Strategic steps to boost India’s plant-based food market

Sanjay Sethi, Executive Director, Plant Based Foods Industry Association (PBFIA)

In India, a fresh narrative is unfolding in our food ecosystem — one that is about eating sustainably and making good choices for our planet. This story is all about plant-based foods, like a plant–based milk, plant-based meat, plant-based cheese, plant-based seafood, plant-based eggs, and more, made without using animal–based sources of foods. It has been seen globally that the market share is increasing, now we await to bring such a change in India, which is expected to expand to $10 billion by 2033. Plant-based products harness the goodness of crops like soya, peas, millets, oats, moong, rice, and nuts in innovative ways that not only taste great but also mimic their animal-based counterparts.

The plant-based foods industry is going towards becoming mainstream and making our food system efficient. This journey needs a lot of support, and that is where regulators and policymakers come in. They are like the heroes of the story who can embark on the direction of this journey. The EAT Right India Movement by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) aims to transform the country’s food system to ensure safe, healthy, and sustainable food for all Indians. FSSAI in the coming decade can focus on creating a roadmap to help plant-based foods grow and become a bigger part of our lifestyle, building on the EAT Right mission.

India boasts the world’s third-largest start-up ecosystem. Startups and small businesses in the food industry often lack the resources and expertise to navigate complex regulations. Initiatives like ‘Entrepreneurial Development Cell’ supported by FSSAI can encourage new start-ups to develop plant-based products, with training and support. When food enterprises receive training and guidance from regulators, they become better equipped to provide accurate information to consumers about their products. This transparency fosters consumer confidence in the safety and quality of the food they purchase. Regulatory guidance and support can level the playing field, enabling these businesses to compete while upholding safety standards. Collaborating with the government, regulatory bodies, and industry associations, this platform can be harnessed to revolutionise food safety and nutrition through plant-based options.

There are some regulations currently that can make it difficult for plant-based companies to grow. The FSSAI has established stringent guidelines concerning the nomenclature of plant-based food products, especially dairy alternatives. Although these actions aim to enhance consumer awareness, the Plant-Based Foods Industry Association (PBFIA) urges FSSAI to provide labelling guidance that supports rather than hinders the industry. Plant-based milk, used similarly to dairy milk, isn’t a new concept in India; it has been a cultural practice for centuries, using products like coconut and soya “milk” in Indian cuisines. In the USA, the FDA reaffirmed its position in 2023 that terms like “milk” can be used for plant-based products as long as it’s not misleading.

Recognising that ingredients like soya protein, pea protein, and technologies like extrusion techniques have been integral to food production for generations, plant-based food products should be regulated in a manner consistent with the regulation of other food products. PBFIA requests a regulatory framework that positions plant-based products within established food categories: such as cereals, derived from grains, roots, tubers, pulses, and legumes.

FSSAI plays an important role in the industry by helping in making plant-based foods go mainstream. By establishing an Entrepreneurial Development Cell and participating in a Joint Task Force on plant-based foods, they can help the plant-based foods industry thrive and improve how our food system works.

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