ASIA Summit looks at the growing importance of Organic Food, Plant-based Food and 'Forgotten Foods' to supply our 10 billion population by 2050 March 2021

Sustainable Foods Summit (Asia Pacific) has just ended its 4-day virtual edition from 15 to 18 March providing comprehensive insights on the future of Organic Food, Plant-based Food as well as ‘Forgotten’ Foods in Asia.

Ecovia Intelligence is the organiser of this event.


Organic Food

The virtual event started with a presentation by Amarjit Sahota, President and Founder of Ecovia Intelligence, on the topic of ‘Asia in Global Organic Food Market’. He showed that the global sales of organic foods has grown exponentially from US$72 billion in 2013 to US$112 billion in 2019. However, the proportion of sales of organic food is under-represented in Asia with this region contributing only 7% of the global sales, as compared to 91% coming from Europe (42%) and North America (49%).

In comparison, Asia is home to 60% of the world’s population and has 34% share of global food sales, and yet when it comes to organic food, its global share is only 7%. Amarjit commented that this happens despite rising awareness of Asians on the existence and benefits of organic foods. A survey done by Union for Ethical Biotrade in 2019 saw 95% of Chinese, 95% of Vietnamese and 71% of Japanese were aware of organic foods, against 53% in Germany and 66% in the UK.

The main reasons which could hinder Asian consumers from purchasing is the limited availability (poor distribution) and premium price associated with organic food. Nevertheless, with the ongoing pandemic, consumption for organic food might show some positive uptrend as market drivers like growing consumer health concerns; food and health scares; and growing consumer opposition to GMOs could accelerate its growth.

Up until 10 years ago, production of organic crops in Asia was entirely meant for the export market, however this is gradually changing with transformation of major urban cities and growing disposable incomes in Asia.

The future growth potential for Organic Food is huge in Asia. Currently, market share of organic food is less than 1% of the region’s total food and beverage sales, as compared to 3-4% in Europe. In more developed countries like Germany and the UK, share of organic food could be even higher at 5-8%. 

In the future, as supermarkets in Asia start to carry an increasing number of private organic labels, this will create more business opportunities for example, businesses/retailers will then look into sustainable packaging like the use of bioplastics or compostable materials in their packaging.

Plant-based Food

According to a presentation entitled ‘Plant-based food market opportunities in Asia’ by Ms Trang Dang, Southeast Asia Food Policy Manager from the Humane Society International, veganism is growing in Asia just as fast as its western counterparts. In Singapore, for example, there is a 140% increase in vegan activities from 2013 to 2017.

Ms Trang specifically looked at a YouGov Plan & Track survey done in February 2020 in Singapore to show an increasing case of consumers turning to become flexitarians. With the advent of new plant-based food solutions, the proportion of flexitarians in the country is expected to increase further. In addition, many Singaporeans are adopting a plant-based diet due to health reasons i.e. pertaining to nutritional benefits from consuming plant-based diet, as well as avoiding health problems and risks which could come from consuming meat. (Refer Chart 1.0 and 2.0 below)

Forgotten Foods

One very interesting presentation ‘Forgotten Foods to Feed the Future’ was made on the last day of the event by Professor Sayed Azam-Ali, CEO for Crops for the Future (CFF), an independent international organisation based in Semenyih, Malaysia with a mandate to promote the use of neglected and underutilised crops to enhance diversification of global agricultural systems.

He highlighted how the history of human civilisation has evolved over thousands of years. The world in record has more than 500,000 plant species, but humans only utilise 7,000 of these throughout history. Presently, only 100 of these are utilised as agricultural crops to meet 95% of our food needs. And this can be narrowed down further to only 4 staple cereals or crops namely wheat, rice, soy and maize which contribute 60% of the existing world’s food supply.

In other words, the world needs to diversify and consider other alternatives to feed our growing population. Sayed said with the climate change and global warming, and other challenges that the human population will face, the need to transform food systems has become more urgent. By 2050, the world will be 3.5 degree celsius hotter and the world population will jump from 7.8 billion to 10 billion, making certain crops no longer cultivable due to sustainability concerns on top of the fact that some of these crops can no longer grow well under extreme heat pressure.

We need to revert back to past (generation) records to gather information on ‘forgotten’ agricultural foods which could now be reintroduced back to the system. He mentioned some examples of traditional crops in Malaysia like winged bean, myrtle berry, jambu arang and ulam which are very nutritious but unfortunately almost ‘forgotten’ and no longer part of the mainstream food products.

Indeed, one recent success in food transformation can be seen in the use of plant-based source like ‘jackfruit’ as a meat alternative. Many are unaware that ‘jackfruit’ has been used for generations in Malaysia and other parts of Southeast Asia in food gravy/dishes due to its chewy edible texture which makes it a good replacement for meat.




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