Singapore recently became the first country in the world to approve the sale of lab-grown meat. With Asia becoming a hotbed of innovation in the alternative protein space, we zoom in on recent developments in the industry in Singapore and ponder the implications of a meat-free future.
Recently launched alternative protein options in Singapore
1. Lab-Grown Chicken Nuggets by EatJust
Following the unprecedented approval of lab-grown meat in Singapore, EatJust became the first company in the world to commercially sell a cultured meat product, according to the Singapore Food Agency (SFA). This approval comes under new food safety guidelines implemented by the agency, requiring safety assessments on novel ingredients that “do not have a history of safe use.”
Plant-based meats such as Impossible and Beyond Meat are not novel since they are made from commonly-eaten plants. Impossible Burger had to undergo the test, however, since it contained a novel compound called soy leghemoglobin. It passed SFA’s test, as did EatJust, and found its way into various eateries in Singapore.
2. Kentucky Fried Mycoprotein Last week, KFC Singapore made the headlines with the introduction of their very first “zero-chicken” burger. Made from mycoprotein, which is derived from fermented fungi, the burger did not skimp on KFC’s traditional 11 herbs and spices mixture and is even coated and fried like a chicken patty. Mycoprotein is made by fermenting fungi spores with glucose and other nutrients, creating a high-protein high-fibre product with a meat-like texture.
However, vegans and vegetarians cannot have their first taste of KFC mock-chicken yet, since it comes with mayonnaise and is fried in the same oil as chicken products. The company aims to target a growing number of “flexitarians” who eat meat but occasionally choose to go meat-free. The pandemic may also have spurred interest in meat-free products, with rising concerns about animal welfare and food safety.
3. A Plant-Based Marketplace cum Café
A new café and grocery store, Green Common, opened yesterday at Vivocity shopping mall, the second plant-based concept store outside of Hong Kong. The store carries well-known alternative protein brands including OmniMeat and Beyond Meat. The range of products include plant-based milk, meat and eggs and even pre-cooked packaged food like OmniEat’s Siu Mai. There is even a dine-in option, serving everything from plant-based chicken rice to chicken rendang made with Heura Chicken. The wide range of cuisines is sure to tickle the palate of food-loving Singaporeans.
Are alternative proteins a good thing?
Many people are now aware of the significant negative impact of the conventional meat-industry on our planet. Yet, some struggle to give up meat because of habits and taste preferences. Et voilà, alternative protein is here to solve this problem – creating something that tastes close enough to meat without the accompanying carbon emissions, land degradation and animal welfare concerns.
The creation of this industry can solve multiple problems that humanity will grapple with in the near future. For instance, the ever-growing demand for nutritious food with our population projected to reach 11.2 billion by 2100. According to a report by the World Economic Forum, “it would be impossible for a global population of 10 billion people to eat the amount of meat typical to diets in North America and Europe and keep within the agreed sustainable development goals (SDGs) for the environment and climate: it would require too much land and water, and lead to unacceptable greenhouse-gas and other pollutant emissions.”
Lab-grown meat and plant-based alternatives to meat present a promising solution to scarcity and climate change problems, while creating new economic opportunities.
Yet, the industry has its challenges. Interviews with alternative-food entrepreneurs in Singapore revealed concerns about a lack of suitable opportunities to scale up their businesses, including high cost of equipment like bioreactors which are not easily accessible here. A new facility is in the works, however, the FoodTech Innovation Centre – a joint venture by Temasek and the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) – which aims to support commercialisation of food-tech start-ups. This is promising news for entrepreneurs looking to validate their ideas and scale up their businesses.
There is a billion-dollar opportunity for companies and entrepreneurs to innovate and leverage on this growing trend. The WEF projects two potential pathways the industry could take – 1. disrupt the $1 trillion global meat market and become mainstream, or 2. remain a “niche” sold at a high price to certain groups.
Policy changes, the penetration of alternative foods and a rising number of home-grown food-tech entrepreneurs in Singapore seems to strongly hint at the former.