|A burger made with a meat substitute product by Beyond Meat / Courtesy of Beyond Meat|
By Kim Jae-heun
Local food firms and fast food franchises are offering a diverse range of plant-derived menu items as a new consumption trend growing in popularity among millennials is prompting them to seek vegan and alternative meat food products.
The domestic market for processed food has displayed stagnant growth for some time and food companies were in need of new growth engines.
The country's biggest instant noodle maker, Nongshim, said Tuesday it will accelerate its vegan food business and produce alternative meat products. Another food manufacturer, Pulmuone, recently unveiled plans to become a leading company in producing vegan meat. Global coffee shop chain, Starbucks, revealed a mid-to-long-term plan for sustainability involving collaborations with alternative meat manufacturing firms to develop replacements for beef, pork and chicken.
"We expect demand for substitute meat to increase as customers are continuously consuming food based on their values," a Starbucks official said.
The interest in alternative meat began in the domestic food service industry starting last year. Demand for vegan meat has increased significantly. As part of this trend, Shinsegae Food's fast food chain, No Brand Burger, started selling chicken nuggets made from mycoprotein, or protein derived from fungi, by British firm Quorn.
In February, local coffeehouse chain, A Twosome Place, introduced two types of panini using meat substitute products in collaboration with Dongwon Food & Beverage.
Other fast food chains, such as Lotteria, Burger King and Subway, also jumped on the bandwagon, launching their own menu items using meat substitutes in 2020.
The local food industry has high hopes for the meat substitute market. According to the Korea Rural Economic Institute, the global market for substitute meat has been growing 9.5 percent annually since 2019 and is projected to reach nearly 21 trillion won ($18.8 billion) in 2025. The outbreak of COVID-19 has also increased consumer awareness of health and environmental issues.
However, the market for alternative meat here is so small that there is currently a lack of precise data.
"Korean food is heavy on vegetarian dishes so it is questionable how big the vegan food or alternative meat market can grow here like it is growing in the West. Even so, young people have a lot of interest in meat substitutes as their eating habits are relatively more Westernized than that of the older generation, so the outlook is still unpredictable," an industry source said.
But experts say such conditions should not discourage food firms from developing their alternative meat producing techniques.
"There is a consensus in the local food industry that the domestic substitute meat market has a long way to go. But food companies have to continue to improve their plant-produced meats to smell and taste more like real meat to the world-class level. In the end, they have to target markets derived from alternative meat itself. Local food companies need to set higher standards that match the global market's levels," another industry source said.