ProVeg, the international nonprofit dedicated to building a sustainable food system, recently launched its Southeast Asia Food Innovation Challenge aimed at finding and nurturing university talent in the region to into plant-based innovation. Since opening the contest in January this year, the challenge has drawn in more than 120 new submissions across ten countries in Asia, who will compete to win cash prizes and mentorship opportunities from industry leaders.
Launched with support from animal welfare charity World Animal Protection (WAP), ProVeg’s latest Southeast Asia-focused food innovation challenge aims to promote new concepts and ideas to eliminate unsustainable animal agriculture from the food system. With the region’s 655 million people representing almost 9% of the world’s population, developing novel food solutions that are safe, affordable and accessible will be vital to meet the rising health and climate challenges of the future.
Asia also represents the fastest-growing market in the plant-based industry, opening up huge business opportunities for young entrepreneurs and startups to offer regionally relevant solutions while also bringing about impactful transformations in our food system.
We need more tasty, healthy, and convenient plant-based products targeting not only vegans but also flexitarians.Shirley Lu, Director, ProVeg Asia
“Asia presents the largest opportunity for the conversion to plant-based diets. To tap into this enormous opportunity, the key is innovation,” explained Shirley Lu, director of ProVeg Asia, in conversation with Green Queen Media.
“We need more tasty, healthy, and convenient plant-based products targeting not only vegans but also flexitarians. The way the product is prepared and flavoured [should] also meet local expectation[s].”
With the new innovation challenge, which is supported by some of the most well-known plant-based food tech players such as Beyond Meat and Oatly, as well as industry giants like Nestlé and Unilever, teams of students across Asia will be competing to win prizes up to US$5,000 and receive corporate mentorship to further develop their ideas and proposals.
So far, more than 125 submissions have been made from 66 schools, across more than ten countries in Asia, including Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Indonesia, and the Philippines, and the campaign will be running until the end of May before the final awards ceremony is slated to take place in June.
The way the product is prepared and flavoured [should] also meet local expectation[s]Shirley Lu, Director, ProVeg Asia
Lu believes that the concepts from Asian students will build on the region’s long-standing tradition of plant-based proteins, introducing a new level of innovation to promote a widespread shift towards healthier and more sustainable diets.
“Asia is the home of tofu and tempeh,” Lu told Green Queen Media. “More healthy and nutritious plant-based food innovations can be introduced, [and] with increasing awareness of the benefits of plant-based diets and urgency of changing our dietary behaviours, the food industry will [be] look[ing] into opportunities of plant-based offerings to make their business future-proof.”
But there are still key obstacles to mass adoption, one of the main ones being affordability, something that startups and students will need to think about when it comes to thinking about scaling up their plant-based solutions, especially in Asia.
Price competitiveness with animal-based offerings [is] critical. To succeed, start-ups shall take into consideration how to scale up with a reliable and cost-competitive supply chain.Shirley Lu, Director, ProVeg Asia
“For plant-based brands to become mainstream, affordability and price competitiveness with animal-based offerings [is] critical,” said Lu. “To succeed, start-ups shall take into consideration how to scale up with a reliable and cost-competitive supply chain.”
Lu also pointed to taste and versatility as important qualities that innovators need to focus on in order to tap into the mainstream market, despite the growing number of consumers in Asia already making the switch to plant-based products due to sustainability and ethical reasons.
“Successful cases have shown that focusing on taste, applications, recipes with healthy ingredients is more motivating than emphasising on being plant-based [with regard to] attracting flexitarians.”
Lead image courtesy of Karana.