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Local Firm Eyes Global Expansion In Booming Alternative Protein Industry

KUALA LUMPUR: Domestic alternative protein firm Ultimeat is eyeing the United States (US), China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Indonesian markets.

Ultimeat co-founder and chief executive officer Edwin Lee said there are about seven alternative plant-protein-producing companies locally.

Ultimeat founder and chief executive officer Edwin Lee said there are about seven alternative plant-protein-producing companies locally.

The company see strong demand in Malaysia and globally for the alternative protein industry.

According to Ernst & Young, the sustainable, alternative protein industry in Malaysia is projected to reach US$17.4 billion in 2027.

Another data and analytics company GlobalData, reports that the local meat substitutes market is set to expand at a value compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of 7.4 per cent throughout 2023 to 2027.

Protein products like tofu, obtained from soybeans, registered a global market size of US$2.75 billion in 2022 and expanded at a CAGR of 15.16 per cent to reach US$6.43 billion from the 2023-2030 forecast period.

Industry stakeholders have noted a surge in demand for newer alternative protein products in the global and local markets in recent decades.

Strikingly evident today are newer varieties of plant-based alternatives made from quinoa and other sources displayed on supermarket shelves.

Plant-based nuggets, burgers, and minced meat are the common consumables visible in the cold section as they are readily accessible and affordable to the community.

Noting this significant demand for plant-based products, United States entrepreneur Alfred C Cheung, a certified food scientist, has set his foot on this rosy trail with his founder and chief executive officer Edwin Lee.

Having set up their own company called Ultimeat, both men are bent on riding the gravy train in this area of food production.

Speaking to The Exchange Asia recently, Cheung said that he is aware that the average Malaysian supermarket sells a range of varied plant-based proteins like soy-based tofu or wheat-based seitan, and many of these products are great choices for local consumers.

According to him, plant-based protein has a growing middle-class and flexitarian niche market, with consumers always looking for delicious alternative protein sources.

“It is here that we saw the opportunity to embark on this ultra-modern food production venture,” said Cheung.

Ultimeat, established in 2021, is up and running, rolling out plant-based proteins from soy.

The company is transitioning to mycoprotein, derived from fungi, as its main ingredient.

“Yes, our feedstock fodder is fungi. We intend to introduce the wonderful world of ‘mycoprotein’, a revolutionary fungi-derived product that is, though a little underrated, economically viable, and an eco-friendly alternative to traditional animal proteins,” he said.

Asked if local consumers would take to this plant-based food derived from fungi, he said Malaysians love trying new and interesting foods, and there are still many lesser-known and potentially more suitable alternative proteins out there that can be harnessed to provide protein food choices to the growing local market.

“Not only do these products have a lower environmental impact than animal agriculture, but they also make up an essential part of vegetarian and vegan diets, with the necessary amino acids for building and repairing tissues in the body,” said Cheung.

According to him, mycoprotein is created through a process known as biomass fermentation.

The process uses the high protein content and rapid growth of microorganisms—in this case, fungi—to efficiently make large amounts of protein-rich food.

Since fermentation is a natural process, this has the added benefit of being much cheaper than other methods of creating alternative protein products.

He said the extrusion method uses moisture, high heat, and mechanical energy to produce meat substitutes in seconds.

While the extrusion process is quicker, it is significantly more expensive.

In contrast, fermentation uses less energy and utilises carbon and nitrogen sources, which, as a bonus, is better for the environment.

According to Edwin Lee, there are about seven alternative plant-protein-producing companies locally.

When suggested that the playing field could be crowded with seven players competing for the market share, Lee said Ultimeat is committed to operating alongside the environment, social, and governance practices, offering plant-based food and its soon-to-be-launched mycoprotein alternatives, aiming to reduce environmental impact without sacrificing nutrition and taste.

“By leveraging efficient lab-based production to lower carbon footprints and ensuring its products are both healthy and flavourful, we are showcasing our commitment to sustainability, affordability, and quality. These salient factors position Ultimeat products as the preferred choice,” he said.

Lee also disclosed that Ultimeat is eyeing the opportunity to reach further horizons by exporting its products to the US, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Indonesia as early as this year.

“Our products are supplied to retailers, supermarkets, food service and hotel industries. We are also developing newer products such as meal replacement shakes and ready-to-drink products to complement our existing range of products.

“Our base fodder is mycoprotein, which offers an umami flavour, meat-like texture, and a slew of nutritional alignment with our mission to provide healthy, sustainable food options without compromising taste or environmental integrity.

“We are committed to pioneering mycoprotein as a key player in the future of our food,” he added.

Ultimeat, which started operations with an initial investment capital of US$2.20 million, has a total staff strength of 35 employees.

When asked to comment on the expected return on investments (ROI), Lee said the company’s current stance is to shift the focus from traditional ROI metrics to a broader impact on the food system.

“Our investment goes beyond financial gains. We aim to improve sustainability and nutrition within the global food industry significantly.

“We want to contribute to a more sustainable, healthy, and equitable food future that aligns with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals,” he said.

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