Mumbai: Following major progress in the nascent Indian ‘plant-based meats’ landscape in the second half of 2021, the first major Indian FMCG company has announced a foray in the burgeoning sector. ITC Ltd is the manufacturer of beloved Indian food brands such as Aashirvaad atta (wheat flour), and is the choice of Indians all over the world for packaged ready-to-eat versions of heritage dishes such as daal makhani and paneer tikka. Their entry into the plant-based space is therefore likely to make an impact not just domestically, but in the huge export market as well.
ITC Limited’s food business will launch plant-based burger patties and nuggets providing the taste of chicken to consumers through retail, e-commerce, and food service establishments in the country’s top 8 cities, advised by expert nonprofit Good Food Institute India (GFI India) on product and positioning strategy.
Varun Deshpande, Managing Director at the Good Food Institute India, said “Smart protein and plant-based meats are a generational opportunity to align planetary health stewardship, public health resilience, and economic growth. 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, ITC Ltd said “There is no large pan-Indian brand in the plant-based protein segment in India. We have worked with some global partners to ensure there is no compromise either 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 $45 billion. Given the growing concerns around wellness and sustainability, India has the potential to emerge as a large market for plant-based alternatives.”
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. Globally, companies like Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat have raised hundreds of millions of dollars, gone public on the stock market, and scaled across the globe, while using just a small fraction of the land, water, and energy that their conventional animal meat counterparts require – all with lower greenhouse gas emissions and without the risk of zoonotic disease or antimicrobial resistance.
The global smart protein sector attracted over $3.5 billion in venture capital in 2021 (following $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, Nestle, and Unilever have also invested significantly in the space. While plant-based meat startups like Riteish & Genelia Deshmukh’s Imagine Meats and Sandeep Singh’s Blue Tribe Foods have captured the Indian imagination over the last year, ITC Ltd is now the first major Indian FMCG player to do so.
Research by GFI India indicates that 63% of non-vegetarians among urban, upwardly-mobile populations would be extremely likely to purchase plant-based meats regularly, driven by guilt around meat-eating as well as curiosity and aspiration surrounding next-generation plant-based meat products. This ‘early adopter’ market makes fertile ground for initial experimentation, with a major multi-billion dollar opportunity in the larger mass market up for grabs as consumer awareness builds and more players enter the market.