In part one of our exclusive interview with Tyson Foods’ APAC Vice President Commercial Lee Yeong Sheng, he told FoodNavigator-Asia how developing the firm’s plant-based brand First Pride has become a complementary - and not competing – product line for the company.
In addition, Lee has also shared some of the company’s secrets on creating protein products – both animal and plant-based – that have attracted both consumer interest and loyalty over the years.
“For the plant-based range in particular we have come to realise that our consumers here are actually very loyal to the brand even compared with our animal product consumers,” he told us.
“This goes to show that once they have found a product that tastes good and familiar to them, they will stick with it – the repeat purchase rates for the plant-based products are astonishingly high, lending further credit to this.
“So we know it is possible to create and retain consumer loyalty – but apart from the taste itself, at the heart of this are some straightforward qualities that the products need to have to attract them in the first place, and one of the most important is affordability.
“In our initial research we saw a lot of consumers already aware of the existence of plant-based products but reluctant to try these out due to the prices being really prohibitive at the time – this was about two years back when plant-based products were two to 2.5 times the price of animal protein products.
“This was identified as a major barrier to entry and as such we worked hard to make the products more affordable and have now reduced the gap to 25% to 30% above parity so more consumers can try this – and as we grow in scale, savings can be passed on to consumers so the cost can become even more competitive.”
These were amongst learnings taken from Tyson’s earlier work with processed and frozen chicken and meat products, demonstrating that across the entire protein sector, pricing has long been and likely always will be a key purchasing factor for APAC consumers, even as the demand for protein increases.
“The other major factor to consider is how to maximise product versatility and applications – Tyson of course has many years of experience with animal protein products from chicken nuggets to strips to bites and many more, and the versatility here has really come from allowing consumers to have a product choice for just every occasion [and dietary whim],” he added.
“So we already have that strength and know-how in this area, and we know what the gold standard is for making such products – this was a huge advantage for us when making the plant-based products as we could just replicate that expertise and leverage on that knowledge to make the best possible versions of these products that we could, just with different proteins.
“This enable us to offer more applications and versality to consumers when it came to fulfilling their plant-based diet needs – and based on what we know from our success with conventional meat products, this is going to be important for this sector as well.”
Will both proteins ever weigh up equally?
Although there are significant similarities in terms of growing the different protein product sectors, Lee does not believe that plant-based products are set to overtake animal protein just yet.
“In the coming three to five years, I do expect plant-based to grow to be quite sizeable from the small base it is at now – but it is unlikely to become just as big as animal protein just yet,” he said.
“It’s more likely to be a gradual evolution – take the electric car analogy for example, previously it was all only combustion petrol cars everywhere and electric cars were more of a pipe dream, but today there are more and more of these on the roads, and I think plant-based is going to grow the same way.
“Even then, as mentioned before, it is also unlikely that it will replace meat completely, but instead offer up more options to consumers and act as a complementary protein source.
“There are many small firms out there who are seeing this trend and trying to cash in and become overnight millionaires from it, but the thing is that it’s not going to be a big thing right away tomorrow as a lot more investment and education and category awareness needs to be built up before it can reach its full potential.”
Probiotics, healthy ageing and protein are major focus areas of our upcoming Growth Asia Summit in Singapore from 11 to 13 October. Check out big-name brands, international experts and pioneering start-ups slated to present here.