Asia is home to various food cultures, with six major cuisines that utilize different protein types including plant proteins such as tofu, tempeh, soy, and seitan-based “mock meats” consumed by the continent’s vast vegetarian and Buddhist population.
Consumption of conventional animal meat in Asia has increased sharply in the last 30 years. Beef consumption rose in most markets, particularly in South Korea and China. Chicken consumption also rose in most markets (except Thailand). Pork consumption has also increased, and dominates the market in both volume produced and consumed. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the global demand for meat will increase by 73% by 2050 due to the increasing population size and prosperity of people, particularly in Asia.
Given this trajectory, a report by Food Frontier, which partnered with Mintel and New Zealand’s food and fibre sector think tank Te Puna Whakaaronui emphasizes the need for governments and businesses to diversify protein offerings. The report underscores the emergence of alternative protein industries, utilizing plant-based meat and cellular agriculture technologies. These new options use plants, cell cultivation or fermentation technologies as an alternative to large-scale livestock farming and fishing.
In 2023, Asia’s meat substitutes market, encompassing mock meat and plant-based meat, is valued at USD 4.32 billion. This market is projected to grow annually at a rate of 33.27% (CAGR 2023-2027), reaching USD 13.63 billion by 2027. Additionally, the Asia Pacific (APAC) region saw USD 652 million invested in alternative protein companies in 2022.
Given these developments, the report suggests that Australia and New Zealand (ANZ) are well-positioned to tap into these emerging markets.
Growth opportunities in the region
China has the largest meat substitutes market size of USD 2.13 billion, with a 20% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) predicted by 2027, with global players establishing manufacturing plants, and pushing for funding for start-ups. Thus, China is the most favourable market for Australian and New Zealand exporters.
Singapore has high meat substitute revenue per capita (USD 2.34 in 2022) and is considered the centre of innovation in Asia for alternative proteins with a business-friendly environment. Singaporeans are also multicultural, adventurous consumers who dine out frequently.
South Korea has high projected meat substitute revenue growth at 20% CAGR to 2027 with high premiumisation on the strength of a rise in single households seeking the convenience of ready meals and meal kits, and the availability of plant-based meat in local formats.
Japanese consumers are strong meat eaters, with little desire to reduce meat intake so growth is predicted to be lower than other markets at 9% CAGR to 2027. But the meat substitutes market in Japan is still large, with consumers aged 18–24, high-monthly-income households, and ethical, premium, health-conscious shoppers that are looking for unique products, and are more likely to buy plant-based meat.
Hong Kong, with its high revenue per capita (USD 3.34) and 17% projected growth (CAGR 2022–27), emerges as the fourth most favorable market. However, its smaller population leads the report to prioritize markets like Thailand, which is ranked sixth overall. Thailand’s sizable meat substitutes market (USD 39.11 million), coupled with a thriving food manufacturing sector and a population exceeding 70 million, make it a promising market. Thailand’s moderate meat substitutes market is expected to grow at a robust 14% CAGR until 2027. The Thai government’s “Future Food” roadmap further supports innovations, including alternative proteins and 3D food printing, with substantial private sector investments in plant-based and cultivated meat.
Other markets considered in the report are Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, the Philippines, and India.
Across all the markets studied, vegetarians and vegans comprise a minority, ranging from 2- 6% of the population. Japan boasts the highest proportion of self-identified meat eaters (91%), followed by South Korea (84%). Thailand has the highest level of flexitarianism (38%), indicating a preference for predominantly plant-based diets with occasional animal meat consumption, including pescetarianism. China (24%) and Singapore (21%) follow in flexitarian preferences.
Plant-based meat consumption is most significant in China and Thailand. In China, 62% of surveyed consumers reported consuming plant-based meat in the past six months. The preference for chilled plant-based products is evident in China, Japan, and Thailand, while frozen products are more popular in Singapore and South Korea.
Consumers across all markets opt for plant-based meat due to its high protein content, ease of preparation, health benefits, similar flavors to meat, natural ingredients, organic nature, and environmentally-friendly production methods.
Higher-income families are more inclined to purchase and consume plant-based meats across all markets, except Thailand. Most consumers, barring Thailand, express willingness to buy plant-based meat if the prices are the same as or lower than conventional meat.
China and Japan are the only countries among the studied markets with existing definitions for plant-based meats. Singapore has definitions for products of biomass and precision fermentation, while both Singapore and Japan have definitions for cultivated meat. Over the next decade, the report predicts that most countries will adopt definitions for these different categories.
Singapore has an established regulatory framework for cultivated meat and novel foods, making it the first jurisdiction to approve a cultivated meat product for commercial sale. China, South Korea, and Japan are actively discussing their regulatory approaches for these products. While Thailand is not currently planning regulatory changes for cultivated meat and proteins from precision and biomass fermentation, the sector’s investments are likely to drive regulatory progress. In Japan, existing regulations may accommodate certain novel proteins if a history of consumption can be demonstrated.
Plant-based protein sources
In China, soy is the most popular plant-based protein ingredient used, followed by pea, rice, and wheat gluten. Other plant ingredients, mushrooms, other fungi, algae and konjac, are also used. China has not allowed genetically modified (GM) crops to be planted domestically but this is changing.
Soy and wheat are commonly used protein sources in plant-based meat products in Singapore. South Korea’s plant-based meat market was valued at USD 77.19 million in 2022, with soy, pea, bean, and wheat protein being the most prevalent protein ingredients. Japan, reliant on imports for plant-based meat ingredients, imports 83% of its wheat and 78% of its soybeans used annually.
In Thailand, where 51% of consumers are meat eaters, there’s a growing trend of incorporating plant-based foods into diets. Soy remains the preferred plant protein source due to its availability, cost-effectiveness, and versatility.
What we think
As Asia’s alternative proteins market flourishes, ANZ exporters stand to gain by diversifying their protein exports to the region. It is imperative to have a well-founded understanding of unique consumers’ needs and cultural nuances in each market to be able to maximise the potential export opportunities for ANZ businesses in Asia. They can benefit from trade offices, free trade agreements, and expert import agents to navigate local regulations and business requirements effectively.
You can download the Alternative Proteins and Asia report for free on Food Frontier’s website. For more insights into Mintel’s research on alternative proteins, explore our offerings at the Mintel Store. To discover how Mintel Consulting can support your business growth, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us.