The Good Food Institute India works with innovators and market leaders to create plant-based meat alternatives for sustainable eating habits.
Plant-based smart protein food items from GoodDot (clockwise from above left), Imagine Meats and Just Egg. Photographs courtesy GoodDot, Imagine Meats and Just Egg
Is there a future for producing food that does not leave a massive carbon footprint? The Good Food Institute India (GFI-India) thinks so. Through its “smart protein revolution,” GFI-India is working with innovators to make the switch to meat alternatives easier and create a space for a just, secure and sustainable global food system.
Smart proteins are plant-based alternative foods that offer similar flavor and textures to meat and dairy products. According to Varun Deshpande, GFI-India’s managing director, innovators across the world are working to produce “the future of protein—delicious, nutritious meat, eggs and dairy, made from plants, cells and microorganisms.”
Major food corporations too have stepped in and now use new technologies to create plant-based versions of everything from seafood to cheese, to the more traditional keema curry or biryani. For instance, Udaipur-based GoodDot’s products include Meatless mince, Unmutton dhaba curry, Vegicken chunks in brine and more. The ingredients include flax seeds, rice, gram flour, oats, pea protein, soy, quinoa and wheat fiber.
To our taste buds, these versions may be indistinguishable from conventional meat-based versions, but they require only a fraction of energy and resources to create.
Smart protein revolution
Deshpande says the “smart protein revolution” comes at a time when the world is facing the monumental challenge of feeding a projected population of 10 billion people, one-sixth of whom will be in India, by 2050. “We need a more secure, sustainable and just food system, and the smart protein sector is building exactly that,” he says. “But the story of the smart protein sector in the developing world, in countries like India, is just beginning to unfold and pick up steam.”
In November 2021, over 1,500 Indians gathered virtually at the annual Smart Protein Summit to address problems of global hunger, food production and climate change. At the event, more than 70 expert speakers—scientists, government officials, researchers, venture capitalists, developers and more—discussed the future of food, and how India’s rapidly growing smart protein industry can help battle hunger around the world.
It was a landmark year for the nascent industry, with over 50 Indian smart protein start-ups working hard to develop new technologies and food products. More than half of the firms were founded just within the last two years. “We’re also seeing an influx of supporting companies,” says Deshpande, “including ingredient suppliers, co-manufacturers, technical consultants, equipment manufacturers and other consultants—all showing interest in the smart protein industry.”
GFI-India’s vital work nurturing those start-ups, which also includes cultivating plant-based efforts within larger corporations, was on full display at the summit. The opening keynote address was delivered by Suresh Narayanan, chairman and managing director of Nestlé India Limited. Other speakers included leaders from major corporations like Britannia Industries Limited and Cargill India.
“A lot of our work over the last few years with plant-based start-ups and bigger corporations is finally coming to fruition as they begin to enter the market,” says Deshpande. “And with platforms like Amazon Fresh and Swiggy’s Instamart launching plant-based products, it’s now easier for consumers to access foods that provide all the sensory and cultural elements that animal-derived meats offer, without breaking the planet.”
The Smart Protein Summit had something to offer for all its participants—from curious students to food industry veterans. Over the span of three days, smart protein innovators presented their work, experts huddled on topics like plant-based food labels and infrastructure and discussed investment and financing. The summit also featured conversations focused on preserving the welfare of farmers as smart protein gains momentum, and the industry’s impact on efforts to battle climate change.
While the summit is just one indicator of the successes India’s smart protein industry has enjoyed, Deshpande asserts that much still needs to be done to meet the world’s ever-expanding nutritional needs. “We need all the talent, experienced mentorship, investment, scientific research and government support we can get,” he explains. Given how dramatically industries like renewable energy have transformed over the last few decades, “we believe remaking meat is the next big thing,” he says, “and not a moment too soon.”
The Smart Protein Summit will return this October in New Delhi. To find out more about GFI India’s work visit gfi-india.org.
Michael Gallant is the founder and chief executive officer of Gallant Music. He lives in New York City.