In the post-pandemic world, six out of ten people are said to be gravitating towards mock-meat in India. But why is a centuries old concept catching up now? Is it actually as healthy an option as we think? Are there health hazards associated? Kalpana Pathak is in conversation with Deepika Bhan, President - Packaged Foods for Tata Consumer Products (TCPL), Sohil Wazir, Chief Commercial Officer - Blue Tribe Foods, a startup in this space, and Pooja Bhargava, a Nutritionist, to decode the plant-based meat culture in India. 

This is an audio transcript of The Morning Brief podcast episode: Mock Meat: Can India develop a taste for it?

BG 0:01  

This is the morning brief from the economic times.

Kalpana Pathak 0:05  

A few days into the holy month of shravan, and I'm already missing meat. Since Shravan will last a few more weeks, I decided to try mock meat. I'll reserve my comments and how I liked it. But the good news is, it has become a food choice for many meat eaters and flexitarians like me. And why not when it offers guilt free binging? Did you know that when we relish that one chicken burger, we would have used over 2600 liters of water, water that is needed to where the chicken and for growing its feet. In comparison, if you replace your chicken burger with a vegan one, we would have saved 2500 liters of water. This environmental benefit is probably why people are replacing real meat on the plate with mock meat. But diets are hard to change. And especially when we love our meat. Let's check with some meat lovers what they think of vegan meat.

BG 1:17  

I have switched to mock meats in past few years, since I've turned vegan and I feel the taste and texture is very close to the actual meat if not exactly the same. It's very close,

BG 1:29  

given some health complications in the last two years that have compelled me to cut down on meat. In fact, I'm very open to the idea of mock meat, especially the plant based meats. And I would say that there is definitely a difference in taste and texture. But that is a compromise I'm willing to make.

BG 1:49  

I feel they're a perfect replacement because it's cruelty free.

BG 1:53  

The dish that I had was cheaper compared to what it would have been if real meat was used 

BG 1:59  

in terms of price difference. I'm not very sure because mock meats are not available raw. So I can't compare it directly to the raw chicken but I find it very affordable

Kalpana Pathak 2:15  

so can we can meet really satisfy our pallet? Is it safe for us given its high sodium content? Is the health halo around mock meat really worth it? Welcome to the Morning Brief. I am Kalpana Pathak. It's Thursday, August 11. And we are discussing mock meat can India develop a taste for it? Deepika Bhan president packaged foods for Tata consumer products. Sohil Wazir Chief Commercial Officer blue tribe foods a startup in this space and Pooja Bhargava, a nutritionist will provide answers to these questions. mock meat 4 meat, or plant based meat are all terms used for alternative meat options. It's created from plant based protein to replicate the taste, color and texture of real meat. ingredients like soybean, wheat, protein, Tempe and pea protein are processed into ready to cook nuggets, kebabs, momos and other versions of meat jackfruit and eggplants are also cured to be used in recipes. mock meat has low calorie levels in fat content, thus making it a good source of protein and fiber. Over the past years, especially after the COVID 19 pandemic, the mock meat segment has seen an exponential growth in the country. Dozens of startups have come up companies like Tata, consumer products ITC and major quick service restaurants including KFC, Burger King and McDonald's have jumped on the plant based meat bandwagon offering veggie and vegan options across geographies. I asked Deepika, why did Tata consumer enter the segment?

Deepika Bhan 3:59  

we're in facing the consumers getting much more aware and mindful about their food choices. We're seeing this happen across but specifically on the count of whether what you eat is nutritious, and what is its impact on the environment that definitely becoming to ditters.There are a lot of surveys. In fact, some studies indicate that as high as six out of 10 consumers are likely to purchase a plant based meat product. So you can clearly see that there is a shift in mindset that is happening and it's definitely a category for the future. So we're quite bullish, 

Kalpana Pathak 4:36  

blue tribe foods, a mok meet startup, which was born in the middle of the COVID 19 pandemic saw Bollywood actor Anushka Sharma and cricketer Virat Kohli invest in it. Sohil Wazir tells me why blue tribe was born.

Sohil Wazir 4:50  

The idea behind plant based meat stems from the fact that companies were involved in this want to reduce meat consumption. And the best way to do this is to provide consumers with the same experience of eating meat, but without going through an animal in the process. That's where the idea for blue tribe came from. We wanted to make products for the Indian market, which catered to the diverse interests needs of Indian meat eaters, and we need to have versatile enough products. For that we wanted to make plant based meat products for the Indian consumer. We launched the first product in the market in December 2020. So we're exactly a year and a half of just more than a year and a half old in in the Indian market. We launched with one product we've expanded to about nine products now can we also have a few products which are catered to exclusively for the Horeca clients that we have? So stuff like pepperoni and all which we haven't launched to consumers yet, but which does go to pizza chains and all of that?

Kalpana Pathak 5:52  

To be sure, the concept of plant based meat isn't new. It has been part of Southeast Asian country's food culture for centuries. cooks in Buddhist monasteries are famous for the ingenious roast goose, and steaks made from wheat gluten and tofu. I asked. Sohil, if people in India have suddenly discovered the virtues of mock meat.

Sohil Wazir 6:16  

I think to understand why plant based meat in India has suddenly being recognized by the population, I think we have to understand a little bit about why plant based meat exists a little bit more deeply. Plant based meat is made to replace meat now meat contributes or rather leaves a very lasting footprint on our planet in one of three ways, right? One is the ethical question of whether or not we should be killing other animals for our own food. The other question is the effect that meat consumption at an industrial scale has on the planet and on the environment. So a few figures in that line, about 70% of the farmland that is currently being used to grow crops, is actually being used to grow crops for animals. So we are actually 70% of our farmland is actually growing food for animals. But humans only get about 18% of their calorie intake from meat, which means about 70% of your farmland is only growing food for 18% of the actual calories that you're taking. So it's a highly inefficient process. Similarly, water usage, the amount of water that is required to make one kg of meat versus one kg of vegetables or, or even or slightly more advanced vegetables, like say a plant based meat is about 10 times more. So you've got water and land usesage, which are hugely impacted by by meat. About 15% of the greenhouse gas emissions, which happened due to human activity actually come from the animal agriculture industry, which is the second highest contributor after transport. So that's a huge emissions impact in there as well. And obviously, as the population of humans grows, the demand for meat keeps growing. So about to feed about 8 billion humans that are that exists in the world. Today, we are killing about 100 billion land animals on a yearly basis. So that's about 12 times the amount of animals killed on a yearly basis to feed these 8 billion humans, right. So in that sense, there is a huge inefficiency in the way that we are getting our food. And that's what plant based meats is trying to address. There's a lot of antibiotics, antibiotics and steroids, which are fed into these animals to make them grow really quickly and hopefully without disease. But there are some diseases that kind of jumped that barrier, and which gives rise to zoonotic diseases, right. The last four pandemics, I think, have come from animals. So you can talk about Spanish clothes, avian flu, swine flu, and 19 can also in some way be attributed towards animal agriculture. I think the growth in awareness of the impact of the meat industry became a lot more apparent during COVID. And that's where plant based meat is the solution because it's basically offering you the same experience, but without the impact.

Kalpana Pathak 9:07  

That said,to keep the consumer hooked onto mock meat would be a tough task given the limited product range of patties and nuggets. Deepika, do we see more product innovations like curries, and biryanis being offered in future?

Deepika Bhan 9:21  

The current products allow an easy entry point for consumer because remember, these are categories you're used to buying from outside and anyway refrying or reheating at home. So it just is cashing on an existing consumer habit of purchasing meat already and that occasion is turning into a mock meat occasion. But I think in time, whether it is gravies, biryanis or mock meat fundamentally available for you to retranslate into food, like the way meat may be available, right? Like let's say chicken breast, all of that will come in time. So it's a it's a category right for innovation, because we need to make this change. Really simple for consumers right.

Kalpana Pathak 10:01  

But even in the range of products that are available, they are more expensive than real meat. Could that be a barrier to draw buyers in Sohil.

Sohil Wazir 10:09  

see more plant based meat is based on technology, which currently is pretty expensive, but it does get cheaper with scale. Now, what we have to understand is we're making processed meat products and compare them to say processed meat, which you find in supermarket aisles and not to fresh meat which is bought off the butcher's block, right. I think if I could give that a comparison, you will get a one kg chicken from the butcher, add 250 rupees, but you will get 250 grams of chicken nuggets from the supermarket aisle at 200 rupees. If we compare ourselves to the frozen meat products, I think we're at about 1.5 to 1.8x of animal meat, which as we speak is getting lower and lower. So with skin, we do want to index ourselves exactly to meet or even go lower if if margins permit. But I think that will take a couple of years from now.

Kalpana Pathak 11:07  

So even if we can meet fits in our budget, the question is how healthy is it? How often should one consume it given it is processed and has high sodium content? I asked Pooja Bhargava, a nutritionist practicing in Mumbai,

Pooja Bhargava 11:22  

I would suggest to eat and mindfully because like I said, Finally, mok meat is also processed. Of course, there are mok meats available from plant based only, which is either you go through a chickpea protein or a pea protein or soy protein, or now even jackfruit protein is hitting the market really well. But at the same time with more fiber and less saturated fat, mock meat does have a lot of additives added into it. The most important one being the soy ham. Now ham is a kind of iron, okay, which we need. And generally iron is of two types. The non ham iron, which comes from plant proteins, and the ham iron, which comes from animal proteins. ham iron is easily absorbed in the body. Hence, animal food is really recommended for people who are low on their iron. But at the same time, it comes with a price to pay. Meat eaters definitely get this ham iron very, very easily. mock meat has to mimic this ham iron. And that's the reason it takes soy ham. But at the same time, it also has its downside because soy is always going to be high in the output of urea in the body, which can have an effect on your kidneys. So a meat eater can substitute mock meat, but needs to do it mindfully not more than two or three times in a week really needs to have it in moderation. Another reason for consuming this mindfully will be because of the high sodium content that is available in the mock meats. They put a lot of sodium into it and of course to increase its shelf life as well. Hence, that sodium is going to actually interfere with your blood pressure levels with your cardiovascular health. So, it is better that mock meat should be consumed very mindfully keeping in mind that there is a lot of processing which goes through the way there is something called methyl cellulose which is added into the mock meats and now this cellulose is not in its natural form it is processed unnaturally, it is generally present in a lot of laxatives. So, if someone does or does not meet then also can see some stomach cramps or some diarrhea or some irritable bowel syndrome coming along. So yes, for all these reasons, even if we may say that the protein is somewhere close to the real meat, but it is definitely still not advisable to actually go for it every single day because it is finally only mimicking and to do that mimic you're using a lot of nutrients. When you choose a mock me try and read the contents of the meat okay. So if it has a lot of additives added if it has any kind of GMO or artificial coverings, a lot of a mok meat has sugars added into it, the sodium content is high. And not all of them are low in saturated fat. Most of them are from your find products which actually increases the hydrogenated fat content in the meat. So next time just pay attention to all of these ingredients if they are present in your mok meat than that mok meat is not the healthiest to be consumed.

Kalpana Pathak 14:52  

So if the sodium content is reduced, will it be healthier? 

Pooja Bhargava 14:56  

Let's look at it this way that if it was not the best It would be a better alternative. But at the same time, whatever the other ingredients also, a lot of times when we consume that the general psych of a human being is okay, what I'm consuming plant based protein. So let's now gorge on the french fries and of cola on the side, that again, is going to increase your exposure to diseases, your exposure to being unhealthy. So it really plays with the psyche of the person also. And not to mention they are highly processed, there are a lot of genetically modified things which are being put into them. They are very high on GMOs. So just by reducing sodium content, I don't think we still achieve a lot. But yes, it would be still a better alternative than what it was before.

Kalpana Pathak 15:46  

Deepika tells me that Tata consumer is researching on bringing the sodium content down.

Deepika Bhan 15:51  

So the challenge with processed foods and sodium is absolutely fair. And I think whether it's tcpl, or companies across the foods business are quite conscious and working on how do you work on reducing sodium content, we looked at our biggest category, or biggest consumer footprint category, which is salt. And we have two innovations, which are low sodium, there's a 15%, low sodium salt, there's a 30% growth sodium salt in the Tata super light series. And so therefore, how do we keep engineering our recipes in order to bring down the sodium content is something we're quite conscious about. So we want to continue the better nutrition journey and the target is to reduce sodium content by 25 to 30% in the near future.

Kalpana Pathak 16:37  

So even as the debate is on about how healthy mock meat is, the segment is growing exponentially. According to the Good Food Institute, the domestic market size for plant based meat in India ranges between rupees 1800 to rupees 5800 crop. There are over 50 startups active in this space. Blue tribe foods is seeing its revenue double every quarter for the last four quarters. But Pooja thinks the segment may not have a very long shelf life.

Pooja Bhargava 17:09  

All the new generation the millennials are now just going on to mock meats and plant based foods. Unfortunately, we are forgetting the food ecosystem. Back in the days we that we had, and we actually follow the food ecosystem. Animals were to be eaten by certain animals, and then so on and so forth, right? There's a chain of food ecosystem that we followed. And that's the basic science that we all used to follow back in the days. What happens with me humans is we tend to believe in the latest research and we forget what the basic science was. There was a time about 10 years back, they were completely low carb diets which were doing the rounds, right. And now up till about three years back keto diets were on a rise, Paleo diets were on the rise. Now suddenly, we are seeing everybody resorting to intermittent fasting. So the problem here is that we forgotten what moderation is we forgotten how to live in a balanced environment. We only want to mimic whatever is going on, the numbers of mock meat are rising, veganism is rising. But I have a feeling that five years down the line, all this is going to fizzle out.

Kalpana Pathak 18:18  

Even as we debate if mock meat is a trend or a fad, companies are heavily investing in production innovation and supply chain infrastructure.

Deepika Bhan 18:27  

So the number one thing that we are obsessed about is just innovating on the core products for flavor to be great. I think the second in the growth of the category is you need radical innovation around physical reach, right? So big issue when you're working in these categories or building them in India is the supply chain. It's a cold storage supply chain, which limits your ability to grow footprint. So we've actually innovated immensely in that space and radically relooked at supply chain. So the tcpl simply better product, it does not need a cold chain. It's an Indian product. And that innovation will allow us to build our reach and practically any retailer in the country in the absence of a freezer can store it and hence the consumer can eat it. So I think that in the early stage of building the category, it's as much about physical reach, and ensuring there are great products because we are at the acceptance date, we need to quickly get into consumer homes and then we will look at expanding categories or flavor choices or meal movement choices.

Kalpana Pathak 19:30  

Guide to the shift towards plant based protein may be one of the biggest mega trends shaping the world today. For now, plant meats are a niche market smaller than that for plant milk. Companies obviously don't want to miss the bus on the segment. But as consumers, we make the conscious choices for our good health. mock meat may have its benefits, but I think consuming it in moderation may be the key. You were listening to mock meat. Can India develop a taste for it 

On the morning In brief with me Kalpana Pathak producers for this episode are Sumit Pande from the Economic Times and Swati Joshi from Aawaz. Sound Editors are Rajas Naik from the economic times and Soundarya Jayachandran from Aawaz executive producers Anupriya Bahadur and Arijit Barman. If you liked the episode, please do share it on your social media. The morning brief airs every Tuesday Thursday and Friday. Do tune into at play our latest platform for all audio content, including the morning brief. Thank you for tuning in.

This transcript has been automatically generated. If by any chance there is an error please send the details for a correction to: We will do our best to make the amendment as soon as possible.

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