In recent years, the global alternative protein market has witnessed a tremendous surge, revolutionising the food and beverage industry. With a growing awareness of sustainability and health, consumers are turning to alternative protein sources as a greener and healthier alternative to traditional meat products. The market for alternative protein in APAC (Asia Pacific) has emerged as a key player, with Indonesia being one of the most promising markets in the region.

In this blog post, I’ll delve into the world of alternative protein, so you can understand the various types, explore its growth across APAC, highlight the drivers behind its popularity in Indonesia, and analyse successful case studies of a few brands making waves in this space.

What is Alternative Protein?

Alternative protein refers to a diverse range of protein sources that serve as substitutes for conventional animal-based meats. These alternatives can be broadly categorized into three main types:

  1. Plant-Based Proteins:
    Derived from plants such as peas, soybeans, chickpeas, and jackfruit, plant-based proteins are processed to mimic the taste, texture, and appearance of traditional meat products. This would include things like eg an Impossible Burger
  2. Cultivated/Lab-Grown Proteins:
    This category involves producing real meat in laboratories, using animal cells without the need for raising and slaughtering animals. The process aims to reduce environmental impact and resource consumption, but isn’t yet as widely available to consumers as the other options here. eg. Mosa Meat
  3. Fermented Proteins:
    Utilizing the magic of fermentation, this type of alternative protein involves using microorganisms to create protein-rich foods. Tempeh and tofu are popular examples of fermented protein products.

Who are the Main Players Worldwide?

Globally, the alternative protein market has witnessed a wave of innovative startups and established companies investing in this sustainable food revolution. Key players include Beyond Meat, Impossible Foods, Quorn, and Oatly, among others. These companies have gained significant popularity, penetrating both the retail and foodservice sectors. As the market grows, more players are expected to enter the competition, leading to further advancements and product diversification.

The Numbers Speak Volumes

Meat and seafood consumption in Asia is projected to soar by 78% by 2050 – an unprecedented growth rate that challenges our existing food systems. With this growth comes a pressing need for innovative solutions that can meet the demand without compromising the planet. This is where alternative proteins come in. As consumers globally seek sustainable, yet tasty and affordable options, this sector is experiencing an explosive boom.

In 2019, the alternative meat sector captured only 1% of the global market share. However, experts predict a monumental rise to 10% by the end of the next decade, amounting to a staggering $140 billion USD. While this transformational shift will be seen worldwide, Asia is poised to be a driving force, with China’s plant-based meat market already surpassing that of the United States. The growth of alternative protein in APAC will also be driven by huge markets such as Indonesia.

Why are Consumers Turning to Alternative Protein Sources?

The shift towards alternative protein is driven by several key factors:

  1. Environmental Concerns:
    Traditional meat production has a considerable environmental impact, contributing to deforestation, greenhouse gas emissions, and excessive water consumption. Consumers are increasingly conscious of these issues and are seeking eco-friendly options to reduce their carbon footprint.
  2. Health Consciousness:
    Alternative proteins often have lower saturated fat content and zero cholesterol, making them an attractive choice for health-conscious individuals. These products are also free from antibiotics and the growth hormones commonly found in conventional meat.
  3. Animal Welfare:
    The ethical treatment of animals is a growing concern for many consumers. Alternative proteins provide a guilt-free option for those who wish to enjoy the taste and texture of meat without contributing to animal suffering.
  4. Cultural and Religious Considerations:
    In countries like Indonesia, with a significant Muslim population, alternative protein sources offer halal options that cater to religious dietary requirements.

Of course the typical forms of alternative protein in APAC are fermented protein products such as tofu and tempeh, which have a long history and are a mainstream foodstuff compared to in Europe or North America. These are part of the food culture landscape.

Is Alternative Protein Really More Sustainable Than Good Quality Farm-Raised Meat?

The sustainability of alternative protein compared to conventional farm-raised meat depends on various factors. While alternative protein significantly reduces greenhouse gas emissions, land usage, and water consumption, its overall sustainability varies based on the production methods and supply chain. It’s not a clear cut yes or no situation…

When considering the entire life cycle, alternative protein generally fares better in terms of environmental impact. However, it is essential to note that sustainable farming practices and responsible animal husbandry can also contribute to reducing the environmental burden of conventional meat production.

Why is Indonesia an Attractive Market for Alternative Protein Brands?

Indonesia holds tremendous potential for alternative protein brands due to several reasons:

  1. Large Population and Rising Middle Class:
    Indonesia boasts a vast population with a growing middle class that is increasingly health-conscious and open to exploring sustainable food options.
  2. Cultural Acceptance:
    Indonesian cuisine already incorporates plant-based proteins like tempeh and tofu, making it easier for alternative protein brands to integrate into local diets – the local culture is already semi-vegetarian. Most Indonesians are Muslims and of course any meat has to be certified as halal, which makes people more cautious when buying it from any sources that are “anonymous” (ie not their local known farmer or butcher).
  3. Environmental Concerns:
    Being an archipelago prone to environmental challenges like deforestation and climate change, Indonesia is witnessing a growing interest in sustainable food options. This is still marginal (a luxury problem) BUT parts of Indonesia’s coastal regions are threatened by global warming and see livelihoods threatened.
  4. Government Support:
    The Indonesian government has shown interest in supporting the alternative protein industry to address food security and environmental issues.

The other side of this picture is that Indonesia also has a huge population who are not so well off and traditional fermented protein products offer a healthy, nutritious source of protein for a relatively low price compared to meat or fish if you’re not a farmer or fisherman. The population is price sensitive and doesn’t accept that they should pay extra to eat traditional food ingredients processed to resemble meat.

Case Study 1: Angie’s Tempeh

Asia’s culinary tapestry is rich with plant-based dishes that have been enjoyed for centuries. Forward-thinking entrepreneurs are leveraging these traditions to craft products that resonate with local palates.

Products such as Angies Tempeh Bak Kwa are driving the growth of alternative protein in APAC
Photo credit: Angie’s Tempeh

Angie’s Tempeh is a pioneering alternative protein brand based in Singapore, focusing on producing high-quality tempeh using traditional fermentation techniques. The brand has successfully modernised tempeh, making it appealing to the health-conscious, environmentally aware, and food-savvy young consumers. By combining traditional methods with modern production and distribution, Angie’s Tempeh has captured a significant market share and is expanding rapidly locally with plans to expand internationally in the coming years.

One of the key challenges that the alternative protein industry faces is how to replicate the “meat experience” – the texture in your mouth as well as the flavours and the behaviour when cooking. Angie’s Bak Kwa manages this (according to reviews) in their replication of the traditional jerky product. This allows them to appeal to both vegans and those who are just looking for a way to cut down on their meat consumption.

The 2nd strategy that is key here, is appealing to the Asian taste profile. Burgers and sausages are all well and good, but for Singaporeans or Indonesians Bak Kwa, satay or rendang are more familiar flavours for everyday consumption.

To ensure the satay’s authenticity, we sourced for appropriate ingredient suppliers & consulted satay makers at Singapore’s Lau Pa Sat Food Centre. We observed how they made the marinade and reverse engineered it to create our own from scratch. Our tempeh satay marinade contains ingredients like garlic, cumin and galangal. Large scale production is not easy for tempeh satay.

Angeline Leong, owner

I included Angie’s Tempeh in this overview as I expect Indonesia to be one of their first export markets, and their plan is to expand globally over time.

Case Study 2: Green Rebel

Green Rebel, an Indonesian plant-based protein startup, has made significant strides in Indonesia & the region by offering a range of plant-based meat alternatives tailored to local tastes and preferences. By leveraging local sourcing and partnerships with Indonesian restaurants and retailers, Green Rebel has gained popularity among Indonesian consumers seeking innovative and sustainable food choices.

The founders describe it as their mission “to recreate your favorite meaty Asian comfort foods but 100% from plants.” That results in products such as Chick’n Katsu, Beefless Dendang Balado, as well as wholefood protein or dairy free products.

Alternative protein in Asia is distinguished by various types of alternative protein In Indonesia - Green Rebel

In an interview with GourmetPro for their MarketShake newsletter, the founder Helga Angelina quoted 3 main success factors for their brand growth:

  1. Localised flavours: from day 1 Green Rebel has offered products such as satay, rendang and karaage. For the export market growth they plan to continue to develop localised dishes whilst at the same time also offering products such as rendang which also appeal internationally.
  2. Healthy and Convenient: life in the APAC region is hectic (anyone who has tried to commute in Bangkok or Jakarta will surely agree) so for any new products to be accepted, convenience is a factor to consider – not at the price of health though.
  3. Meaty Credentials: whilst sustainability is an increasing concern in the region, very few consumers would consider a clean food product if it doesn’t also taste good.

This three pronged approach has helped Green Rebel develop a customer base not only amongst consumers, but also with food service and retail partners as the barrier to entry is lower.

When you add strategic marketing on top of the product considerations with a combination of education and collaborations with prominent brand ambassadors then you can see the brand is built on a solid foundation.

Case Study 3: Oatside

OK, so strictly speaking, Oatside is actually a Singaporean brand, but it is manufactured in Indonesia.

Alternative protein in Asia is a driver of the global alternative protein market
Photo: Oatside

Oatside is the first oat milk brand in Singapore and it’s the newest venture from founder and CEO Benedict Lim, formerly the Chief Financial Officer at Kraft Heinz Indonesia. Lim began experimenting with oat extraction methods during the pandemic lockdown and now, it is ready to share its plant milk with the people of the world, primarily “people who don’t care for plant milks.” To win those hard-to-please customers over in Singapore, the brand crafted a flavour for the Asian palate that’s maltier in terms of taste. Additionally, its products are more affordable in comparison to competitors. 

Indonesia will be a Key Driver of the Market for Alternative Protein in APAC

The alternative meat market is witnessing exponential growth across the APAC region, with Indonesia emerging as a promising market for food and beverage brands looking to expand internationally. COVID-19 had a significant impact on the Indonesian plant-based protein market. Amid the growing number of active cases, the demand for nutritional balanced food rocketed among the consumers. This trend expanded the plant-based protein market in the country. The closure of meat production facilities and the high shelf-life of the plant-based proteins further added impetus to the market growth.

The market for alternative protein in Indonesia is projected to grow at a CAGR of 7.38%, from US$48.811 million in 2020 to US$80.370 million in 2027.

The case studies I’ve quoted above are not the only examples relevant to Indonesia: Kalbe Farma has a plant based milk for vegan and lactating women (Prenagen Almond Soya), ADM Foods offers the Nutriflex plant protein range, or Puro has products based on pea protein.

Moving forward, the demand for alternative protein sources is set to rise. Companies in this space must cater to local tastes and preferences, embrace environmentally-friendly practices, and collaborate with local partners to make a lasting impact. As the market evolves, it presents exciting opportunities for brands willing to embrace this sustainable food revolution and contribute to a greener future.

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