Michelle Teodoro
Michelle is Mintel's Global Food Science and Nutrition Analyst based in Singapore. She specialises in food science and ingredients, with a focus on nutrition.

Aspirations for healthier and ‘cleaner’ lifestyles are what’s driving Asian consumers interest in plant-based protein sources. For instance, Mintel research reveals that a third of urban Thais are eating more non-animal sources of protein like plants and grains, while a fifth of urban Indonesians plan to follow a plant-based or vegetarian diet.

In response, more food and drink manufacturers are releasing or promoting formulations that centre on plants, and the flavours, fortifications and functionalities they can add to products.

While soy is still the most commonly used plant protein ingredient globally, Mintel Global New Products Database (GNPD) reveals that the use of soy protein in food and drink launches with a ‘high/added protein’ claim has seen a decline in the past couple of years.

Meanwhile, alternative ingredients such as pea and rice are on an upward trend. However, the challenge to find new plant protein sources is that these ingredients can cause food allergies, have palatability issues, or are simply just not suitable for food applications. Case in point; soy is identified as a top food allergen.

Locally relevant

Some consumers will sometimes seek out products that are recognisable and relatable, rather than revolutionary. This is highlighted in Mintel’s Global Food and Drink 2017 Trend ‘In Tradition We Trust’, which discusses how food and drink with authentic connections to history or tradition provide an inherent element of trustworthiness that consumers are yearning for in uncertain times.

With this, brands are going back to cultural roots and modernising age-old ingredients and processes, like the adaption of cultural processes and traditional foods for example. As such, being locally relevant will be more important than ever before.

Indeed, manufacturers in Asia are starting to develop plant-based products that incorporate the use of traditional foods.

Soda Tiger Nut Vegetable Protein Beverage, China
The product contains tiger nuts and is recommended to be consumed at night as it puts less burden on the stomach.

Nestlé NesVita Actifibras Instant Germinated Riceberry Cereal Beverage, Thailand
The hero ingredient in this beverage product is riceberry rice. It claims to be high in calcium, vitamins E and C, and fibre, and free from cholesterol.

Will Asia find its ‘next soy’?

While soy prevails as the king of plant-based alternatives in Asia, other ingredients are starting to emerge. We are seeing a shift in alternatives from the fruits of trees (like nuts) to legumes, seeds and grains.

Legumes, like black bean and mung bean, are rich in quality protein and perfect for sports nutrition brands seeking ‘high protein’ sources. Seeds, such as black sesame and lotus seeds, are rich in essential nutrients and can provide satiety due to high fibre content levels. While still niche compared to soy and almond, grains like rice proteins are also gaining traction, and are also poised to be the next soy in the region.

As an initial step for new plant protein ingredients to thrive, food brands need to start using them in partnership with soy or other common plant proteins like nuts for added flavour, nutrition, and familiarisation among consumers.