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Plant-based chicken keema to nuggets, good-for-you food is all set for an evolution

The last one year has seen the launch of a spate of start-ups, such as Vegolution (Hello Tempayy) and Blue Tribe Foods, which are focused on plant-based nutrition.

Tempe, the key ingredient of Hello Tempayy, is an age-old soy product that is made by culturing and fermenting soyabean and water. Tempe, the key ingredient of Hello Tempayy, is an age-old soy product that is made by culturing and fermenting soyabean and water.

US-headquartered plant-based meat company, Beyond Meat, got listed at a valuation of $1.5 billion last year, and is currently valued at $8.75 billion. The growing trend of vegetarianism in the West has also led to the emergence of other plant-based nutrition companies such as Impossible Foods, Omni Pork and Oatly.

Made out of plant-based products such as soyabean and chickpeas, these brands promise similar texture, taste and delight that a good old beef and mutton patty in a McDonalds or Burger King patty would offer.

This trend of plant-based nutrition products is beginning to gather steam in India too. The last one year has seen the launch of a spate of start-ups, such as Vegolution (Hello Tempayy) and Blue Tribe Foods, which are especially focused on plant-based nutrition. The intent of these brands is not as much to inculcate a culture of vegetarianism like their western counterparts, but to capitalise on the protein deficiency that exists in the country. It's well-known that India is among the most protein deficient nations of the world.           

The question is how is India among the most protein deficient nations in the world when close to 70 per cent of Indians consume egg, chicken and mutton which are supposed to be high on proteins.

"Out of the 70 per cent Indians who are technically non-vegetarians, only 30 per cent are hardcore non-vegetarians and the remaining are causal non-vegetarians. They consume meat infrequently. As opposed to the US, where per capita meat consumption is in the region of 75-80 kg per year, an average Indian consumes hardly 4 kg of meat per year," explains Vegolution CEO and founder Siddarth Ramasubramanian.

Vegolution's brand Hello Tempayy makes product by fermenting soyabean. Ramasubramanian's vision behind launching Hello Tempayy is to offer more options for vegetarian diet in India, which doesn't have too many protein options.

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"A non-vegetarian in India is not the same as a non-vegetarian in the US or Europe, where they are eating meat at least one meal a day. It became clear that vegetarian meals make up a large percentage of the population in India and that's where we felt was the gap as well as the audience. Also, most vegetarians we spoke to, were tired of eating paneer, outside of vegetables. They didn't have any indulgence food. The yearning for something that was delicious, outside of paneer, was clearly there," he explains.

Tempe, the key ingredient of Hello Tempayy, is an age-old soy product that is made by culturing and fermenting soyabean and water, which looks like a cube of paneer or tofu. Ramasubramanian claims that it can take a variety of forms -- can be mashed, cut into cubes or minced.

"It absorbs delicious flavours and can be cooked as kebabs, taco fillings or even thrown into a pasta. It's a vegetarian ingredient that has the highest quality of protein," he says.    

While Hello Tempayy calls itself a brand which fulfills the protein requirements in a vegetable diet, Mumbai-based start-up Blue Tribe Food's strategy is to be a sought-after replacement for conventional chicken keema or nuggets. It has launched plant-based chicken keema and chicken nuggets.

"If Venky's is selling chicken nuggets, we want to compete with Blue Tribe plant-based chicken nuggets. We are not asking people to go vegan, but even if you are eating meat four times a week, you could substitute that once or twice a week with plant-based meat and get the same experience," says Sohil Wazir, Chief Commercial Officer of Blue Tribe Foods.     

Blue Tribe's chicken keema is made out of peas and soyabean, using low moisture protein extrusion technique. "The protein in peas or soya are extracted and then texturized, so that it feels like protein, and then we add a chicken flavour," explains Wazir.

According to Good Food Institute of India (GFI) MD Varun Deshpande, the biggest challenge for these plant-based nutrition brands is to create products that satisfy the craving for meat.

"It's important that plant-based meat goes beyond soya nuggets. If non-vegetarians try soya nuggets, they would call it an inferior substitute of meat. Therefore, the next gen products have to be focused on replicating the sensory experience of meat," Deshpande says. He cites the example of Beyond Meat's beef burger patty which is made out of rice protein, coconut oil, beetroot juice and mung protein, but tastes exactly like beef.      

GFI's mission is to build a ecosystem of plant-based proteins in India. "Animal derived eggs and meat are popular, but the negative impact on the planet is considerable. Demand for meat is going to go up due to rising incomes in India and China. We need to produce 50-70 per cent more meat by the year 2050 and that will obviously have an impact on the planet," Deshpande says.    

Not only do these plant-based nutrition products need to taste exactly like their non-vegetarian counterparts, they also need to be priced competitively. A 200 gm pack of Hello Tempayy for instance is priced at Rs 130, which is similar to that of paneer. However, a 250 gm pack of plant-based chicken nuggets from Blue Tribe is priced at Rs 295, higher than the regular chicken nuggets at Rs 200. But Wazir says that their soon to be launched plant-based mutton keema would be at par with the regular goat meat available in the market.

Most of these plant-based nutrition products are currently available in the metro markets either through the brand's website and e-commerce marketplaces such as Amazon or in high-end modern retail stores such as Nature's Basket and Foodhall.

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