The weather wasn’t the only pleasant surprise.
Karl the Fog was in a very obliging mood as 800+ attendees building the future of protein descended on San Francisco for the Good Food Conference in early September, but the most heartening aspect of my adrenaline- and caffeine-fueled trip was the astonishing uptick in knowledge about and interest in what countries like India can bring to the good food table.
The global good food market and India
2019 has been a marquee year for plant-based meats in global markets—you’d have to be living under a rock not to have noticed that $BYND pop. And Impossible Foods’, Beyond Meat’s, and JUST’s eye-catching rollouts in the biggest restaurants, grocery stores, and foodservice businesses have seen hugely increased interest in potentially new pockets of growth—both on the supply and distribution side.
I had a number of very productive discussions at the conference. These covered everything from potentially locating contract-manufacturing and scale-up hubs for plant-based and cultivated meat companies in India’s increasingly favorable business ecosystem, to sourcing indigenous crops like pulses and millets, to evaluating the possibility of market-testing plant-based meats in India’s megacities. (And why not? Impossible Foods was served in 140 restaurants within 4 months of launching in Singapore—they could possibly do even better in Mumbai and Delhi!)
Interest in markets like India is higher than it’s ever been, and it’s about time! Here are my key takeaways from the Good Food Conference:
1. ‘New’ sources of protein and indigenous value chains are of huge interest.
At GFI-India, we’re focused on stimulating scientific research and business activity in indigenous crops, in order to help diversify the global sources of protein and other ingredients for plant-based foods. These include pulses like chickpea, mung bean, and pigeonpea, and crops like millets. We call them “triple bottom line” crops because they’re inherently hardy and sustainable (good for the planet), can offer affordable nutrition for consumers at scale (good for people), and represent a huge opportunity to create lucrative diversification for farmers and business (good for profit).
At my panel session on environmental and public health considerations for our sector, and elsewhere during the conference, the interest in these crops was sky-high. Of course, aggregating farmers to grow these crops remains a challenge. There’s plenty of investment and scientific work still needed in order to build up sizeable value chains and information about the usable varieties of these crops—they’re currently not competitive with wheat, rice, and soy when it comes to cost and functionality. But with all the interest, we may just get there sooner than expected.
(If you’re interested in our Indigenous Crops Initiative, get in touch! We’re actively creating and collating scientific data on these crops in open-access databases, and keen to partner with anybody who can contribute.)
2. Manufacturing capacity for plant-based and cultivated meat is needed. And countries like India can supply it.
The morning before the conference began in earnest, 59 folks from cultivated meat companies, leading pharmaceutical and industrial manufacturers, and government spent hours discussing the pathways for commercializing and scaling up cultivated meat. The depth of discussions on regulation, manufacturing, talent, and coordination was astonishing. I’m fairly certain a meeting of this kind would not have been possible just a year ago, which is a testament to the rapid growth in our sector.
It’s clear that cultivated meat is poised for commercialization. Meanwhile, plant-based meat has entered hyperdrive, with companies at the vanguard seeking opportunities to scale up and lower costs in order to access hugely attractive markets such as Asia. Manufacturing capacity is on everybody’s minds—but where and how?
India, with our proven track record of manufacturing for the pharmaceutical industry is one potential answer. Government agencies including the Department of Biotechnology (which has already made a $640,000 grant to cultivated meat research), investment promotion agency Invest India, and the Ministry of Food Processing Industries are keen to enable foreign direct investment or joint ventures with Indian companies, to drive job growth and create income for farmers and local businesses. The Ministry of Food Processing Industries is also driving the creation of cold chain infrastructure and a network of Mega Food Parks—modern food processing hubs linked by state-of-the-art transport—and is keen to engage in dialogue with interested companies.
Whether you’re a plant protein/ingredients player, extrusion business, or cultivated meat company, you should be thinking about engaging with these agencies and business partners in countries like India. The potential to scale your business and become a key player in the new protein landscape is immense.
(We’d be happy to put you in touch with the businesses and agencies mentioned above. If you’re interested in meeting them face-to-face and building key relationships, you should attend the Future of Protein Summit in New Delhi on November 11-12. Contact us for more information!)
3. The world’s largest democracy is one of the final frontiers for plant-based meats, but more consumer insight is needed.
Since I joined the Good Food Institute as Managing Director for India in late 2017, I’ve received many (many!) questions to the effect "Why India?" Surely the world’s largest vegetarian population doesn’t need replacements for meat? This is, of course, a view based on lagging rather than leading indicators.
A significant proportion of the growth in meat demand over the next decades is going to come from regions like India and South-East Asia as incomes continue to rise. Thankfully, at this year’s Good Food Conference, companies and investors were far more interested in serving the Indian consumer than they have been in the past. But not much is known about how Indians actually eat.
India is a highly heterogeneous country, and a data-dark one, which makes questions about meat demand and meat replacement difficult to answer. How much meat are people eating at different levels of the income pyramid, and what kinds? What might predict if they would switch to a replacement? How strong are sustainability movements in the country? All in all, India is incredibly complex, and the very savvy attendees at the Good Food Conference knew it!
Given the potential rewards of accessing many millions of increasingly Westernized, upwardly mobile consumers in megacities like Mumbai, New Delhi, and Bangalore, doing research into eating and buying behavior is imperative.
(GFI-India is conducting rigorous consumer research in the world’s largest democracy over the next 9 months, investigating buying behavior, meat consumption, reasons for buying, and willingness to switch—all kinds of highly useful data! If you’re open to partnering on or funding this kind of work, we’d love to hear from you.)
Connect with us!
On the whole, the Good Food Conference left me deeply optimistic about the future of food in India. There’s a great deal of work to do, but I’m heartened by the interest in and support for our initiatives across all the Good Food Institute’s international teams.
I’d be glad to talk about any of the opportunities above. In particular, we’d love to have you at the Future of Protein Summit in New Delhi, November 11-12, where policymakers, entrepreneurs, investors, scientists, and anybody who’s key to building the plant-based and cultivated meat sectors in India will be present. We’ll be facilitating roundtables and one-on-one meetings with the most important figures on manufacturing, research, and investment for our sector. If you’re interested in scaling up your business, sourcing from India’s tremendous agricultural diversity, and accessing affordable talent, the Future of Protein Summit is for you.
I enjoyed meeting and chatting with old and new faces at the Good Food Conference, and look forward to talking to you all again soon. In the meantime, we’re sending love from Mumbai!