*Tan Heng Hong

Plant-based protein diets have been heavily promoted in recent years as traditional meat producers and dairy companies look for ways to excite consumers with nutritional, healthy and premium food and drink products. While COVID-19 has increased consumers’ interest in plant-based diets, they are also paying more attention to ingredients and practices that support safer, alternative food and drink production and innovation. For example, a third (33%) of Indian consumers* pledge to eat fewer animal products (e.g., dairy, meat) as part of their post-COVID food and drink resolutions; in South Korea, 71% of consumers** agree that climate change will have an effect on the foods/drinks they buy; meanwhile, 57% of urban Chinese consumers agree that the environment has become a higher priority since the COVID-19 outbreak.

Data from Mintel Global New Products Database (GNPD) reveals that 47% of plant-based dairy products launched in APAC in the 12 months to May 2021 bear a sustainability (habitat/resources) claim, indicating growth opportunities.

Tan Heng Hong, APAC Food and Drink Analyst said, “The growth in eco-conscious, or ‘green’, food and drink consumers, increased focus on animal welfare, and higher priority placed on sustainability all present opportunities for manufacturers and brands in the plant-based dairy category. Brands in the milk and yogurt sector should take plant-based diets, animal welfare and sustainability into account when innovating new products and updating manufacturing practices, and highlight the benefits they offer when engaging with consumers.”

Blends offer the best of both worlds in nutritional value

In the Asia-Pacific region, plant-based dairy is traditionally positioned as a nutritious drink for people with lactose intolerance. Plant-based dairy is now ripe for an upgrade to better cater to consumers who are interested in the plant-based diet and are concerned about issues surrounding sustainability and animal welfare.

According to Mintel research, in China, 35% of urban consumers want plant-protein drinks blended with milk, while 22% look for plant-protein drinks blended with two or more types of plants. In India, nearly one if five (17%) consumers say regular white milk is healthier than plant-based milk.

Heng Hong suggested, “Dairy companies can launch dairy-free products through a blended approach, targeting consumers who want the benefits of dairy milk and plant-based nutrition. Blended products can also overcome health as a barrier for consumers in markets like India where dairy is an important part of their diet.”

Consumers seek more varieties of plant-based ingredients

According to Mintel research, 70% of Thai consumers would like to see more varieties of non-dairy milk products. Mintel GNPD data reveals that soy (48%) is still the dominant ingredient in plant-based spoonable yogurts and plant-based drinks launched in Asia-Pacific, June 2020 – May 2021.

However, the popularity of soy is being slowly eroded by the rise of nuts, including almond and cashew, grains, and seeds. In China, 59% of tea drinkers see oats as nutritious. According to Mintel GNPD, the popularity of oat milk in foodservice has spilled into retail with a 110% growth in launches of plant-based milk/yogurt with oat as an ingredient in the 12 months to May 2021 compared to the same period a year ago.

Heng Hong concluded, ”Trending plant-based ingredients like oats, rice and nuts will be at the heart of innovation. However, as soy is still the most widely used plant-based ingredient in APAC, opportunities exist for brands to upgrade soy milk to ensure it stays relevant with consumers.For plant-based milk and yogurt to have a firm footing in the region, companies will also need to ensure such products, especially those made with soy alternatives, are accessible and appealing to a wider audience in terms of price and taste.”

Mintel APAC Food and Drink Analyst*

*Mintel Global Consumer, July 2020

**Mintel Global Consumer, December 2019