This alt-meat startup aims to avert climate change with its plant-based chicken nuggets

Plant-based meats are more environment-friendly and healthier than animal meats that are usually pumped full of antibiotics and steroids. Mumbai-based Blue Tribe is fast emerging as a gamechanger for the Indian alt-meat industry.
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The livestock industry puts more pollutants into the environment than cars and vans, and contributes significantly to green cover erosion and droughts than any other climate change-causing sources.

Researchers have found a way to help us enjoy meats we want to, but in an environmentally safer way: alternative meats, aka vegetarian, fake, or plant-based meat.

The alt-meat movement started several decades ago, but it really only took off as part of the ‘healthy alternative’ concept when US-based alt-meat company Beyond Meat went public on the NASDAQ in an eye-popping rally that has continued into 2020.

In India, EVO Foods, a plant-based liquid egg maker, spearheaded the conversation around alt-meats and vegetarian proteins. EVO Foods boasts marquee names in the global plant and cell-based food industry as investors, advisors, and mentors. They include US-Asia impact venture capital firm Big Idea Ventures (BIV) and Ryan Bethencourt, CEO of US-based clean protein dog food maker Wild Earth, which is backed by billionaire entrepreneurs and investors Peter Thiel and Mark Cuban.

The latest startup to join EVO in its aim to further the cause of safe, sustainable foods is Blue Tribe, a Mumbai-based startup founded by Sandeep Singh and Nikki Arora Singh.

Blue Tribe Founders Nikki Arora Singh and Sandeep Singh

Set up in 2019, the still-nascent but rapidly growing alt-meats venture launched its vegetarian chicken nuggets exactly a month ago, and has already received more traction than it had anticipated - including demand from a large luxury hotel chain and a few fast-food restaurants.

The market for plant-based meats has grown in the West with companies like JUST, Beyond Meat, and Impossible. They have shown that it is possible to have a company that is good for business AND good for the environment. That’s the kind of success model we want to bring to India,” Sandeep tells YourStory.

Blue Tribe started working on R&D out of a lab in Mumbai in 2019, and is focused on replicating the characteristics of meat protein and fat via plant-based proteins extracted from plants such as soybean, peas, pulses, etc.

Dr Navneet Deora, the startup’s chief technology officer, heads the lab, along with consultant chef Nirvaan Thacker. Dr Navneet holds a PhD in food science and technology from IIT-Kharagpur, and has worked with companies such as Nestle and Jubliant in the fields of alternative meat and dairy, while Chef Nirvaan, an alumnus of the Culinary Institute of America, has collaborated with multiple restaurants and hotels in India.

The brains (and tastebuds) behind the taste, texture, and cooking properties of the startup’s existing and upcoming products, the duo has been looking for ways to develop alt-meats that closely resemble chicken and mutton – the two types of meat most widely eaten in India, as opposed to beef in the West.

Plant-based chicken dinners

Blue Tribe’s plant-based chicken nugget is made up of a blend of protein isolated from soybean and peas, as well as a fibre that helps give it a chicken meat-like texture.

Typically, each type of live meat comprises protein at the most basic level, which, when combined with animal fat, gives it a characteristic taste, texture and flavour.

“Our R&D breaks down the protein to its constituents, which we can then replicate from a plant-based source. Since each meat's protein is different, we use different plant-based proteins to replicate the properties of the animal protein best,” Sandeep explains.

The alt-meat contains almost the same nutritional value as live meat, and is actually better because it is free of cholesterol, animal cruelty, antibiotic, and, of course, guilt.

Apart from nuggets, the startup plans to add plant protein-based kebabs, sausages, and burger patties, among others, to its pipeline. It will launch its minced chicken-alternative soon.

Blue Tribe's plant-based minced chicken offering

Expanding reach and accelerating growth

Blue Tribe says its target audience is non-vegetarian consumers who want to make better choices for themselves by staying away from antibiotic and steroid-loaded meats, but don’t want to give up the taste of meat.

At present selling directly to customers in Mumbai and via some e-grocers, the startup has seen demand from luxury hotel chains, HoReCas, and QSRs. It plans to tap all formats of supply to increase its reach and accelerate growth.

“We want to get bigger and more approachable to everyone in the market,” Sandeep says.

The bootstrapped startup says its biggest competitor is the animal meat market. However, the same population makes for a potential clientele in the company, Sandeep adds.

The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates that we have until 2030 to prevent global temperatures rising by 1.5 ◦C, after which severe impacts of climate change, such as prolonged droughts, floods, and climate refugee migration increase substantially.

With researchers estimating that the global plant-based meat market will grow at a CAGR of 12 percent to $3.39 billion by 2025, from $1.63 billion in 2019, the growth could allay some climate change concerns that stem from the livestock industry.

Edited by Teja Lele Desai