Yet again, Amazon has a first-mover advantage, with the E- commerce player launching ‘plant-based meats’ on their platform. There is no need to introduce E-com business leader Amazon or explain the great scale of business they have made in India, but it is exciting to see the early adoption of plant-based meat and seafood categories, at a time when other players in the space have not yet thought of it.
The team at Amazon India has been researching and building an understanding of this category since late 2020 and is keen not only to introduce plant-based meat products, but to also consistently explore opportunities to promote plant-based meat companies. Amazon’s focus has been on launching these products at the right economical price points, to benefit Indian customers and create buy in from early adopters without much spending risk.
Amazon India forged a partnership with the Good Food Institute India (GFI India) and organised an exclusive workshop in July 2021 on the smart protein sector. The Good Food Institute India (GFI India) is the central expert organization, thought leader, and convening body in the Indian ‘alternative protein’ or the ‘smart protein’ sector. As part of an international network of nonprofits with partners in Brazil, Israel, U.S., Europe, and Asia Pacific, GFI India on a mission to build a healthy, sustainable, and just global food system. With unique insight across the scientific, policy, industry, and investment landscapes, GFI India is using the power of food innovation and markets to accelerate the transition of the world’s food system toward smart protein.
A detailed information sharing session was organised, covering an introduction to alternative or smart protein, an explanation of the various categories within the sector (such as plant-based protein), cost structures, infrastructure perspectives, market size, available players in the world market, and so on. For India-specific information, details about the opportunities and potential within the Indian market, marketing activities and promotions, updated research data, and more was covered.
Amazon’s focus on and interest in smart protein can be gauged from the fact that besides the entire fresh food retail team, there were category managers from Amazon food and other new initiatives present at the workshop. There were various rounds of discussions between Amazon and advisors from GFI India to plan a roll out strategy for testing the plant-based category in the Indian market. Mr. Rajesh K Prasad, Category Leader – Amazon Retail India, summarised the knowledge series on plant-based meats as a new working template for launching new categories in retail. He said, “The alternative food category has multiple strategic possibilities and the benefits it has will make it very popular with a younger demographic market like India”. This is a healthy sign both for consumer and business stakeholders across the value chain. It shows that the pioneering Good Food Institute India’s tireless efforts are helping shape this category and build scale for engaged stakeholders in the right direction.
Collaboration with the right brands
The Amazon Retail team has started to experiment with the market by collaborating with Blue Tribe Foods, an early entrant in the market, co-founded by Sandeep Singh (MD & Promoter of Alkem Laboratories) and Niki Arora Singh. Blue Tribe’s plant-based chicken nugget (250 gm) & plant-based chicken kheema (250 gm) are the two products which have been selected for the promotion – at an unbelievable offer of Rs. 11 per SKU on Amazon Fresh, which is offering a price discount of 96% for the nuggets (original MRP Rs. 295) & 97% for the kheema (original MRP Rs. 325). This is an exciting offer, which both Amazon & Blue Tribe Foods believe will be tempting for consumers and will drive them to try these products.
Though there is a business perspective attached to this promotion, there is no reason to disregard the fact that this will give clarity from the market about whether consumers are ready to accept these novel products or not. The Good Food Institute India has done significant research indicating that consumers are demanding these products – 62.8% of consumers are very or extremely willing to buy plant-based meats regularly. Even larger sample sizes can be tapped into through the present aggressive approach of Amazon India to understand the plant-based meat market through this partnership with Blue Tribe Foods.
In the view of Mr Rajesh K Prasad, who was also previously heading Buying & Merchandising for International Expansion at METRO AG, Dusseldorf, “The alternative protein US retail plant-based food market is estimated at $7 billion in 2020, out of which the plant-based meat sector contributed $1.4 billion. India is predominantly a market of meat lovers and research shows that contribution of meat-eating people will not reduce in coming times. At the same time, the Indian consumer understands the importance of sustainable products that produce less carbon. Providing the option of alternative plant-based meat products which taste similar to meat products will help the consumer make a direct impact to sustainability and support the environment. Production of plant-based meats emits less carbon than animal-derived meats. This is at very early stages but we would like to lead from the beginning and provide our customer the choice.”
GFI India Managing Director Varun Deshpande says, “Plant-based meats are an innovative emerging category with worldwide momentum and major promise to address urgent sustainability and public health challenges, while still satisfying growing consumer demand for meat. As the Indian industry takes off, the reach and distribution of platforms such as Amazon India will be key to making delicious, nutritious plant-based meats accessible across the length and breadth of the country. We look forward to continued partnership with Amazon India and startups like Blue Tribe Foods to help launch a sunrise sector from the ground up.”
The offerings are presently limited for the Mumbai market with an incremental plan to launch across other Amazon Fresh cities.
Importance of Alternative Protein
A study done by BCG Group & Blue Horizon in 2021 says, “The adoption of alternative proteins will have a measurable positive impact on the environment. Emissions from conventional animal farming stem mostly from the production of methane and nitrous oxide during animal digestion, from manure, and from the use of chemical fertilizers, fuel, and electricity. By 2035, the shift to plant-based beef, pork, chicken, and egg alternatives will save more than 1 gigaton of CO2 -e, about as much as Japan currently emits annually. Compared with conventional animal-based proteins, production of plant-based alternatives emits one-eighth the CO2 -e per kilogram for chicken, one-third for eggs, one-twelfth for beef, and one-ninth for pork. By 2035, the transition away from animal agriculture will also save 39 billion cubic meters of water, enough to supply the city of London for 40 years. Likewise, more than 240,000 square kilometers of farmland will not be needed to grow animals and their feed, equal to the area of the UK. This space will be freed up over the next 15 years, increasing biodiversity as land formerly used for intensive agriculture reverts to a more natural state.”
Sustainability trust for Plant-based Meat and Seafood
It is very early to say whether the “sustainability certification” segment for Alternative Protein will emerge in the coming years. The certification is an appreciative effort from the World Sustainability Organization (WSO), who in collaboration with the global Good Food Institute (GFI) network launched the world’s first plant-based meat and seafood sustainable certification in December 2020. The requirements are based on FAO’s SAFA (Sustainability Assessment of Food and Agriculture Systems) guidelines.
Scope of Alternative Protein
The potential market for alternative proteins could be significant if demand for protein increases and economies of scale allow the prices of alternative proteins from traditional and novel technologies to out-compete the price of meat. On top of being economically acceptable (or preferable), alternative proteins will also need to perform on taste, appeal, and suitability to be widely accepted by consumers.
Though there are many debates on whether “Alternative Protein” shall be the most sustainable form of protein, one cannot ignore the growing importance of it, especially because of larger benefits it can bring to the environment and saving our planet. The plant-based meat category is growing very well globally and has now started spreading fast within Asian countries like China and Singapore, and is slowly emerging in India as well. The early entrant players are putting all their efforts to increase visibility for the category, so it might be interesting to see how the different formats will perform for the emerging plant-based meat category. There is no doubt that Amazon India has initiated aggressive entry into the segment with their research-driven, practical approach which will probably set a good trend for this upcoming category. Its time to be patient to see and analyse different experimentation techniques that will take place in coming time and shed light on the real situation.