In Southeast Asia, despite the fact that regional demand for plant-based foods is surging, most of the ingredients however are not yet made from locally grown crops.
Last year, 77% of plant-based meat products launched in Southeast Asia used soy or wheat as their protein source, ingredients primarily grown in the West. The latest BCC Research report also confirmed that more than 80% of plant-based protein source is derived from soy followed by wheat and pea.
By relying too much on overseas supply of raw materials, regional businesses are exposed to unnecessary risks of possible disruptions to the supply chain while local farmers are not able to cash in to what is touted to be the next growth industry.
A recent report released by the Good Food Institute APAC highlighted that the humble mung bean – already widely grown in Asian countries like India, Indonesia and Thailand – has the potential to be the next plant protein powerhouse.
Indeed, when Beyond Meat joined forces with PepsiCo to develop and launch their first plant-based jerky product last year, they bucked convention and opted to use mung beans as their primary protein ingredient. JUST Egg, a leading plant-based egg producer, has also used mung bean in its products.
Despite this development, mung bean application remains small compared to soy and pea, as it has been neglected by protein-focused research and development programmes. Soy-producing countries have spent decades optimising their crop and driving down costs through innovative breeding programmes. As a result, producers have more than doubled how much value they get from every single acre of land. The same case applies to wheat where yield sizes have nearly tripled over the past 50 years. However, for legumes like mung beans, yield has only increased by 60% over the same period. It’s a classic case of underinvestment leading to underutilisation.
Mung beans offer several built-in advantages and they have far lower allergenicity than either soy or wheat. Mung beans are also often used in hot soups/desserts in this region, and has application in both traditional Chinese and Indian medicines. In addition, it can achieve the desired taste and texture required in many plant-based applications with lesser processing making it easier to obtain the ‘clean label’ status.
Regional players need to ramp up their R&D efforts to utilise more local crops for the growing plant-based alternative segment, saving on both costs while speeding up NPD development.