New data reveals surprising market opportunities for plant-based meat in Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia is one of the fastest-growing economic regions in the world, propelled by huge population and prosperity increases, both of which are driving up demand for protein. Even at this early stage, a rapid rise in livestock production is intensifying climate and food-security pressures, contributing to historic levels of deforestation, water depletion, and greenhouse gas emissions. A change of trajectory is urgently needed. 

Plant-based meat has been identified as a promising opportunity to satisfy soaring food demand while reducing the enormous ecological hoofprint of industrial animal agriculture. Unfortunately, there’s a hitch: consumers in Southeast Asia are hesitant to shift away from conventional meat. 

As a first-of-its-kind survey commissioned by GFI APAC and conducted by The Good Growth Co. reveals, most Southeast Asian consumers do not intend to reduce their conventional meat consumption—and nearly a quarter want to increase it.

On the surface, this might seem like bad news for plant-based meat. If local consumers have not indicated significant interest in transitioning away from conventional animal meat—quite the contrary—what room is there to move the market towards alternative proteins? 

But this top-line figure obscures clear opportunities where new data shows plant-based meat can make meaningful inroads in Southeast Asian markets. Doing so will require producers to tap into audience segments that may seem counterintuitive at first glance, and develop custom messaging that differs substantially from how plant-based products have been marketed in other parts of the world.  

Let’s dig in:

In Southeast Asia, the consumers most enthusiastic about plant-based meat also eat conventional meat the most.

In our study, the audience segment that expressed the most enthusiasm for plant-based meat (classified as “Enthusiasts”) was the group that eats conventional meat the most frequently and is most likely to consume more.

This same principle held true on the other end of the spectrum: people who consume animal meat the least frequently were significantly more skeptical of consuming plant-based meat. This data was consistent across all six markets we researched—Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, and the Philippines—which indicates that Southeast Asian consumers are broadly looking for protein diversity rather than meat replacement.

Most Southeast Asian consumers have heard of plant-based meat, but nearly half have not tried it.

While a small segment of surveyed consumers (9 percent, on average) have never heard of plant-based meat, a much larger group (44 percent) has heard of it but never tried it. Only 5 percent currently consume plant-based meat regularly, which illustrates the large room for market growth among audience segments that have yet to give it a try.

Interestingly, younger consumers (18-24 years old) were significantly less likely to be aware of plant-based meat. This may seem counterintuitive, since plant-based meat producers have long viewed younger consumers as more receptive, but our data shows that almost two-thirds of the most enthusiastic consumers are over the age of 35. This indicates that there is a sizeable percentage of younger consumers who, for one reason or another, are not being reached or persuaded by current plant-based meat messaging in the region. 

Southeast Asian consumers believe plant-based meat is healthy.

Encouragingly, nearly two-thirds of survey respondents selected “healthy” as the top descriptor for plant-based meat, followed by “easy to digest,” “tastes good,” and “high in protein.” Negative perceptions about over-processing or food additives ranked far lower across the board, and were primarily concentrated in segments that do not intend to consume plant-based meat anyway. 

Affordability will make or break plant-based meat in Southeast Asia. 

Nearly half of consumers said that if plant-based meat was more affordable, they would eat more of it. This factor ranked more highly than attributes related to nutrition, taste, or product availability.

So just how affordable does plant-based meat need to be in order to tip the scales? Among segments that expressed high interest in eating plant-based meat, up to 76 percent said they would buy it at price parity with conventional meat. 

If plant-based meat manages to achieve a 20 percent lower price than conventional meat, more than 80 percent of all consumers would buy it, including about half of those who would otherwise reject it.

But conversely, if plant-based meat is priced 20 percent higher than conventional meat, there are huge drop-offs in interest among everyone except the most enthusiastic consumers. 

While stated purchase intent in a survey does not always translate to real-world sales, and taste parity remains a critical factor, recent research by GFI APAC has shown that the average plant-based meat product price is currently 35 percent higher compared to its conventional counterpart. This illustrates just how many potential consumers in Southeast Asia could be withholding their purchases until prices come down. 

If product cost and other key challenges are resolved, three-quarters of Southeast Asian consumers say they would regularly consume plant-based meat. 

In an ideal scenario in which all current concerns are resolved, around half of respondents would often opt for plant-based meat, and 15 percent say they would always do so. That includes 26 percent of those market segments most skeptical of plant-based meat.

How often would you choose plant-based meat if all your concerns are resolved? (n=5,971)

Southeast Asian consumers are eager to try blended meat.

Since most local consumers view plant-based meat as an opportunity to diversify their protein consumption rather than a straight replacement for conventional meat, interest in blended meat productswhich mix plant-based meat into conventional meatwas nearly unanimous, even garnering support among market segments uninterested in fully plant-based products.

93 percent of surveyed consumers expressed interest in at least trying blended meat, including more than three-quarters of people skeptical of trying fully plant-based meat and 80 percent of those who have eaten it but don’t intend to again.

This data suggests that even though Southeast Asian consumers remain hesitant about fully transitioning away from conventional animal meat, by positioning plant-based meat as a healthy add-on to consumers’ existing diet or an ingredient to be blended into the conventional meat people already eat, there are potential pathways to wider market adoption. If so, that could create a virtuous cycle in which plant-based meat producers can scale up their manufacturing capacity, better leverage economies of scale, and drive down plant-based food prices across the board—including for fully plant-based products.

To dive deeper into these insights and many more, download our latest report below.