The appetite for alternative meat is growing worldwide.
With increasing awareness of the nutritional and environmental effects of meat consumption, producers and consumers are looking for various sources to meet the continuing demand for protein.
One of them is Dan Riegler, whose evolving relationship with meat inspired him to co-found Karana.
“I’ve been a vegan skeptic, a carnivore for much of my life, and I’ve taken a big turn,” Riegler told CNBC Make It.
A meat alternative for Asia
Karana is the food start-up in Singapore that is positioning itself as Asia’s first plant-based meat brand. The flagship – a substitute for pulled pork – is made entirely from jackfruit, oil, and salt, with no processed ingredients or preservatives.
Started in 2018 when the demand for meat alternatives increased, Riegler saw a market niche for meat substitute products that were specially developed for Asian cuisine.
We saw a great need to identify products with more local applications for APAC.
“We saw a great need to identify products with more local applications for APAC,” said Riegler, now 35, who built a career in agricultural supply chains across Southeast Asia.
“Pork is the number one meat consumed in this region and we haven’t seen many products there that are really tailored to a need.”
Asia is responsible for producing and consuming half of the world’s pork.
In fact, half of the world’s pork is produced and consumed in Asia, with most of that demand coming from China.
So Riegler and his co-founder Blair Crichton, formerly Impossible Foods, which also produces plant-based meat alternatives, set out to find an environmentally friendly alternative.
Creating Pork from Jack All
It wasn’t long before the couple identified Karana’s first product: a jackfruit pork substitute sourced from smallholders in Sri Lanka.
Jackfruit has a long history in South and Southeast Asian cuisine, especially in vegetarian and vegan dishes. The unripe young jackfruit is known for its tightly packed, fibrous texture and meat-like properties. It is widely used in savory foods, while the sweet ripe jackfruit is consumed raw.
Jackfruit is widely used in many South and Southeast Asian dishes.
“Jackfruit as a harvest does not need irrigation, does not need pesticides, does not need herbicides. So it is a very robust tree, and when it bears fruit, it is very, very productive,” said Carsten Carstens, scientific director of Karana and first hire.
In fact, there are so many jackfruit in the region that tons of them are wasted every year. This is due in part to the complexity of the preparation and cooking.
We knew jackfruit was not reaching its potential.
“The formats it was available in … just weren’t exciting to us. They were very difficult to work with, they didn’t give interesting textures and end results, and we knew jackfruit was not reaching its potential.” Said Riegler.
So the founders set about adapting the fruit for a mass market – and soon developed a chemical-free, mechanical process at their Singapore manufacturing facility to convert the fruit into a shredded, meat-like product that is easy for cooks and consumers to use.
“Our intention was really to create something that chefs can use to create fantastic dishes,” said Carstens. “It’s just too labor-intensive for the modern kitchen in a modern establishment (food and beverages).”
Opening up a growing market
Karana’s invention whets the appetite for more ethical and sustainable foods growing across Asia and beyond.
Even before the pandemic, the alternative meat market was estimated at $ 140 billion, or 10% of the world’s meat industry, within a decade.
The alternative meat industry is estimated to be worth $ 140 billion by 2029.
Mirte Gosker, acting executive director of the Good Food Institute in Asia Pacific, said the demand for meat substitutes in Asia is increasing as awareness of food safety and nutrition increases.
“Here in Asia we see a real demand for healthy products with high nutritional value,” said Gosker. “And especially in China, one of the reasons people buy plant-based meat, actually the biggest reason, is a desire to lose weight.”
Animal husbandry is currently making the largest two or three contributions to the most pressing environmental challenges on our planet.
Acting Managing Director of the Good Food Institute Asia Pacific
In addition, the environmental impact of traditional animal husbandry is no longer sustainable.
“Animal husbandry is currently making the largest two or three contributions to the most pressing environmental challenges on our planet. These include air pollution, water pollution, water scarcity and loss of biodiversity,” said Gosker.
“If we didn’t use these fields to grow animal feed, we could actually use these fields for reforestation, to create greater biodiversity or, for example, for renewable energies,” she added.
Whet the appetite of investors
The investment community also sees the benefits of alternative proteins. Global investment in alternative proteins increased 300% in 2020 alone, according to the Asia-Pacific Good Food Institute.
In July 2020, Karana raised $ 1.7 million in seed capital from investors such as Big Idea Ventures, a plant-based food fund backed by Singapore state-owned investment company Temasek and US meat company Tyson Foods.
Karana’s flagship product is a pulled pork substitute made entirely from jackfruit, oil, and salt.
The investment fueled the company’s 2021 debut in Singapore, where the whole plant’s pork is now available and counted in nine restaurants – from dumplings to “ngoh hiang,” a local pork bun.
Next up is the Hong Kong launch as well as the launch of a range of ready-to-cook retail products. In the meantime, Karana will be able to continue experimenting with jackfruit and other whole plant meat substitutes by investing in a new innovation laboratory.
The more good products there are, the more consumers will increasingly switch to herbal products.