The appetite for alternative meat is growing worldwide.
With increasing awareness of the nutritional and environmental effects of meat consumption, producers and consumers are searching for various sources to meet the continuing demand for protein.
One of them is Dan Riegler, whose evolving relationship with meat inspired him to co-found Karana.
“I’ve been a vegan skeptic, a meat eater for much of my life, and I’ve taken a big turn,” said Riegler CNBC do it.
Karana is that Singapore Food start-up positions itself as Asia’s first plant-based meat brand. The flagship – a substitute for pulled pork – is made entirely from jackfruit, oil, and salt, with no processed ingredients or preservatives.
Started in 2018 when the demand for meat alternatives increased, Riegler saw a market niche for meat substitute products that were specially developed for Asian cuisine.
“We saw a great need to identify products with more local applications for APAC,” said Riegler, now 35, who built a career in agricultural supply chains across Southeast Asia.
“Pork is the number one meat consumed in this region and we haven’t seen many products there that really meet a need.”
So Riegler and his co-founder Blair Crichton, formerly Impossible Foods, which also produces plant-based meat alternatives, set out to find an environmentally friendly alternative.
It wasn’t long before the couple identified Karana’s first product: a jackfruit pork substitute sourced from smallholders in Sri Lanka.
Jackfruit has a long history in South and Southeast Asia Cuisine, especially in vegetarian and vegan dishes. The unripe young jackfruit is known for its tightly packed, fibrous texture and meat-like properties. It is widely used in savory foods, while the sweet ripe jackfruit is consumed raw.
“Jackfruit as a harvest does not need irrigation, does not need pesticides, does not need herbicides. So it is a very robust tree, and when it bears fruit, it is very, very productive,” said Carsten Carstens, scientific director of Karana and initially renting.
In fact, jackfruit is so abundant in the region that Tons of it are wasted every year. This is due in part to the complexity of the preparation and cooking.
“The formats it was available in … just weren’t exciting to us. They were very difficult to work with, they didn’t give interesting textures and end results, and we knew jackfruit was not reaching its potential.” Said Riegler.
So the founders set out to mass-market the fruit – and soon developed a chemical-free, mechanical process at their Singapore manufacturing center to convert the fruit into a shredded, meat-like product that is easy for cooks and consumers to use.
“Our intention was really to create something that chefs can use to create fantastic dishes,” said Carstens. “It’s just too labor-intensive for the modern kitchen in a modern establishment (food and beverages).”
Karana’s invention whets the appetite for more ethical and sustainable foods growing across Asia and beyond.
Even before the pandemic, the alternative meat market was estimated at $ 140 billion, or 10% of the world’s meat industry, within a decade.
Mirte Gosker, acting executive director of the Good Food Institute in Asia Pacific, said the demand for meat substitutes in Asia is increasing as awareness of food safety and nutrition increases.
“Here in Asia we see a real demand for healthy products with high nutritional value,” said Gosker. “And especially in China, one of the reasons for buying plant-based meat, actually the biggest one, is the desire to lose weight.”
In addition, the environmental impact of traditional animal husbandry is no longer sustainable.
“Animal husbandry is currently making the largest two or three contributions to the most pressing environmental challenges on our planet. These include air pollution, water pollution, water scarcity and loss of biodiversity,” said Gosker.
“If we weren’t going to use these fields to grow feed for animals, we could actually use these fields for reforestation, to create greater biodiversity or, for example, for renewable energies,” she added.
The investment community also sees the benefits of alternative proteins. There is investment in alternative proteins worldwide, according to the Good Food Institute in the Asia-Pacific region increased by 300% in 2020 alone.
In July 2020 Karana raised $ 1.7 million in seed capital by investors like Big Idea Ventures, a plant-based food fund backed by Singapore’s state-owned investment company Temasek and the US meat company Tyson Foods.
The investment fueled the company’s debut in Singapore in 2021, which is where all of the pork is located now available in nine restaurants and count – in dishes from dumplings to “ngoh hiang”, a local pork bun.
Next it will be introduced Hong KongAs well as the introduction of a range of ready-to-cook retail products. In the meantime, Karana will be able to continue experimenting with jackfruit and other whole plant meat substitutes by investing in a new innovation laboratory.