Plant-based or alternative proteins are nothing new. We’ve all had veggie burgers and eaten at a vegetarian stall in a hawker centre. But while these products were never meant to fully replace the taste and texture of meat, but to cater to vegetarians and vegans. There have been newer plant-based alternatives to meat that are actually attempting to mimic animal proteins as much as possible.

This is thanks to growing awareness of the health and environmental impacts of meat, as some consumers around the world are increasingly seeking out alternatives. While innovation abounds in the industry, do we actually see a significant change to Southeast Asia’s diet?

To find out more, we spoke to Gautam Godhwani, who is the Managing Partner of Good Startup. They recently launched their USD 25 million Good Protein Fund I, which is focused on, you guessed it, the development of alternative protein companies in the US and Asia.

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To date, the company has invested in a total of 12 alternative protein startups including Eat Just, TurtleTree Labs (“TurtleTree”), Avant Meats, Rebellyous Foods, Cultured Decadence, Novel Farms, Lypid, Clara Foods, Nowadays, and Motif Foodworks.

Gautam was kind enough to take some time out of his busy schedule to layout the growing alternative proteins industry and what it means for Southeast Asia.

Can you tell us why you’re focused on alternative proteins as an industry?

As the population grows to 10 billion people by 2050, we face several challenges ahead. Meat consumption will nearly double, and the planet’s resources will fall far short of the requirements of the population. Alternative proteins offer a path forward that addresses several key issues including climate change, sustainability, human health, and animal welfare. Today, animal agriculture constitutes 14.5% of global warming, more than the transportation sector. It consumes a third of our land and nearly as much water. 

It also contributes to 75% of human disease and consumes 80% of our antibiotics. At the same time, we slaughter over 70 billion land animals and over 1 trillion fish each year. Alternative proteins offer a path forward where we utilize 80% less energy, 90% less water, 99% less land and eliminate animal slaughter for food, while significantly reducing the pace of climate change. 

Why do you think Southeast Asia has potential in this industry?

While the U.S. is the most advanced market for alternative proteins, Asia is the largest market over time. As a unit, Southeast Asia as a unit represents the seventh-largest economy in the world. In addition to the size of its economy, which offers significant distribution opportunities, Southeast Asia has a vital role to play to enhance the supply chain, R&D and manufacturing capabilities of alternative protein companies. Singapore has been a standout in the region. Today, it offers the most advanced regulatory pathway as the only place where cultivated meat can be sold in the world.

As a consumer market, do you think Southeast Asia will adapt to alternative proteins?

We are already seeing global companies enter Southeast Asia to offer alternative protein products with demand rising rapidly. Given the culinary diversity of the region, we believe we will see an increasing number of companies emerge in the region that offers products both locally and globally, as demand for these products rises.

Alternative protein products mimic the taste of meat while offering superior nutrition profiles, higher sustainability while eliminating animal welfare issues, all of which appeal to consumers, especially the younger generations. To complement plant-based offerings today, as companies bring cell-based technologies to market, consumers will be able to access meat products made from animal cells that are molecularly identical to meat, but much healthier for them and more sustainable for the planet. 

Can you share how the industry is evolving and what we can expect next?

Currently, alternative proteins represent a US$20 billion market, disrupting an immense $2.1 trillion animal agriculture industry comprising meat, seafood, dairy and eggs. By 2030, this industry will grow to nearly $200B in size. In 2050, when meat consumption nearly doubles, alternative proteins will become a $1 to $2 trillion industry. We are at the beginning of a massive transformation of our food system, where food is made not just using food science and ingredients, but with biotechnology and molecules. 

Today, we are at the end of the first chapter of alternative proteins, where we have seen innovation in ground meat and plant-based milk. The next chapter will see a proliferation of products, including a variety of seafood, whole cuts of meat and specialized offerings such as foie gras, as well as a new set of technologies including microorganism-based and cell-based offerings. At the same time, we will see significant innovation in the supply chain, which will make alternative protein production more economical and scalable. 

What’s next for Good Startup?

Good Startup exists to remove animals from the food system. We are focused on backing entrepreneurs creating the next generation of food. We work closely with companies to help them innovate and scale, and offer a wider range of products globally. We fund start-ups that create ground-breaking technology, chart a path to commercialization and founding teams that are driven to create a better world for the next generation. At this stage, we hope to see more companies innovating in the supply chain to make the production of alternative meat easier and create a wider range of products to disrupt animal agriculture.