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Next On Your Platter Is – Plant-Based Foods

PBFIA's Executive Director, Mr. Sanjay Sethi describes why plant-based foods are going to be the next big thing in the Indian food industry.

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Sanjay Sethi, Executive Director, PBFIA

The CEO-led Plant-Based Foods Industry Association (PBFIA) was formed to aid the growth of India's emerging plant-based foods ecosystem. PBFIA's Executive Director, Mr. Sanjay Sethi, shared his thoughts on the prospects for the plant-based foods industry. Excerpts:

Which segments of the market for plant-based foods should investors invest in?

As Indians majorly consume whole cuts, the industry needs to move from minced meat to whole-cuts, which are healthy, delicious, apt for the Indian palate, and bring it to the mainstream.

Another ultimate demand generator will be products like dairy creamers, tempeh, soya chaap, burger patties, plant-based milk powders, evaporated plant-based milk, and high-protein OTC supplements geared towards a specific target market, including athletes.

Plant-based foods are not frequently found on retail shelves. Do you anticipate an increase in their accessibility? By when and how?

These days, retailers in several Tier-I and Tier-II cities, such as Foodhall, Nature’s Basket, and D Mart, have an inventory of plant-based dairy and meat products.

Consumer access is anticipated to grow significantly with the increase in the number of cold-chain infrastructures and as shelf-stable plant-based food products on the market expand.

Because the listing fee is currently high, startups find it difficult to sustain themselves on the retail shelves. With government support, retail forums and product innovations, development of retailer guidelines, plant-based food products can become more accessible and mainstream for consumers.

How is PBFIA supporting the sector and working for the plant-based foods industry?

PBFIA aims to be a dependable and ambitious organisation that functions as a thought leader, providing a cohesive voice to the industry in policy advocacy, supply chain, innovation, and investment.

We are a CEO-led body, working to develop the next generation of business leaders by providing them with opportunities to gauge their progress towards long-term company success. Through strategic partnerships, and cultivating thought leadership, we are supporting the development of a strong ecosystem in India and seek to provide member organisations with consultation and investment possibilities.

PBFIA is starting a plant-based Navratri Campaign. How will the initiative benefit the industry?

PBFIA brings Navratri Se Shubharambh Campaign, co-organized by Businessworld and Veganuary. The flagship event aims to revolutionise consumer awareness, generate marketing opportunities, tastings, and encourage people to "shubharambh" their own plant-based food journey.

The campaign will be implemented across prominent academic institutions and will attract skilled personnel, including food scientists, nutritionists, etc., to the sector.

What does India have to offer in the sector of plant-based foods?

In the past few years, over 200 startups have emerged in the plant-based foods sector across India. The current market size is $0.27 Billion, as per a report by PBFIA and The Insight Partner, it will exceed $5 billion in the next decade.

Being a largely agrarian economy, India has the scope for creating high-demand value-added products. The export of value-added ingredients such as plant protein isolates and concentrates from pulses and millets can benefit farmers.

Can you elaborate on the growth of plant-based foods in India over the years?

Post-pandemic, Indian consumers are ready to spend more on fitness, natural foods, health supplements, and specialised diets.

A recent YouGov poll found that more than 65% of Indians would like to consume more vegan meals this year. Health advantages and environmental concerns drive this shift in perception. FMCG behemoths like ITC and Tata Consumer Products have introduced products to capitalise on the potential and lead industry transformation.

Plant-based foods are relatively expensive compared to their counterparts. How can the industry achieve price parity?

We are comparatively less visible than our counterparts, which were established decades ago.

By getting over obstacles in the value chain, we can attain price parity on a scale. For instance, compared to animal-based counterparts, which have an average GST rate of 5%, plant-based foods are subject to a higher rate (on average 18%). Local sourcing of ingredients, making production more accessible, and democratising technology will help the industry achieve parity.

How do you maintain a balance between the startups and the big companies like Tata and ITC in terms of the association’s focus?

Startups are a blessing to this industry. They provide intensive research and product development on a continuous basis. Simultaneously, we partner with large corporations to use their vast experience, technological advantage, and customer understanding in the field. It is critical to engage both start-ups and industry giants, as together they can revolutionise the expansion of the sector.

Many people want to try plant-based foods. What do customers in India expect from plant-based foods? 

Indian consumers are getting conscious about their food choices and are looking for products that are at the intersection of the right taste, texture, and simultaneously fulfil their nutritional requirements.

Plant-based dairy products market is increasing because they are regular household commodities. Other than this, the non-vegetarian/flexitarian population is interested in plant-based meat products that are rich in quality protein.

What is the market size of plant-based foods globally?

By 2030, the global plant-based food market is expected to reach $161.9 billion in value. The dairy alternatives segment of the plant-based food market accounts for over half of the global market value.

Increased investments and innovative strategies adopted by manufacturers have garnered interest from across the globe.

What has been your journey and experience that made you connect with the industry?

Working for over three decades in different regions of the world across segments of the food value chain, and as a sustainability leader, I yearned to bring significant insights back to India.

With the active support of MoFPI, FSSAI, and APEDA, we were able to galvanise the whole industry into one voice. I staunchly believe India will not only take care of its food requirements but will also become a global leader in the supply of plant proteins.

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