Plant-based foods sound a bit like an oxymoron when you consider that basically, any food that isn’t produced from an animal is ‘plant-based’. But in the modern context, the idea is more about creating protein foods from plants that will replace animal products.

Products like Rebel Meat are a step on the path towards more plant-based protein replacements. Still, the organisers behind Big Idea Ventures are focused on promoting products that are tasty and healthy and are also good for the environment.

According to Andrew D Ive, founder and Managing General Partner of Big Idea Ventures, interesting new applications for fermentation technologies include ideas like Farmsow, which explores “sustainable alternatives to tropical oils and animal fats with its patent-pending microbial fermentation process”.

Mr Ive is also excited about opportunities for Singapore to become a major power in the industry for the region and globally: “Singapore taking the step to be the first country globally to deregulate the manufacture of cell-based meat for human consumption, will be an impetus for other Asian countries to consider the significant benefits of this technology for its people.”

Gourmet dumplings. (PHOTO: Big Idea Ventures)
Gourmet dumplings. (PHOTO: Big Idea Ventures)

Why are plant-based proteins becoming more popular?

Mr Ives commented that more people are interested in eating non-animal protein, but more specifically, they expect these replacements to taste as good – or better – than the original.

“A key driver is the rising consumer demand globally for great-tasting plant-based foods. Amazing entrepreneurs around the world are coming forward, creating plant-based foods which can replace their less sustainable animal-based counterparts,” explained Mr Ive. “The foods they’re creating are not only more sustainable, but they also look, taste and chew more and more like the products they’re replacing. Consumers are increasingly demanding these foods because they are better for you and better for the planet.”

Another reason behind the increased interest in plant-based proteins is around issues of food safety, particularly in light of the current pandemic: “Speculations that COVID-19 may have been derived from animal sources and other diseases like the African swine flu have shone a spotlight on the vulnerability of our food supply chains, and heightened the impetus to adopt an alternative approach to meeting protein needs.”

There is apparently less resistance to the idea of plant-based and protein-based foods based on history and pre-existing cultural norms in Asia, Mr Ive told Yahoo Lifestyle SEA.

“Asians are more likely to be interested in trying plant-based foods. Firstly, Asia has a long-standing history of embracing plant-based alternatives in its culture, with the common use of soy, pea, lentil, herbs, spices and a wide range of vegetables in its cuisine. Mock meats have also existed for a large part of that history.”

“Thus, the receptivity to plant-based foods could potentially be greater than the West, which has a heavy meat culture. Moreover, two countries with some of the largest populations in the world, China and India, both have very substantial numbers of vegetarians,” Mr Ive shared.

(PHOTO: Getty Images)
(PHOTO: Getty Images)

Top trends in plant-based foods

Fermentation: “This process can develop everything from plant-based seafood to sustainable oils, which we expect will be an opportunity for the space this year. Secondly, as more consumers adopt a plant-based diet, we see a demand for the right taste, smell and price, and proper texture and mouthfeel. Companies are working hard to develop plant-based foods that are indistinguishable, or even surpass, that of traditional options they are familiar with,” Mr Ive explained.

Cell-based products: “Cell-based products may be a futuristic concept in many markets around the world, but we foresee that the need for cultivated foods is only going to grow, with Singapore having become the first in the world to approve the commercialisation of cell-based meats,” said Mr Ive.

Female-founded: According to Mr Ive, another trend is women being involved in developing alternative protein companies: “Over 50% of start-ups coming through Big Idea Venture’s accelerator program are female-founded, and 100% of our latest Singapore cohort companies have a female founder or co-founder.”

Dine-in & takeaway: Accessibility for plant-based protein options for restaurants is also trending, Mr Ive shared: “Despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, development of menus that incorporate these alternative proteins are on the rise.”

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