(Bloomberg) — Thai food producers are betting on growing plant-based meat trends at home and abroad for future expansion.
Food exports from Thailand are one of the few areas that have increased during the pandemic, while sales of other products have struggled because of the disruption to international trade. The government wants to make Thailand a food production hub, and plant-based meat can help it achieve that ambition.
Among growing Thai companies is NR Instant Produce Pcl, a food exporter that started making plant-based protein in 2016 by turning jackfruit into mock pork. The company raised about 1.6 billion baht ($51.4 million) in its initial public offering this month and the stock doubled in intraday trading on its debut on Oct. 9. The producer is expanding facilities in the U.S., China and Thailand.
“Consumer focus on health is a huge megatrend right now. The growth potential is massive,” said Danai Pathomvanich, the chief executive officer. He said about 7% of NR Instant’s revenue comes from plant-based products and expected the contribution to jump to 30% within four years.
NR Instant Produce isn’t alone. The country’s largest meat producer controlled by one of the richest families, Charoen Pokphand Foods Pcl, is also looking at producing plant-based meat from soy protein. One of the top oil refiners, Bangchak Corp Pcl, also plans to diversify into the faux meat industry.
The plant-based meat market is expected to be worth $27.9 billion globally by 2025, more than double the $12.1 billion value last year, according to a MarketsandMarkets report. North America and Europe are currently the top markets, but increased demand from Asia Pacific and South American countries is expected to drive sales, the report said.
For Thailand, the trend is catching on rapidly, fueled by social media. Every year, millions of Thais in the Buddhist-majority country stop eating animal products during the nine-day vegetarian festival — which starts on Oct. 17 this year — and more people are going meatless for longer and more frequently.
There’s been a huge increase in interest for vegetarian and vegan food in Thailand over recent years, according to Siam Commercial Bank Pcl’s Economic Intelligence Center. The percentage of Thais who don’t eat meat increased from 4% in 2013 to 12% in 2017, it said, citing the National Statistics Office.
“One of the most telling indicators of Thailand embracing the plant-based lifestyle is the number of Thai entrepreneurs coming up with plant-based products,“ said Mika Apichatsakol, who started a vegan diner in Bangkok this year with her husband and long-time vegan Gareth Sheehan.
“We’re already at that stage where Thais are producing their own products and not relying on expensive western products,“ she said. “That’s a game changer. It means plant-based is for everyone.”
(Updates to add comment from Siam Commercial Bank in eighth paragraph.)
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