The growing demand for plant-based food products in Malaysia

SYAHIRAH MOKHTAZAR
SYAHIRAH MOKHTAZAR
01 Aug 2022 11:14am
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Plant-based alternatives are becoming more accessible and affordable to the wider community than it was back then.

If you’ve been making trips to the supermarket for your weekly grocery shopping, chances are you’ve come across several brands selling frozen plant-based food products.

Plant-based food is essentially food made from plant-based proteins such as soy, tofu, quinoa and more. Think nuggets, burgers, minced meat made from such ingredients.

An Asian food tech start-up from Singapore, Growthwell Foods recently collaborated with Country Farms Group, a wholly-owned entitity of Berjaya Corporation to distribute its plant-based product portfolio across Malaysia, through a brand called Happiee!

For a start, their products are currently available across Aeon supermarkets.

In an interview with the group chief executive officer of Growthwell Foods, Manuel A.Bossi, he talked about the growing demand of plant-based food in Malaysia and the company’s strategies to challenge stereotypes around plant-based food.

Group chief executive officer of Growthwell Foods, Manuel A.Bossi
Group chief executive officer of Growthwell Foods, Manuel A.Bossi



“The demand for plant-based food is growing in Malaysia. It has a growing middle class and flexitarian group who are always looking for delicious alternative protein sources.

“More and more consumers within the country are consuming less meat to improve their health and well-being. They are also more aware of climate change and sustainability issues and are more willing to make the switch to plant-based food to make an impact,” he said.

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He said Malaysians are actually no strangers to plant-based protein as soy based products like tofu have been traditional staples in their diet.

How the product packaging appears to be. Photo courtesy of Growthwell Foods
How the product packaging appears to be. Photo courtesy of Growthwell Foods



While there is a growing demand for plant-based food products, it’s still a challenge to address stereotypes surrounding plant-based food for the uninitiated.

For Bossi, he said a big part of addressing stereotypes surrounding plant-based food would be constant education. Consumers may be unaware of or hold outdated ideas about plant-based food.

One of the very first step is to create nutritious plant-based food with taste and texture very close to the real thing. Taste is often the first and greatest barrier for people looking to try plant-based food.

“From our experience, many people who are hesitant to try plant-based food at first have their opinion changed when they did. They are pleasantly surprised about the quality, and many come back or are more willing to try other plant-based products.

“They are used to the taste and texture of meat and are put off by any slight deviation from their expectations. We utilise HME technology, which makes the texture of products very close to the original while minimising additives.

“Starting with something familiar like frozen finger foods, is a great way for individuals to begin incorporating plant-based foods into their diets.

“Price is also another one of the main barriers for people. Growthwell Foods keep our products affordable by sourcing our ingredients from places close to our production centres.

Speaking of pricing, how does a company offering plant-based food keep up with the challenge of the spike in food prices amid inflation? To note, the price range for the products is between RM15.90 and RM24.90.

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“Our competitive price points come from our ability to achieve economies of scale with our production facilities in Singapore and Malaysia. We have a yearly production capacity of 5,000 metric tons of plant-based food between the two production facilities.

“Taking our Fishiee Sticks from our alternative seafood portfolio as an example, we have already achieved price parity with conventional options.

He added that with both production facilities situated very close to and in Malaysia, it enables the company to minimise supply chain disruptions, which then allows them to ensure that its plant-based products are easily accessible.

KEY INGREDIENTS

The brand features a seafood line made from Konjac a range of soy-based chicken that emulates the taste and texture typical of chicken meat.

“Konjac is one of our key ingredients and we use it to create products for our plant-based seafood line. We are one of the few companies in the world to do this.

“Konjac is a root vegetable that grows in parts of Asia. Not only is it naturally free of cholesterol and high in fibre, it also helps to lower blood glucose levels and is also low in calories.

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All these ingredients incorporated in the plant-based offerings shows a stark difference and progress from the days of flour-based mock meats.

With advanced technology at the tip of our fingers, it enables the industry to create plant-based meat that highly resembles the actual taste and texture of meat.

“Plant-based food is becoming more common and of greater variety. Have an open mind when looking into integrating plant-based food into your diet and experiment to find out what works for you,” said Bossi.

Bossi said the company plans to roll out its products across other retail outlets in the coming months and they are also in talks with restaurants to produce special offerings on menus.

Check out the products at www.happiee.com.