Thailand’s food industry has embraced the burgeoning alternative protein production trend as the sector continues to develop globally. In 2018, the market intelligence agency Mintel researched the food preferences of the Kingdom and saw an increased preference for plant-based foods. The research also found that 79% of individuals in Thailand would prefer healthier options to standard meat-based products.

According to the same survey, 76% of the respondents agree that plant-based proteins are as nutritious as animal products, and 55% felt that they taste better than the meat options. With astounding numbers of people moving towards plant-based foods or including them more in their diet over the past two years, COVID-19 seems to be the last straw in breaking the dominance of meat products. 

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OmniPork, a plant-based food developer in Hong Kong, witnessed an increase of 120% in its sales since early 2020. Similarly, companies in Thailand have noticed an uptick in the consumption of non-meat products in recent months. Growing concerns over food quality, safety, and the environmental impact of meat are all spurring on the rise of the plant-based meat industry and the food tech startups in Thailand are paying attention.

At the forefront of this industry

Mock-meats are plant-based food products that have the texture, look and taste like meat. Large conglomerates in Thailand, like Charoen Pokphand Group, have launched plant-based food product ranges because they believe in the potential market for these products in the ASEAN region. The group’s Charoen Pokphand Foods Pcl (CPF)  are looking to achieve massive expansion plans with the help of their new meat-free products.

As the largest agribusiness company in Thailand, CPF had mainly focused on meat-based foods in the past, but its focus has shifted towards plant-based alternatives and sustainable food solutions. This pivot is a strong indicator of tidal changes in the consumer mindset of Asia.

The already popular More Meat has seen a five-fold increase in sales since the beginning of 2020, and, getting in on the trend, another young Thai brand, Let’s Plant Meat Co., launched its first mock-meat burger patties range in 2020. Even YUM Restaurants, the parent of KFC and rivals McDonalds have shown an interest in developing mock-meat products for the nation. 

Khiang, a street food franchise, has also launched a meatless version of pad kra pao. This holy Basil based product usually has meat, but the change to a meat substitute shows parent company, Zen Corporation, is interested in the growing plant-based food products market.

But perhaps the biggest success story so far belongs to NR Instant Produce Pcl, a renowned food exporter in Thailand who launched plant-based protein products in 2016. It developed its jackfruit based mock pork to resounding success.

Its initial public offering increased to 1.6 billion baht, representing a value raise of 200% since the initial stock launch on October 9 2020. The successful floatation sees the company bring in funding of around $51.4 million USD. The brand is considering expansion into other parts of AsiaPacific, China, and the USA. 

Meanwhile, on the world stage, the founder and CEO of global giants Impossible Foods, Pat Brown, has made a sweeping declaration that the meat market will be wiped out in the next fifteen years. His confidence that meat substitutes will continue to grow in popularity will be inspiring for many food tech companies in the region. And, with a considerable number of restaurants in Bangkok and other cities and towns hoping to meet the needs of their healthier eating customers, the trend is unlikely to die off anytime soon. 

Future prospects

The Thai government is highly engaged in changing global trends, such as sustainable and environmentally friendly foodtech, as it strives to become a more digitally and technologically advanced nation through its Thailand 4.0 strategy. With 5G rolling out across the country and a growing number of tech hubs, funding and incubators available, Thailand is swiftly developing a robust startup ecosystem. It is supporting foodtech initiatives as they tap into the newly defined and quickly expanding plant-based meat demands of the country and the region.

These changing priorities in Thailand’s food industry indicate that food producers are increasingly committed to giving the people their desired choices. They also intend to make their products cheap and affordable to help establish the plant-based meat industry both in their home markets and worldwide, particularly in the lucrative China and USA markets.

The country has strong ambitions for the food exports sector and the food tech startups in Thailand are ready to step up to the mark. With such commitment from both government and private sectors, and increased funding for startups from local and international sources, the country’s food producers should be able to achieve their aspirations in the next decade.