TOKYO/BANGKOK/DALIAN, China — Plant-based faux meat makers in Asia are seeing sales soar as consumers seek safe and healthy alternatives in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.
Even before the pandemic, Euromonitor International reported that the substitute meat market in the Asia-Pacific region was worth $15.3 billion in 2019, up 4.75% from the previous year. But COVID-19 has accelerated that growth, with the market forecast to expand 11.6% to $17.1 billion in 2020, the U.K.-based market researcher says.
Experts and industry insiders cite increasing consumer health awareness as well as anxiety over food safety triggered by the coronavirus as incentives pushing companies to seek business opportunities in plant-based meat.
“More consumers have interest in alternative meat after the coronavirus outbreak as they increasingly see concerns over food safety,” said Seiichi Kizuki, a research director at the Mitsubishi Research Institute. He said that some reports claiming the source of the virus was a food market selling bats in the Chinese city of Wuhan, where the outbreak was first discovered, is a key reason behind the worries
In Japan, Marukome, a major manufacturer of miso paste, saw May sales of its meat substitute products made from soybeans soar 96% above target. A company spokesperson told the Nikkei Asian Review that “(consumers) wanted to maintain their health and immune system through utilizing healthy food materials.”
Mie Matsubara, a Tokyo resident and mother of two, is one consumer who started purchasing soybean-based meat for a healthier diet even before the pandemic struck. Now, though, her husband has asked her to cook dishes he hopes will boost their immunity to help steel them against possible infection.
Matsubara, however, acknowledges that getting used to the food is a challenge.
“When you start to eat it, the texture and taste are comparable to meat,” she said. “But as you continue, the aroma of soybeans becomes concerning.” She added, however, that the odor is less noticeable when she cooks soy-based fried chicken thanks to the addition of a seasoning mix.
Many consumers rushed to stock up on longer lasting foods such as canned items, in particular, during the early stage of the spread of the coronavirus in Japan. While animal-based meat has a short storage life, Marukome stresses that its soybean-based version will not go bad for 12 months.
But the company says other factors point to continued strong demand for such products even after the coronavirus crisis ends, citing increasing awareness regarding environmental sustainability, including calls for greenhouse emissions from cattle farms.
The emergence of the coronavirus, however, is clearly seen as the main factor pushing a growing number of consumers to seek alternatives to meat. Major meat processor Itoham Yonekyu Holdings in March launched Japanese-style Hamburg steak and fried chicken derived from soybeans and plans to expand its sales channels after it saw increasing demand due to the pandemic.
The trend can also be seen elsewhere in the region. In Hong Kong, social enterprise Green Monday, which makes plant-based meat brand OmniPork, saw its retail sales jump 120% in April, when the coronavirus outbreak peaked in the city, compared to January “as many more people became conscious of the risk and problems associated with the meat and livestock industry,” a Green Monday spokesperson told Nikkei.
“[The] coronavirus exposes the public health and sustainability risk of our meat-reliant food system, which represents a window of opportunity for the plant-based sector,” said the spokesperson.
Nozomi Hariya, an analyst at Euromonitor International, agreed, saying “consumers’ hesitation about consuming animal-based product” is increasing on “concerns that the coronavirus…