In 2020, the average person in Singapore consumed around 36kg of chicken. In fact, chicken is touted to be the most consumed type of meat that year, and it continues to be one of the most consumed meats in Singapore.
According to the Singapore Food Agency (SFA), 34 per cent of Singapore’s chicken supply in 2021 are imported from Malaysia — this is more than a third of the country’s chicken supply.
The chicken arrives from Malaysia live, before it gets slaughtered in Singapore. The end product? The fresh, chilled meat you see in grocery stores, hawkers, restaurants.
Besides the Covid-19 impact on global supply chains ringing an alarm for Singapore’s food source supply, the recent chicken export ban on Malaysia’s side since the start of June this year has further heightened concerns.
Malaysian Prime Minister Sabri Yaakob detailed that the ban would see 3.6 million chickens a month no longer being imported to Singapore in order to stabilise Malaysia’s domestic supply and stem inflation.
Even though the ban is expected to lift after a few months, it has gotten Singapore scrambling to secure food resources domestically, bringing plant-based chicken meat and cultivated chicken meat into the equation.
But, to what extent will these sources of meat be able to plug the demand for chicken in Singapore?
Why the hype around plant-based and cultivated chicken meat?
Interestingly, plant-based and cultivated chicken meat taste and feel like real chicken meat.
Plant-based chicken meat specifically, is made with a combination of plant materials that are designed to mimic the taste, appearance and texture of specific meats.
Usual ingredients include pea protein to make the meat firm and fibrous, sunflower or coconut oil that acts as a binding ingredient for protein to achieve the juicy texture in real chicken meat, and some form of plant-based thickener like methyl cellulose to hold everything together.
Even though there are plant-based meats like veggie patty options, these kind of alternative plant-based meats are different in terms of how they are marketed. While the former is more catered to vegetarians or vegans, the latter is publicised to taste like meat and is marketed to meat-eating customers as an alternative to real meat.
It was not only until recent years that alternative plant-based meats gained traction among consumers. Catalysed by the concerns over disease outbreak from close human-animal interactions, especially after the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, many have started rethinking their food sources and systems.
Another catalyst for exploring plant-based meats is how environmentally friendly its production is compared to conventional meats.
The world’s pace of real meat consumption is becoming highly detrimental to the environment. According to Jonathan Foley’s “The Five Step Plan to Feed the World”, the industry currently uses up nearly the size of Africa to raise livestock, and one-third of farmable land to grow crops for these animals.
In other words, resources like water used in the real meat industry can get excessive, with majority of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions also arising from its production.
The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) highlights that global real meat production makes up 14.5 per cent of all human induced emissions, which equates to 7.1 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide emissions per year.
On the contrary, alternative plant-based meats’ emissions are 10 to 50 times smaller than those from animal products. Similarly, the Blue Horizon’s 2020 ‘Environmental Impacts of Animal and Plant-based Food Report’ highlights that plant-based meats use less land and water on average, as well as produce less carbon dioxide emissions compared to conventional real chicken meat.
This would also free a considerable amount of land for climate mitigation strategies, food security and biodiversity protection since crops can be used directly to make plant-based meat instead of using additional land to raise animals.
As such, concerns over the environment and disease outbreak in recent years have caused the demand for plant-based meats to surge, as seen from the worldwide search interest for the term “plant-based meat” skyrocketing in early 2019.
In terms of commercialisation, market research company Euromonitor states that the global alternative meat sector is worth US$20.7 billion, and is set to grow to US$23.2 billion by 2024.
Investors are seeing this as a great opportunity to tap into the alternative protein market while ramping up support to nurture the sector growth. Coupled with increased consumer awareness around the health and environmental aspects of alternative protein, the sector is expected to attract more investors over the years.
– Alex Ward, Chief Operating Officer, Next Gen Foods
Singapore startups are rising up to the challenge
Founded in 2020, Singapore-based food tech startup Next Gen Foods developed and commercialised innovative and sustainable plant-based food products.
Backed by a team with experience in plant-based food technology, global brand development and distribution scale-up, they aim to create a more sustainable way to live, through the production of plant-based meats that minimises greenhouse gas emissions.
Their flagship product — TiNDLE — a plant-based chicken that offers the same taste, texture and versatility as real chicken, is one such supply source.
TiNDLE is made of nine ingredients with no genetically modified organisms. This includes water, soy, coconut oil and Lipi, which is the company’s proprietary emulsion of plant-based ingredients that mirror the aroma, cookability and savoury qualities that typically come from chicken fat.
For every 100g of serving, TiNDLE contains 17g of protein which is comparable to that of real chicken meat. It also meets the nutritional guidelines for the Healthier Choice Symbol administered by Singapore’s Health Promotion Board (HPB) due to its low sodium and saturated fat content when compared to regular plant-based meat alternatives.
Ever since TiNDLE’s launch in March 2021, it has since gained acclaim and popular consumer feedback in Singapore. It quickly expanded to other culinary epicentres like Dubai, Hong Kong, Macau, Kuala Lumpur, and Amsterdam and this year, TiNDLE was brought to the United States, United Kingdom, and Germany. It is also set to enter retail in select markets by 2023.
Another such startup that offers plant-based chicken is Dynamic Foodco. Founded by Andy Kusumo in 2021, the Singapore-based foodtech startup seeks to tackle food security in Singapore and beyond.
They turn plant ingredients into low-calorie plant-powered chicken, enabling people to lead sustainable lifestyles without compromising on the taste of chicken meat.
Their product, DYNAMEAT, is made from the usual components of meat — protein, oil and water — but these are derived from plants. These ingredients are mixed together to form tasty chicken meat.
According to Andy, DYNAMEAT scores higher in blind-tasting surveys compared to animal-based meat. “[M]any people who have tried it say this is the best plant-based chicken in the region. We cannot wait to bring this product to people”.
The roadblocks to realisation
Even though plant-based meats and cultivated meats options are right in front of us, consumer hesitancy proves to be a problem in commercialising them.
Consumer adoption is the biggest challenge as it requires trying an alternative to something that is dear to people around the globe: meat. Plant-based foods have long been associated with the compromise of an authentic meat experience.
– Alex Ward, Chief Operating Officer, Next Gen Foods
Andy from Dynamic Foodco adds that apart from the lack of infrastructure, the uncertain supply of ingredients due to climate and geopolitics is also another concern.
Nonetheless, both plant-based meat companies are confident that these challenges can be overcome.
“[W]e believe there is no dichotomy and that we can create a better future, without compromise. Ensuring consumers are open to trying new products is a challenge and requires us to highlight the benefits of choosing plant-based meat over less efficient animal-based meats,” says Alex.
In order to drive consumer adoption, Next Gen Foods plans on providing innovative and authentic meat experiences to raise consumer awareness on how plant-based foods can offer authentic meat experiences, driving the demand for plant-based meat.
With regards to the lack of infrastructure and uncertainty of ingredients, Dynamic Foodco aims to develop technology, which they call TnT (Texture and Taste), that is able to adapt to a wide range of ingredients.
Recently, consumer adoption seems to be improving, says Alex. A 2021 research report from Kerry, the world’s largest taste and nutrition company, found that 62 per cent of consumers in the Asia Pacific (APAC) were interested in buying meat alternatives and 44 per cent intended to eat more of it.
Despite 70 per cent of them saying that the plant-based meats currently available did not taste or feel like real meat, they claimed that they would purchase more once these factors were improved.
This support for alternative meat is evident, with Next Gen’s TiNDLE becoming a chef’s favourite at 11 restaurants in Singapore when it launched in March 2021 and it being offered in more than 500 restaurants worldwide.
Next Gen also raised US$100 million (S$138.52 million) Series A funding round in February 2022 — the largest Series A to date for a plant-based meat company.
Dynamic Foodco’s DYNAMEAT also observed tremendous progress in consumer adoption and is ready to be launched as DYNAMEAT Plant-Powered Chicken to the market in collaboration with selected restaurant partners. It is expected to hit shelves by the end of 2022.
Many restaurants and fast-food chains have also been adopting plant-based meat into their menus as well. Burger King for example, launched plant-based burgers into their menu permanently.
According to the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), revenues from alternative proteins could reach US$290 billion (S$402.70 billion) by 2035, says Andy.
In fact, APAC is quickly emerging as a hotbed for alternative protein startups, with record investments flowing into the sector, according to the Good Food Institute. Meanwhile, Pitchbook data states that annual capital invested in the region grew by 92 per cent in 2021.
These signal that people are becoming more welcoming towards alternative meats, making these options even more credible for Singapore to address its food supply concerns with regards to chicken meat.
Why these sources of meat are important
To Singapore, which currently imports over 90 per cent of its food from more than 160 countries, plant-based and cultivated meats serve as critical sources to look at in order to address the demand for chicken meat.
The country has also set a 30 by 30 goal for itself to achieve: at least 30 per cent of all food should be domestically made by 2030 to lessen reliance on imports that can be unstable and unpredictable.
As Andy emphasises, “[a] sustainable food system cannot rely on only a few sources of meat all based on livestock”.
Singapore offers strong infrastructure to support food technology innovations like alternative protein. Next Gen’s mission is to create a more sustainable food system with our innovative plant-based products, expand into more restaurants and help Singapore achieve its 30 by 30 goal; to locally produce 30 per cent of its nutritional needs by the year 2030.
Similarly, Andy from Dynamic Foodco shares that their production of DYNAMEAT aims to contribute to food security in Singapore through the usage of their TnT technology that is able to adapt to different ingredients.
As our population increases, the demand for meat will continue to grow and animal farming alone will not be sufficient to meet this. We will need to consider plant-based products as part of a long-term, sustainable solution. This provides an opportunity to position plant-based meat as an alternative to chicken in the long term and to educate consumers on the benefits of plant-based meat and its impact on the planet.
– Alex Ward, Chief Operating Officer, Next Gen Foods
Judging from investor interest in plant-based meats, and the increasing demand from consumers, it is likely that plant-based proteins could eventually become as popular as conventional meat.
With startups like Next Gen Foods and Dynamic Foodco bringing their plant-based chicken meat to the frontlines in recent years, there is no doubt that the quality of plant-based meats will continue to improve in both taste and texture, ultimately getting adopted more widely in Singapore.
Next Gen is currently increasing its research and development (R&D) and product innovation capabilities with their brand new research hub set to open in Singapore in the coming year. This is in partnership with the Food Tech Innovation Center (FTIC), which was established by Asia Sustainable Foods Platform, a company wholly-owned by Temasek.
This state-of-the-art R&D and Innovation Center will act as a launchpad for the development and trial of new technologies, applications and products.
Meanwhile, Dynamic Foodco has plans to be the leading alternative protein company in Singapore, and afterward in the region.
“Our platform technology would allow us to work with agriculture and fermentation-based alternative protein companies on one end and restaurants and global food companies on the other end,” says Andy.
Beyond Singapore’s 30 by 30
Singapore has also started shaping up to become a hub for alternative meats, and is currently the only country globally to have approved cultivated meat for consumer sale.
Cultivated meat refers to the sourcing of real animal cells and using them to become whole pieces of meat through scientific laboratory processes.
Ants Innovate, a Singaporean deep tech startup established in 2020 that makes alternative meats like cultivated chicken breast from real animal cells, shares that cultivated meat can bring more realistic chicken tastes.
According to co-founder and director of research and development of Ants Innovate Shujian Ong, the cells are “[c]ombined with structured plant proteins and fats that are precisely engineered to provide the bite and texture of meat”, achieving the same meaty flavours and textures of chicken meat and ultimately making it easier to commercialise.
This is because commercialisation first requires cultivated meats to be produced at a scale large enough to reach more consumers, so that product innovation can be guided by real consumer feedback to penetrate the market.
However, Shujian acknowledges that the flavour and texture of alternative chicken meat is not yet close to actual meat.
“That is why we focus on engineering the sensory attributes of alternative meats like flavour and texture. We believe that the key to consumer acceptance is firstly in getting the taste right”.
He believes that once the cultivated meat industry matures over time, it can be the meat alternative of tomorrow that delivers high quality in terms of flavour, texture, appearance and nutrition.
Currently, plant-based meat seems to be contributing to Singapore’s 30 by 30, with food security as a long-end goal.
I believe we should look beyond 30 by 30 and continue investing in future technologies like cultivated meats. With the cultivated meat industry increasingly develop functional ingredients to enhance existing plant-based products, and the recent hype about hybrid in the industry, the synergy between the cultivated and plant-based proteins landscape will be stronger.
– Shujian Ong, co-founder of Ants Innovate
This means that alternative sources of meat can potentially become more of a commodity and plug the demand in Singapore for chicken meat, provided consumer receptiveness improves over time.
Featured Image Credit: Next Gen Foods, Dynamic Foodco, Ants Innovate