciting breakthroughs and innovations.
4. Existing but Underserved Demand: Vegetarianism isn’t exactly a new thing in Asia. The demand for plant-based food due to religious, cultural and ethnic reasons has always been here. India of course has the biggest vegetarian population in the world. Countries such as China, Japan, South Korea, Thailand and Malaysia all have huge Buddhist population. It wasn’t until the infusion of Western meat-and-dairy-heavy culture that led people to drift away from such traditions. Vegetarianism began to get a bad rap as old-fashioned, boring and un-nutritious. Now the narrative is turning 180 degrees. Millennials and Gen Z’s are the ones who are consciously turning vegan for animal, sustainability and health reasons. The religious/ethnic folks who have always preferred plant-based are still here as they enthusiastically embrace these long-awaited new food options.
5. “Black Swan” for Industrial Animal Farming: Pork is the most consumed meat in China, making up of 65% of meat consumption by its 1.4 billion population. With the deadly and high contagious African Swine Fever threatening hundreds of millions of pigs, all signs are pointing to a potential devastating “perfect storm” of industrial animal farming. The reality is that the animal protein-oriented food supply chain is unsustainable and has been stretched way beyond its breaking point for a long time. The planet and the outdated food system simply cannot keep up with insatiable human population growth and demand. It is only a matter of time before it collapses, and that time may be NOW.