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INTERVIEW

“Plant-based meat grew from $3.4 bn to $4.2 bn in 2020”
Monday, 27 December, 2021, 08 : 00 AM [IST]
Plant-based meat is a step towards healthy eating and limiting environmental damage. Mushrooms, peas, jackfruit, several types of beans and grains have textures and protein content comparable to meat. However, the taste profile of any plant and vegetable is completely different from that of meat. It takes an ensemble of many ingredients and spices to get the flavours right, said  Anoop Haridasan, co-founder, Shaka Harry, while throwing light on the growth in the business, in an email interview to Nandita Vijay. Excerpts:

How is plant-based meat transforming the food scene in the country?
In recent years, we have seen a considerable increase in brands that have brought plant-based meat to the market. It is not just nuggets, burgers and sausages. Many plant-based meat brands have created kebabs, keema, biryanis and others. This is a major transformation created by the Indian plant-based meat industry which is making available vegetarian meat in the form of popular Indian cuisines. But it is not just about replicating the taste, texture and other aspects of actual meat. Plant-based meat is a step towards healthy eating and limiting environmental damage by reducing meat consumption. It is still in its nascent stage, but awareness of the benefits of plant-based meat is growing every day.

What are the visible trends that you see in the space?
It is fascinating to see how vegans, non-vegetarians and even vegetarians have appreciated our products. Trends are healthy eating choices, compassion for all life and care for the planet ranks higher than anything else. People understand that it's time to adopt sustainable food production practices to feed a huge population like ours. Raising livestock for meat is not sustainable anymore.

There are already several brands in the market ... so how does Shaka Harry position itself in the competitive landscape?
Right from the start, we have focussed on providing the complete meat-eating experience to the customer. Shaka Harry snacks have the exact taste, texture, aroma and composition as that of real meat. If we get the taste right without proper texture or mouthfeel, it wouldn't work. We have spent a lot of time and effort in creating products that recreate the exact experience every meat-eater expects. Although we have a lot of competition, we are confident that customers will appreciate our dedication towards creating the perfect plant-based meat products.

Which are the plants that are identified to replace the meats?
There are several contenders. Mushrooms, peas, jackfruit, several types of beans and grains have textures and protein content comparable to meat. However, the taste profile of any plant and vegetable is completely different from that of meat. It takes an ensemble of many ingredients and spices to get the flavours right. Similarly, to create the precise texture of meat, plant products need to undergo the right processes. Though many vegetables can be considered to replace meats, it takes a good amount of research, trial and error to find the right plant products and the knowledge of how they work together.

India is the second largest meat processing market, so what is the action plan to garner the sales from the domestic market?
The first challenge is to create awareness amongst the masses as to why there's a need for plant-based meat in the Indian market. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, many have realised how important it is to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Making changes in food habits is a great place to start.

Also, if you look at how meat is produced, one realises that there are many glaring problems. It is full of animal hormones, antibiotics and fats that turn out to be harmful to the human body in the long run. Similarly, a lot of resources such as water, land and food are used to raise animals for years, only to kill them for 10-20 kilogram of meat. The animal waste and pollution created in the process is also disastrous for local and global environment. It is important to highlight these factors because they affect our immediate future.

We want to spread the word that there's a sustainable solution to all these problems. Of course, that's not enough to generate sales. We have to ensure that our products are easily available to customers. In order to increase visibility and reach, we have made our products available through multiple channels. We have partnered with Big Basket, Vvegano, Vegan Mall, Vegan Dukan and many more. We are constantly expanding our presence through brick-and-mortar retail partners such as Foodhall, Nature's Basket, Modern Bazaar and others. We have just launched our products two months ago, and we are in the process of scaling across major cities in India. We are currently available in Bengaluru, Delhi, Gurgaon, Mumbai, Kolkata, Hyderabad, Pune, Ahmedabad and Gandhinagar. We are also encouraging product trials by making them available to consumers at hotels, restaurants, pubs and cafes.

What is the kind of research effort for the company?
We have a team of food scientists and flavour scientists that bring together decades of food development and manufacturing experience from both the meat and plant-based meat industry. There is a combined  expertise and the latest technology to create a range of products that are identical to meat in taste, texture and even aroma. Sandeep Devgan is one of the founding investors whose Stonefield Flavours leads the sector using advanced technology to create innovative flavours. We also have chef and entrepreneur Manu Chandra, to lead the team on recipe development. I have extensive global experience in the food industry, to launch brands and setting up business verticals. Ruth Renitha, an experienced food scientist, has been a part of the company right from the start as a co-founder and looks after product development.

Could you throw some light on the manufacturing facility or have opted to outsource this?
Our greatest strength is in developing the recipes, flavour profiles, formulations and R&D trials in house. The final step of creating is done by manufacturers, which is a standard procedure for many plant-based meat brands. This allows us to leverage manufacturing in capacities necessary to fulfil the growing demand for our product. 

How many products are ready for the market and what is the shelf life?
Classic Chicken Nuggets, Hot & Spicy Chicken Nuggets, Mutton Samosa and Chicken Shami Kebabs are on the shelves. In the coming weeks, we will  launch Chicken and Mutton Keema, Mutton Seekh Kebab, Chicken Burger Patty and Mutton Biryani. All our products have a shelf life of nine months.

Since the launch what is the market research you are looking for and how integrated is the supply chain network?
A GFI report states around 60% of Indian meat-eaters are willing to adopt plant-based meat. These are non-vegetarians, vegans and ex-meat eaters who want to make conscious eating a part of their lives. We are also looking at the global market where plant-based meat through retail grew by 23.5%, from $3.4 billion in 2019 to $4.2 billion in 2020. Moreover, globally, though the plant-based meat category has been growing, it lacks Indian cuisine options. This is where our products are fulfilling an important gap in the global plant-based meat market.

Which products and markets are you expecting to generate the maximum sales?
There is positive feedback from vegans, non-vegetarians and flexitarians on all our products. Customers appreciate that our snacks resemble their meat counterparts, its easy to cook and cannot differentiate  it from  real meat. This has helped the company generate both retail and online sales. Additionally, we are expecting increased sales via B2B: restaurants, pubs, hotels and cafes.

What are the challenges of the mock meat sector?
Besides creating awareness about healthy eating and contributing towards a sustainable future, there's one major challenge. Plant-based meat is available in the form of textured vegetable protein or soya chaap, which may taste like chicken/mutton but fail to generate excitement among meat-eaters. They have doubts whether plant-based meat can truly capture the overall experience of meat-eating in appearance, texture and flavours. Another misconception is that mock meat is made in a lab using artificial ingredients.  It is important to communicate that much of the plant-based meat, including ours, is prepared  by chefs in standard manufacturing facilities and industrial kitchens. But, by far, the most challenging aspect is successfully leading the market in a completely new category. That is what we are trying to achieve by building the framework from the ground up.
 
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