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Recent data is showing that like the rest of the world, South Korea’s plant-based movement is picking up speed. From the numbers of vegans to flexitarians, more consumers are opting to ditch meat for plant-based substitutes – especially in the wake of the coronavirus crisis, which has exposed the health dangers and unsustainable nature of the meat industry.
Speaking to the Korea Herald, Lee Won-bok, the chief of the Korea Vegetarian Union (KVU), said that the plant-based trend in South Korea is rapidly growing. “More people are interested in a healthy diet, and the awareness on animal rights and for a clean environment is also growing,” said Lee.
According to the KVU’s latest statistics, there are around half a million strict vegans in the country, representing a tripling of numbers within a decade, and 1.5 million people who pursue similar vegetarian or plant-based diets.
However, Lee told the Herald that perhaps the fastest-growing trend is flexitarianism – understood as predominantly plant-centric diets with only the occasional inclusion of conventional animal meat, sometimes known as “semi-veganism”. KVU estimates that now, the figure of flexitarians could stand at as many as 10 million people, which is nearly 20% of South Korea’s total population.
As ditching meat and dairy becomes increasingly common, the Korean plant-based market is beginning to gain momentum. Unlimeat, for instance, is a new vegan beef alternative developed by homegrown food tech Zikooin, and is made from upcycled grains, oats and nuts that would have otherwise ended up as food waste due to its aesthetic imperfections.
Another startup, Seoul-based PhytoCo, recently launched a salt product that is microplastic-free and lower in sodium, made from the plant Salicornia. In the future, the company wants to roll out PhytoMeal, which it describes as a superfood ingredient that can be used as a food supplement.
Noticing the upward trend, South Korean hypermarket giant Lotte Mart revealed its new plant-based brand named Gogi Daesin in May, whose product lineup includes everything from meat-free nuggets to veggie cutlets.
“It is an inevitable trend,” Lee told the publication. “People now care about the environment, and the rights of animals, and they are more cautious of what they eat.”
“Vegan products do not target only vegans anymore. We want to offer meat analogues as just another food choice for people looking for plant-based diets,” an industry official told The Korea Herald.
Another example of an FMCG giant now making efforts to keep up with shifting consumer tastes, convenience chain 7-Eleven has begun selling kimbap and burgers made from a bean and mushroom-based substitute across the country.
The uptick in plant-based consumption comes in the wake of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, which has deepened consumer awareness of health, safety and the global environment, especially as news of slaughterhouse outbreaks and the emergence of novel swine flu takes over headlines.
This trend is consistent across the world, with a recent poll in Hong Kong finding that a quarter of the city’s young shoppers are now going to reduce their meat intake as a direct result of the pandemic, and a record 34% of all consumers now identifying as flexitarians.
According to one estimate, the rising demand – particularly from Asian markets – will see the global meat industry grow by an astonishing rate of 9.6% annually to reach US$24 billion by as soon as 2025. Another bold prediction, made by the founder and CEO of Impossible Foods, the company behind the famous “bleeding” plant-based patties, suggests that the meat industry could be wiped out within the next 15 years.
Lead image courtesy of Unlimeat.