ITC enters India’s plant-based sector to “take a nascent phenomenon to the next level”
Following significant progress in the Indian plant-based meats landscape in the second half of 2021, the first major Indian FMCG company has announced a foray into the burgeoning space with meat alternative offerings, including plant-based burger patties and nuggets. The move signals ITC’s intention to become an early mover in the growing plant-based sector domestically. Currently, there is no sizable pan-Indian brand in the country’s plant-based protein segment, which is brimming with potential. ITC also projects huge export market opportunities for a range of plant-based products that will appeal to the vast swathes of vegetarians and vegans and target meat eaters who also consume plant protein regularly in their diets and are already familiar with some formats. ITC manufactures long-established and popular Indian food brands such as Aashirvaad atta (wheat flour) and packaged ready-to-eat versions of heritage dishes like daal makhani and paneer tikka.
The plant-based products will be available through retail, e-commerce and foodservice establishments in India’s top eight cities. ITC has been advised by expert non-profit Good Food Institute India (GFI India) on honing its product and positioning strategy.Research by GFI India indicates that 63% of non-vegetarians among urban, upwardly-mobile populations would be highly likely to purchase plant-based meats regularly, driven by guilt around meat-eating and curiosity and aspiration surrounding next-generation plant-based meat products. Non-vegetarians are also willing to try plant proteins in familiar formats, both Indian and western and are prepared to pay a premium for these products. This ‘early adopter’ market makes fertile ground for initial experimentation, with a significant multi-billion dollar opportunity in the larger mass-market up for grabs as consumer awareness builds and more players enter the market.
Plant-based meats are at the forefront of the broader ‘smart protein’ or ‘alternative protein’ landscape, aimed at replicating the sensory and cultural resonance of meat dishes beloved around the world, but without the negative implications for planetary and public health. As India is fast becoming a key market for plant proteins, there is a wealth of opportunities for diverse plant-based offerings as the country’s appetite for meat alternatives grows. “Smart protein and plant-based meats are a generational opportunity to align planetary health stewardship, public health resilience and economic growth,” says Varun Deshpande, managing director at the GFI India. While entrepreneurs are blazing a trail in building the category, mega-corporations with their distribution heft, deep R&D capabilities and intimate involvement in consumers’ lives can take a nascent phenomenon to the next level.”
“ITC Ltd’s visionary foray into plant-based meats and focus on providing non-vegetarian eaters with the meat products they know and love will further accelerate the sector, bringing delicious, sustainable protein into the true mass market and onto plates across the country.” Hemant Malik, divisional chief executive, Foods, at ITC, stresses how the company has worked with several global partners to ensure no compromise on the product texture, quality, and taste. “We want to enjoy the early mover advantage in India. The meat market is huge with 72% of Indians being non-vegetarians and [the market] is estimated today at US$45 billion. Given the growing concerns around wellness and sustainability, India has the potential to emerge as a large market for plant-based alternatives,” he explains. Speaking recently to FoodIngredientsFirst, Gunjan Pandey, marketing director for Kerry Southwest Asia, backs up the push for plant proteins in India. She says, “the Indian market for plant-based foods is growing fast, and we expect strong momentum into 2022 as there are many retail players, from the major retail houses to start-ups to frozen snacks brands picking up on consumer interest in plant-based foods and planning for new launches.” Companies like Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat have raised hundreds of millions of dollars, gone public on the stock market and internationally scaled recently. They use a small fraction of land, water and energy compared to what conventional animal meat counterparts require. They also emphasize plant-based production lowers greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and reduces the risk of zoonotic disease or antimicrobial resistance. The global smart protein sector attracted over US$3.5 billion in venture capital in 2021 (following US$3.1 billion in 2020), indicating that investors and consumers worldwide are warming up to the idea of conscious consumption. Large food and conventional meat corporations like JBS, Tyson Foods, Nestlé and Unilever have also invested significantly in the space. In May, Unilever partnered with food-tech company Enough (formerly 3F BIO) to bolster its plant-based strategy by tapping into technology that uses a zero-waste fermentation process to grow a high-quality protein. Nestlé continues to sharpen its plant-based focus by developing a wide range of plant-based dairy alternatives and meat and fish-free products like Vuna, a plant-based alternative to Tuna. Meanwhile, plant-based meat start-ups like Riteish & Genelia Deshmukh’s Imagine Meats and Sandeep Singh’s Blue Tribe Foods have captured the Indian imagination over the last year. ITC says it is now the first major Indian FMCG player to do the same