Protein

Alt Protein Revolution in South Korea: Plant-Based Thrives & Cultivated Meat Receives Huge Investment

South Korea continues at the forefront of alt food developments as interest in alternatives to animal products soars. Several factors have been credited, including growing sustainability and food security concerns

As reported by Korea JoongAng Daily today, Nongshim, the largest instant noodle and snack company in South Korea, has revealed plans to invest $7.4 million in venture funds to support food tech startups developing cultivated meat and smart farms. Nongshim believes cultivated meat will be a promising alternative as the demand for sustainable foods continues to grow, according to the publication.

Two Seoul-based companies, Stonebridge Ventures and IMM Investment, will manage the new capital and conduct in-depth evaluations. Meanwhile, Nongshim techUP+, Nongshim’s program for food tech startups, will continue to run with other investments.

A big piece of cultivated meat
© Image courtesy of TissenBioFarm

Last year, the country’s Ministry of Food and Drug Safety announced it was including official guidance for alt proteins for the first time in its National Plan 2022, including a system to evaluate the safety and manufacturing processes of cultivated meat. 

Hanwha Solutions Corp., CJ CheilJedang, and Daesang Corp. have also invested in funds to accelerate the development of cultivated meat. Hanwha Solutions, for example, has invested in the cultivated meat company DaNAgreen and the US biotech Finless Foods, and food producer CJ CheilJedang Corp. has partnered with a biomedical company to develop bioprinted alt meats.

Notable South Korean biotechs include cultivated seafood startup CellQua, food tech startup TissenBioFarmCellMEAT, developing shrimp and caviar, and SeaWith, dedicated to Han-Woo cultivated beef products and seaweed scaffolds. 

Korean demand for plant-based meat

But while cultivated meat remains largely a solution for the future, the South Korean plant-based industry has experienced significant growth in the last years. For context, a South Korean politician recently introduced a bill to ban dog meat and dog meat farms, stating farmers would receive support to transition to other industries. A signal that the country is becoming increasingly forward-thinking in terms of compassion towards animals and the planet as younger generations’ inclinations gain a foothold.

According to a recent NZTE survey, over 60% of respondents said they had purchased more plant-based products compared to 2-3 years ago. Meanwhile, the plant-based meat category saw the second-biggest growth rate of all plant-based foods in South Korea, points out NZTE.

Nongshim Veggie Garden
© Nongshim

Nongshim’s plant-based meat brand, Veggie Garden, has expanded to more than 18 products, including plant-based versions of traditional Korean foods like grilled steak and meatballs. Additionally, the company opened a vegan fine dining restaurant called Forest Kitchen in Jamsil, southern Seoul, last year. 

Other successful brands include Devotion Foods, which has created alt meat products with more protein than beef, Shinsegae Foods’ Better Meat included in Starbucks’ latest vegan offerings, and the plant-based brand UNLIMEAT, which recently launched a plant-based Kimbap delivery service in collaboration with JUST Egg.

In terms of food service, according to the Korea Tourism Organization (KTO), at least 17 restaurants serve vegetarian and vegan food in Seoul, including Shinsegae Food’s recently launched restaurant and brand, You Are What You Eat.

“The plant-based food market is consistently growing by more than 10% each year […] Consumers are actively seeking out plant-based alternatives, not just for health reasons, but also due to the delicious and innovative options available,” Keum Chae Min, founder and CEO of UNLIMEAT, told vegconomist in an interview last week.




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