Nick Halla, Senior Vice President at Impossible Foods shares his insights on the plant-based opportunity in Asia
What makes Asia such an important focus for Impossible Foods at this time, and how important has it been for the company to launch initially in Hong Kong?
Asia is a key growth market for us for several reasons – 46% of the world’s demand for meat comes from Asia and is where demand for meat is growing the fastest, with a growth rate of 70% over the next couple of decades. For example, China consumes 28% of the world’s meat, according to the OECD and FAO. We want to make Impossible Foods’ product available everywhere, but most urgently in the region where meat consumption is growing exponentially.
Similarly, Hong Kong has more restaurants per square foot than any other city in the world and is a leader in food and cultural trends, so it made sense for us strategically to start our Asia expansion in the city.
How do you view the plant-based opportunities across Asia? What key challenges have you faced launching your product(s) in Asia and how are you tackling these, i.e. how has your approach been different from the US?
The opportunity for growth for plant-based proteins across Asia is massive, especially as the demand for meat continues to grow rapidly. With any new market, the first thing we have to do is to build credibility that the Impossible Burger is not the plant-based product of the past. In a region where meat consumption is so high – Hong Kong has one of the highest meat consumption per capita in the world, according to the University of Hong Kong – and where culinary traditions are held very dear, there is a lot of education that has to be done for the consumer.
In Hong Kong and Singapore, we started with meat-heavy, renowned chefs, but we also made sure that as much as possible they represented the culinary diversity of the markets to gain credibility among consumers. We’re also seeing countless new and creative Impossible dish creations by chefs across our Asian markets. Singapore’s Violet Oon has introduced the world’s first Impossible satay, and burger joint Fatpapas was the first halal-certified restaurant in Asia to offer Impossible dishes.
Ensuring that we are equipped to meet exponential demand has also been a focus for us. We recently launched a co-manufacturing collaboration with one of the largest food producers in the world, OSI Group. It has more than 65 facilities in 17 countries, and OSI will help expand production of the Impossible Burger throughout the year and thereafter.
What are the most important factors to nail for a successful plant-based meat alternative? And which one factor do you feel would be the most difficult to address?
Taste is by far the most important factor. We make meat for meat lovers, without compromising taste, texture or nutrition, as we believe that producing delicious, affordable and nutritious meat from plants can satisfy people’s cravings while consuming far fewer of the earth’s natural resources.
Our goal is to replace animals as a food production technology. Understanding deeply on a molecular level how to recreate all animal products – meat, dairy, fish – using plants has been our mission and challenge since day one.
Collaboration with chefs and restaurants has played a role in your expansion strategy across the US. Has this strategy had to adapt to achieve the same success in the Asian market?
We always tailor our approach and closely assess each new market to ensure Impossible is introduced to customers in a way that will resonate. Asia has some of the world’s most discerning foodies and chefs so it made sense to stick with our chef-led strategy in Hong Kong and Singapore. So far it has been very successful, and we’re seeing that consumers have a strong willingness and openness to trying new products.
The communities and cuisines In Hong Kong and Singapore are extremely diverse, so ensuring that we identify the right chefs and restaurant partners to reach out to our audiences has been crucial to growth.
We’re now in over 500 restaurants total in Singapore, in Hong Kong and Macau with demand increasing every month, so we’re well on track to continue our steep growth curve for the rest of the year.
Don’t miss the opportunity to hear more from Nick Halla at the Asia-Pacific Agri-Food Innovation Summit, where he will deliver a keynote address, ‘Driving New Frontiers of Protein Consumption in Asia’ on Thursday November 21.