The appetite for alternative meat is increasing across the world.
As the nutritional and environmental impacts of meat consumption become better understood, producers and consumers are turning to different sources to meet the continued demand for protein.
One of them is Dan Riegler, whose evolving relationship with meat inspired him to co-found Karana.
“I was really a vegan skeptic, a meat eater for much of my life, and I took a major turn,” Riegler told TBEN Make It.
An alternative to meat for Asia
Karana is the Singaporean food start-up that is positioning itself as Asia’s leading whole plant-based meat brand. Its flagship product – a pulled pork substitute – is made entirely from jackfruit, oil and salt, with no processed ingredients or preservatives.
Launched in 2018 as demand for meat substitutes increased, Riegler said he saw a gap in the market for meat substitutes designed specifically for Asian cuisines.
“We saw a huge need to identify products that had more local applications for APAC,” said Riegler, now 35, who has built a career in agricultural supply chains in South East Asia.
“Pork is the most consumed meat in this region and this is where we haven’t seen a lot of products that really meet a need.”
Indeed, half of the pork meat in the world is produced and consumed in Asia, most of this demand coming from China.
So Riegler and his co-founder Blair Crichton, formerly of Impossible Foods which also produces plant-based meat substitutes, set to work to find an eco-friendly alternative.
Create pork from Jack All
It wasn’t long before the couple identified Karana’s first product: a jackfruit-based pork substitute sourced from smallholder farmers in Sri Lanka.
Jackfruit has a long history in the cuisines of South and Southeast Asia, especially in vegetarian and vegan dishes. Known for its dense fibrous texture and meaty qualities, unripe young jackfruit is commonly used in savory foods, while sweet ripe jackfruit is eaten raw.
“The jackfruit, as a crop, does not need irrigation, does not need pesticides, does not need herbicides. So it is a very hardy tree, and when it gives fruit , it’s very, very prolific, “said Carsten Carstens, Scientific Director of Karana. and first hire.
In fact, jackfruit is so abundant in the region that tons are wasted every year. This is in part due to the complexity of its preparation and cooking.
“The formats in which it was available … just weren’t that exciting to us. They were very difficult to work with, they didn’t produce interesting textures and end results, and we knew Jackfruit wasn’t achieving its potential, “says Riegler.
So the founders set out to adapt the fruit for a mass market – soon developing a chemical-free mechanical process at their manufacturing center in Singapore to turn the fruit into a shredded, meat-like product that is straightforward. for chefs and consumers. use.
“Our intention was really to create something that chefs can take out and create amazing dishes,” Carstens said. “For the modern kitchen in a modern (food) operation, it takes too much work.”
Take advantage of a growing market
Karana’s invention comes as an appetite for more ethical and sustainable eating grows across Asia and beyond.
Even before the pandemic, the alternative meat market was estimated at $ 140 billion – or 10% of the global meat industry – in a decade.
Mirte Gosker, acting chief executive of the Good Food Institute Asia Pacific, said demand for meat substitutes was increasing in Asia as awareness of food security and nutrition increased.
“Here in Asia, we are seeing a real demand for healthy products with high nutritional value,” said Gosker. “And especially in China, one of the reasons people buy plant-based meat, in fact the main reason, is the desire to lose weight.”
In addition, she said, the environmental effects of traditional animal husbandry are becoming unsustainable.
“Animal agriculture is currently the two or three main contributors to the most pressing environmental challenges on our planet. This includes air pollution, water pollution, water shortages and loss of biodiversity, ”said Gosker.
“If we didn’t use these fields to grow animal feed, we could actually use these fields to reforest, create greater biodiversity or use, for example, renewable energy,” she added.
Attract investor appetite
The investment community also sees the benefits of alternative proteins. Global investments in alternative proteins increased 300% in 2020 alone, according to the Good Food Institute Asia Pacific.
In July 2020, Karana raised $ 1.7 million in seed funding from investors, including Big Idea Ventures, a dedicated plant-based food fund backed by Singapore state investment company Temasek and the American meat company Tyson Foods.
The investment fueled the company’s 2021 debut in Singapore, where its whole pork is now available in nine restaurants, in dishes ranging from dumplings to ‘ngoh hiang’, a local pork roll.
The next step will be its deployment in Hong Kong, as well as the launch of a range of ready-to-cook retail products. Meanwhile, the investment in a new innovation lab will allow Karana to continue her experiments with jackfruit and other whole plant-based meat substitutes.