ON 40 years ago I moved from Malacca to Kuala Lumpur. Since I was born a vegetarian, I was looking for Chinese vegetarian restaurants. At that time, there was only one restaurant in Jalan Bandar. I used to go there once a week with my then girlfriend, now my wife, because sometimes we got bored eating Indian food. Today, there are no less than 2,000 outlets serving Chinese vegetarian food across Malaysia.
Getting vegetarian food in those days was a nightmare when traveling abroad, especially in western countries. It takes some time to explain to the servers what you can and cannot consume. I remember we used to pack food that could last a few days and had dehydrated “chapatis” on our travels to fill our bellies.
The increase in the number of vegetarians over the past 20 years, coupled with the increase in the number of health-conscious consumers, has driven the demand for vegetarian restaurants and health-related products. Today, there is absolutely no problem getting vegetarian food almost anywhere in the world. I was in Shanghai a few years ago and was able to easily locate vegetarian restaurants there.
The plant-based food space is set to grow rapidly in the coming years. A wide range of manufacturers and ingredient companies are expected to further develop niche categories, such as cheese or dairy substitutes. Other areas with potential include vegan confectionery and baked goods. A local example is that of Madame Sunthari of Mom’s Food Products, who baked premium fruitcakes. Due to customer demand, she had no choice but to launch a new range of vegan fruitcakes, which has been very popular with her customers.
Food chains, gourmet restaurants and food manufacturers are launching new vegan cooking products and recipes, keeping in mind the growing market demand. Vegan cooking recipes, made with pumpkin, avocado and other healthy ingredients, have been launched in the market to attract health conscious consumers who intend to discover new tasty and healthy foods.
As we enter a new decade and an era of growing environmental and health awareness, the introduction of vegan alternatives may be a good way for food retailers to entice increasingly conscious consumers to buy their products.
The desire to consume ethically sourced products has been a major driver among consumers seeking to change their dietary lifestyle, with organizations like the Malaysian Vegetarian Society highlighting how massive meat consumption is putting pressure on the environment.
Vegan and plant-based foods are the fastest growing food category people are ordering, according to leading food delivery companies in the US, Canada and the UK.
The planet’s ever-growing population could also tip the balance in favor of plant-based diets as resources become scarce. The production of meat and dairy products requires many more resources than plant-based foods, including water, land use, and crops. Experts have warned that our current food system will not be able to sustain the snowballing global population.
Rising obesity rates around the world, growing health problems such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, asthma and others have increased the overall health consciousness of consumers. This has led to an increase in the demand for different types of healthy food products including vegan food products especially with the increasing vegan population in the world especially in developed regions such as North America and Europe.
Livestock farming has also been blamed for significant deforestation, air and water pollution, and loss of biodiversity. An increase in environmental concerns among the population is also driving the growth of the vegan market. Raising and raising livestock such as pigs, chickens, cows, goats on farms contributes to the greenhouse effect. The demand for animal meat necessitates an excessive practice of animal husbandry. Thus, the increase in the number of vegan food consumers eliminates the demand for excessive animal husbandry, following a decrease in greenhouse gas emissions in the environment.
The outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on consumer eating behavior due to growing concerns about zoonotic infections. Health and wellness have become the two crucial factors contributing to their change in shopping habits, leading to an increase in sales of vegan products in the global market. Additionally, e-commerce platforms for selling groceries have also grown during this time. Delivery services have also seen an increase in vegan food delivery during the pandemic, due to the high number of people adopting healthy lifestyles while working from home.
As consumers lead sedentary lifestyles, people suffer from health complications such as obesity and cardiovascular diseases. Adopting a vegan diet helps reduce weight, improves blood circulation and reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease. A study published in JAMA Internal Medicine Journal indicates that people who adopt a vegan lifestyle have a longer life expectancy than those who adopt a meat-based diet. Since the vegan diet is high in fiber, adopting such diets also helps to improve the body’s metabolism.
One of the trends in the vegan market is the production of meat using cell technology. Cell-to-cell identical meat is produced in factories without involving the killing of animals. Cell-based meat production involves feeding animal cells with nutrients and proteins, eliminating the need to depend on animals for meat. While those like my family would avoid eating cell-based meat, flexitarians or environmentalists wouldn’t mind consuming it once in a while.
Vegans and vegetarians are not the only plant market drivers. Flexitarians also strengthen it in a big way. Flexitarians refer to lifestyles in which people eat mostly plant-based foods, but sometimes include animal products in their diet. Flexitarians are driving the plant trend. According to a 2018 UK study, 92% of plant-based meals eaten in the UK were eaten by non-vegans. Most flexitarians try these plant-based products and find that the experience is so similar to eating meat that it can easily become part of their regular routine.
Multinationals are embracing veganism
The growing acceptance of vegan products among the younger population is contributing to the growth of the market. This factor has prompted companies to innovate and launch new products in the market. Different styles and varieties of products are launched to attract new consumers and provide them with unique experiences.
Nestlé is the world’s largest food and beverage company, as well as the world’s largest producer of dairy products. The multinational has turned to dairy and meat products of plant origin. Last year, the company launched its pioneering RM150 million plant-based meal solutions manufacturing facility in Shah Alam, the group’s first in Asean and one of only two in Asia. It has developed an exciting range of new products such as burger pâté, minced meat stir-fry and schnitzel under the Harvest Gourmet brand.
A groundbreaking new report has predicted that the plant-based food market will exceed US$162 billion (RM683 billion) in the next decade. A growing preference for sustainable and healthier foods is driving the movement. Major plant-based meat and dairy brands like Beyond Meat, Impossible Foods and Oatly are driving some of this growth. Their partnerships with restaurants, fast food chains and global food manufacturers make vegan options more accessible to the masses.
Additionally, the collaborations challenge stereotypes about plant-based foods. In January 2022, Burger King became the first fast food chain in the UK to launch vegan chicken nuggets. Many of the big brand’s products are already in Malaysia, currently being used in restaurants, which are feeling pressure from consumers to adapt to the growing trend towards veganism.
Europe is one of the main consumers of plant-based food products in the world. Due to the increase in the number of vegan consumers in the region, major food chains such as Domino’s and Starbucks have launched new products for consumers in the region.
According to a Credit Suisse report, he sees strong growth potential for alternative animal protein products and estimates that the meat and dairy alternative market could grow from US$14 billion currently to US$1.4 trillion. US dollars by 2050. So there could be a lot of interesting opportunities. investment opportunities in this space in the years to come.
However, one of the biggest barriers to adoption remains price, as the plant-based offering is significantly more expensive than its animal-based counterparts. Vegan food manufacturers in the region compete with each other to innovate and launch new products in order to lower the price of products and improve their overall quality.
Retailers are expected to see the plant-based food market explode globally over the next few years. In view of this, the Malaysian Vegetarian Society would like supermarkets to reserve specific shelf space for vegan-type food products with proper labeling and make them accessible to consumers.
Vegetarian guide for restaurants
The Malaysian Vegetarian Society publishes a brochure with guidelines for restaurants wishing to offer vegetarian or vegan options on their menu. Basically, the guidelines will educate chefs or servers on what to include or exclude when preparing a vegan or vegetarian meal for their customers. Anyone who would like a copy can email email@example.com.
Raj Kumar Shet is president of the Malaysian Vegetarian Society. Feedback:firstname.lastname@example.org