Wow! It’s a wrap. For 22 hours, we kept our summit platform up and running to facilitate networking amongst attendees across multiple time zones. For 10 hours, we were LIVE on air running two program tracks in parallel—7 private expert roundtables and 7 public sessions. That was our inaugural virtual event last week, Asia Summit on Alternative Proteins (ASAP) 2020!
Facilitate Networking in the New Normal
ASAP2020 welcomed over 1,500 delegates from over 50 countries, representing industry sectors including food production, finance, and biotech. Our first and foremost goal for this virtual summit was to facilitate networking amongst industry stakeholders. Cancellation of most if not all physical conferences over the past 6 months has made it difficult to connect and develop partnerships. As we see collaboration as the key to accelerating the alternative protein sector, we decided to step in to fill that void.
The public sessions are best described as spanning from talk show format to casual panel style. We wanted to create something quite different from what people usually get in this new era filled with virtual events.
“So powerful and truly revolutionary that this discourse is on a mainstream platform like this.”
– ASAP2020 audience
Busting myths is another one of our main goals for this summit. Especially since COVID-19, tailwinds have been blowing strong for alternative proteins, but have the positive signals about its potential and development in Asia been blown out of proportion? What are exaggerations and not facts? What is being misrepresented and lost in translation? One of the biggest risks I see in the rapid acceleration of the alt-protein sector is misinformation creating a market bubble that eventually bursts.
That is why I invited a guest lineup representing a breath of experience in venturing into different Asian markets for a session that truly sets the tone for this summit—You Wish You Knew This Before Creating Your Asia Strategy. Alexander Pestalozzi, Managing Director of Mueller Asia, came into the session with a pragmatic investor perspective that prioritizes facts and numbers and called out the need to move beyond “lifestyle investments” or “charity.” On the other hand, Manav Gupta, Founder and CEO of Brinc, sees the idea of “charity investments” as math vs. magic, and attested to seeing his fair share of magic during his early involvement in emerging sectors, such as IoT in China several years ago.
John Cheng, Director of Innovate 360 and third generation in family business Cheng Yew Heng, agreed that he sometimes feels like a “charity investor” but has been reassured by promising progress from the alt-protein startups he’s invested in. Leveraging his manufacturing and distribution networks, he continues to work with these startups on scaling up. While acknowledging that a current shortage of homegrown talent is evident, Manav shared that he remains optimistic; meanwhile, John sees this perceived shortage as less of a threat given the Singapore government’s strong push to attract talents locally and abroad. This first session of the summit was so much fun! Watch the replay here.
“ASAP was a great event. I must acknowledge that starting with name ASAP [is] truly innovative and intriguing [and] also indicates that we need to move fast in this space.”
–Dheeraj Talreja, AAK
Impact investing has been widely embraced in the investment community for several years now, but how exactly we integrate ESG (environmental, social, and corporate governance) principles in such investments has been somewhat of a mystery to be solved. In Investor Perspective: Making Sense of Impact Assessment for Alternative Protein Companies hosted by Rosie Wardle, Investment Associate at CPT Capital, we heard from Lee Recht, Head of Sustainability at Aleph Farms; Leonie Kelly, Partner of Policy & Practice at Sustainable Finance initiative (SFi); and Benjamin McCarron, Founder and Managing Director of Asia Research & Engagement (ARE), about ESG & impact assessment for alt-protein companies.
Emphasizing the urgent need to embrace alternative proteins, Benjamin stressed the importance of traditional meat companies having alternative proteins on their radar, making the analogy of not doing so as “almost like car companies not knowing about electric vehicles today.”
Speaking on impact metrics, Leonie stressed that impact assessment is fundamental and that all investors need to recognize that “what you measure is a direct indicator of what you value.” Referencing SFi’s Portfolio Approach Towards Impact Measurement & Management, Leonie spoke of the need to think through what metrics are considered material and create a strategy for how commitments become actionable.
As the driver of sustainability at Aleph Farms, Lee sees sustainability as a core part of Aleph’s growth strategy. Furthermore, she sees sustainability much more holistically than most people, stating that “while a lot of people connect sustainability to the environment, this is not how we see it.” To Lee, sustainability is about having a strong impact on not just the environment, but also on social sustainability, communities, and collective health. In May 2019, Aleph Farms raised $12M for their Series A; investors clearly have an appetite for this way of measuring growth. This was further emphasized by Leonie, who believes that sustainability is ultimately going to drive performance. This session was filled with so many important nuggets! Watch the replay here.
“The Summit organisers were not afraid to tackle challenging topics head on, including busting the biggest myths in the Asian alternative protein ecosystem, and what sustainability really means for the alternative protein sector. Bring on ASAP 2021!”
– Rosie Wardle, CPT Capital
Grown in Asia: Competitive Advantage in Diversifying Raw Materials for Plant-based Meat focused on ingredient diversification was a (plant protein) packed session! Hosted by our very own Varun Deshpande, Managing Director of GFI India, the session had Nithiya N Laila, Culinary Anthropologist (a.k.a the coolest job title ever), and Vi Nguyen, Director of Research at Asia Research & Engagement, share their insights about how Asian culture, the reliance on smallholder farmers in Asia, and the perils of repeated monocropping are driving the need for more biodiversity in our diets and in alternative protein. Nithiya stressed that in Asia, religion heavily influences how much vegetarianism is in our diets and that in general, Asian consumers are pretty familiar with meat alternatives considering that the majority (about 80%) of Asian diets are plant-based.
Speaking about consumers demanding more diverse products, Vi mentioned several important factors to consider in diversification like quality being dependent on origin (which can’t always be controlled and can add significant costs) and the processing of new ingredients being more expensive and time-sucking. Overall, the panel’s consensus was that consumers are looking for more nutrient-dense, whole foods. It was enlightening to hear this session end with a positive note, with Vi affirming that Asia is the world’s most biodiverse region and that in the quest for more alternative proteins, we can leverage the fact that Asians are so connected to their culture’s food. Watch the replay of this session here.
I realised there’s no way I can cover all the session takeaways in one blog post, so in Part 2 I will cover the remaining sessions that focused on exploring platform and infrastructure businesses, building strategic partnerships between industry and governments, and collaborations with other industry stakeholders.
And Last But Certainly Not Least…
Big thank you to everyone who has made this summit possible! First of all, thank you to all our guests (see here for our full guest list). I’m referring to them as guests, not speakers, as we set out with the aim to have a different type of virtual summit, where a talk-show style format can facilitate deeper conversations and more genuine sharings. This goal requires guests to be more willing to be generous and authentic, and we’re blessed to have a lineup of amazing and extraordinary people to deliver just that.
If you’ve missed any of these sessions, we’re making 7 of them publicly available on our YouTube channel here.
Secondly, we pulled this off with a small but incredibly dedicated team. My utmost gratitude to my team—Viola Chen, Victoria Law, and Chair of our Advisory Council Nydia Zhang. Above all, I’d like to introduce you to our amazing Development Lead Mirte Gosker, the person responsible not only for putting the whole show together, but also for facilitating all the behind-the-scenes matchmaking, the startup expo, the private roundtables, and everything else. When Mirte is not busy being our show producer, she’s the person raising funds to support the work we do.
We at GFI APAC are 100% supported by philanthropy. If you see the value of what we’re doing, and would like to take this journey with us to be at the forefront of fixing the broken food system and creating the future of food, please get in touch with Mirte. Whether it’s donations big or small, or potential collaborations and support, please don’t hesitate to start a conversation with us and be a GFI supporter!
Please look out for Part 2 coming in two days and in the meantime, do check out our YouTube channel to view these amazing sessions if you’ve missed them!