The promise of alternative protein in Asia

By Abhi Kumar, Investment Associate, Lever VC

Abhi Kumar, Investment Associate, Lever VC

The recent global coronavirus outbreak, which originated in a wet seafood market, as well as the economic malaise caused by African swine flu over the past year, have begun to expose material financial risks in our protein supply chains and have highlighted the need for us to rethink the way we produce and consume protein. This will be particularly true in Asia, where only 57% of companies have some level of certification from the Global Food Safety Initiative and rapidly rising consumer demand will boost animal protein consumption by nearly 20% over the next eight years, according to OECD-FAO data. In an age of increasing material risks like disease & environmental disasters, it’s likely that animal protein supply chains will find it extremely challenging to adapt to an increasingly volatile global protein market. Therefore, if we are to meet growing consumer demand, there is a crucial need to rethink protein supply chains in Asia and decouple them from crucial material risks like food safety & environmental changes.

At Lever VC, we invest globally in companies that are leveraging decades of research in regenerative medicine and molecular biology to produce real animal protein, free of and with harmful pathogens and drastically lower environmental impacts. One great example is Avant Meats, a Hong Kong-based company cultivating fish meat and other marine proteins to satisfy the growing consumer need for safer, cleaner protein that is relevant to local food culture. The company’s technology platform allows them to grow marine protein products directly from cells, in a production environment that drastically reduces contamination and food safety risks. To showcase their technology, Avant recently produced and publicly taste-tested cultivated fish maw, a food item that is widely revered in Chinese medicine for its health benefits. The company will be going public with fish cake and marine protein prototypes later this year. If Avant is successful, its technology could go a long way toward helping meet the market demand of 133 million tonnes of seafood that the OECD & FAO estimates Asia will need by 2028.

Of course, fish and seafood are only one part of the protein sector in Asia. Another significant part of the animal protein industry is milk. With the consumption of nearly 269 million tonnes across Asia in 2019 (OECD-FAO), dairy products made up nearly half the continent’s animal protein consumption in 2019. Here too, technology can help solve supply, food safety, and sustainability challenges. In Singapore, Lever VC portfolio company Turtle Tree Labs is the first company in the world to produce real human and bovine milk directly from mammary cells. Their process is far less susceptible to contamination and the introduction of pathogens than conventional dairy production. TurtleTree’s process is likely to resonate well with consumers who clearly remember the 2008 melamine crisis in China, and who put a priority on food safety when choosing dairy products.

Asia dominates the global protein market, with India and China alone contributing to nearly 50% of the global protein market by 2025. While this creates an urgent need for solutions, there is a growing group of innovative companies in the region developing safer and more sustainable technologies to help meet the protein needs of the Asian consumer. We’re pleased to be able to help fuel their growth as they help to shape the future of protein in Asia.

Weekly Brief

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