More local plant-based protein firms export to Europe, US
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: More local plant-based protein firms export to Europe, US

Growthwell Foods’ Happiee range of plant-based products has been sold in Britain at British retailer Ocado since August, and will be in Tesco by the end of September.  PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE – More home-grown firms producing plant-based proteins have been exporting their products to European and American markets over the past two years.

Among them, Tindle Foods, which has a range of plant-based chicken-alternative products, in January launched six products in Germany, including popcorn chicken, chicken tenders and traditional schnitzel, in partnership with the country’s largest supermarket retailer, Edeka Group.

Growthwell Foods’ Happiee range of plant-based products – including alternatives to shrimp, calamari rings and squid pieces – has been sold in Britain at British retailer Ocado since August, and will be in supermarket chain Tesco by the end of September.

Growthwell also has plans to launch products at more British retailers and eventually expand to Germany in 2024.

The increased demand, particularly in some European markets, for plant-based products is due to the rising trend of conscious consumers who are more aware of the nutritional value of plant-based proteins, as well as a growing number of people eating vegan food, said a spokeswoman for trade agency Enterprise Singapore (EnterpriseSG).

Over the past four years, the number of start-ups in the plant-based protein space in Singapore has grown from fewer than five to more than 40 currently, Ms Sharon Tay, director of food manufacturing and agritech at EnterpriseSG, told The Straits Times.

An increasing number of local traditional food manufacturers are also developing their own range of plant-based products, which is indicative of growing consumer interest, said Ms Tay.

One such company is Ha Li Fa, known for its BoBo brand of fishballs. It launched the halal-certified Eat Plant Love range in 2022, with frozen items such as plant-based fishballs, mushroom balls and calamari. The brand is available in Cambodia, Brunei and Saudi Arabia.

Lim Kee Food Manufacturing, which produces Chinese-style steam buns, or pau, first introduced a plant-based range in 2019. It exports its plant-based products to markets such as Vietnam, Cambodia, Britain, France, Australia and Canada.

However, Singapore’s small market means that exporting to larger overseas markets would be an important strategy for most of these manufacturers that are looking to scale up.

“Catering to a larger market will also mean companies will invest in R&D (research and development) and innovation capabilities to develop a larger range of products catered to both local and overseas markets. This will ultimately benefit consumers in the long run,” Ms Tay said.

Consumers in Europe have “made clear” through demand and sales that they want the plant-based foods category to succeed, said Ms Mirte Gosker, managing director of alternative protein think-tank Good Food Institute Asia-Pacific.

A report by Ernst & Young in March found that Europe, particularly Germany and Britain, represents the largest market for plant-based meat products, followed by North America and Asia.

Ms Gosker noted that demand for plant-based foods was particularly strong in Germany, where alternative protein sales increased by 42 per cent between 2020 and 2022, reaching €1.91 billion (S$2.8 billion).

According to market research firm Nielsen, the value of plant-based food sales in Britain grew 9 per cent between 2020 and 2022 to £963.8 million (S$1.6 billion).

Rapid growth in demand for plant-based protein has also been observed in Poland, Portugal and Romania, said Ms Gosker.

Sales of plant-based foods in Poland grew by 109 per cent between 2020 and 2022 to 729 million zloty (S$230 million).

To support the home-grown companies in their quest to tap into these overseas markets and help reduce their barriers to entry, EnterpriseSG is conducting a plant-based regulatory study focused on the United States, Britain and the European Union.

The regulations and processes for the sale of plant-based protein can be complex, given that the industry is in its infancy, Ms Tay said. “Trade and regulatory compliance minimises risks of incurring penalties, shipment delays or legal issues, and is a critical consideration for speed to market.”

Ms Gosker noted that the US and European markets do not currently offer regulatory advantages over Singapore or other Asian markets that would make them easier for exporters to enter.

“In some isolated cases, European lawmakers have considered unnecessary plant-based labelling restrictions, which send mixed messages to researchers and companies,” she added.

Mr Justin Chou, executive director of Growthwell Foods, said it was not easy to launch the Happiee product range in Britain – the team had to tweak its product formulation slightly to meet regulatory requirements.

“This included the use of food additives, as well as more natural flavours for our products. It took us about nine months to reformulate these products,” he added.

In addition, while demand for plant-based protein products is growing, the oversaturation of brands offering the same few similar products has led some supermarkets to consolidate the number of brands offering plant-based foods on their shelves, said Mr Chou.

He said Growthwell has a unique offering as “pioneers” in plant-based seafood alternatives in Asia, which helped facilitate its entry into the British market.

“Orders have been piling up, and we’ve been quite busy,” he added, noting that exporting to Britain and Germany could “double, if not triple” the company’s revenue in the next three years.

Tindle Foods had tried to avert potential regulatory challenges by choosing simple, plant-based ingredients that would not subject them to additional reviews or approvals, said its chief executive and co-founder Andre Menezes.

One of its challenges in exporting to Germany for sale in supermarkets is that plant-based products there are sold mainly in the chilled or refrigerated aisles, as opposed to the frozen section of the store, which is more common globally.

“We had to set our supply chain up with complex operational challenges on delivering a chilled product into the country,” Mr Menezes said, adding that the company’s experienced leaders and scalable business model helped it enter the market swiftly and smoothly.

Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.