One day in November last year, Sohil Wazir called his wife, Akansha Arora, for a short experiment. He placed two plates of “chicken” nuggets before her — one made by a global food giant, and one that was plant-based. He asked her to try both and tell him which one she thought were the real chicken nuggets.
“She argued for several minutes that the plant-based nuggets were the real ones, before she was finally convinced that they were, in fact, not. She couldn’t spot the difference,” says Sohil, a sales and marketing manager at Blue Tribe Food.
Akansha is not the only one — hundreds of customers are unable to spot the difference in these vegan nuggets in terms of taste, texture, and visual appeal.
Launched in November 2020, Blue Tribe Foods introduced plant-based “chicken” nuggets in the market, promising to provide the authentic taste of chicken nuggets while putting all worries about plant-based food, like the taste and texture, to rest. The frozen snack requires frying for only a couple of minutes, and is environment-friendly. The company also plans to roll out plant-based “chicken” keema by the end of January 2021.
Sandeep Singh, founder and managing director of the startup, says the aim of these unique nuggets is to provide alternative guilt-free snacks, which prove less damaging to the environment.
Why does this need arise?
“The real issue the environment and planet are facing right now is that everyone thinks that their protection is someone else’s problem to solve. Though I was a flexitarian (a person who is primarily vegetarian but occasionally eats meat or fish) for a large part of my life, I was aware of the negative impact that animal agriculture has on the environment, and how it will eventually affect humans,” he says.
Sandeep says the vegan product is a conscious attempt to replace animal-based ones in the food supply chain, aiming for a sustainable and healthier future for generations to come. “Meat consumption in its present form is harmful for more than just ethical reasons. Be it the greenhouse gas contributions, the amount of forest land that needs to be replaced to create pastures to host cattle and poultry, or zoonotic diseases — the science against meat consumption is real,” he says.
He adds that plant-based meats consume about eight times less land per kilo, when compared to animal-based. Water requirement is also reduced by 20 times.
Sandeep, who has worked in the pharmaceutical sector, says, “Using research and innovation in food science allows us to provide plant-based meat products that come from sustainable sources, while also being delicious, and positively impacting the environment.”
To make the product successful, experts focused on finding answers to questions like ‘What makes chicken, chicken? What are the characteristics of chicken protein at its most fundamental level?’. The answers were then replicated through plant-based sources, Sandeep says.
Zero antibiotics and cholesterol
Nikki Arora Singh, co-founder of Blue Tribe Food, says that besides having a positive impact on the environment, the product also comes with several health benefits.
“These nuggets don’t contain any steroids and antibiotics that are usually given to the animals while they are being bred in tiny spaces in industrial-sized farms. Zoonotic diseases, like bird flu, Spanish flu, swine flu, and even COVID-19, can be attributed to the conditions prevailing in these farms,” she says.
She adds that the nuggets also have zero cholesterol content. “Cholesterol only comes from animal sources like meat and dairy products. Plant-based meats will never contain it,” she adds.
On the preparedness of the market to accept the product, Nikki says these nuggets aim to attract people who eat meat. “The target consumers are those who like the taste of real meat, but want to make better choices for themselves and the planet. In India, more than 60% of people eat meat. The sheer size of our population makes the country a giant consumer in the meat market, and hence, potentially in the plant-based meat market as well,” she says.
Laying out the statistics, Nikki explains that the company conducted a small survey in July 2020 with consumers between the ages of 20 and 45 years in Mumbai, Delhi, and Bengaluru. “About 62% of meat eaters said they would try out plant-based meat. Almost all of them also said the taste dominated their decision-making process while consuming meat,” she tells The Better India.
These plant-based nuggets can be ordered from the company website, and are available in Mumbai, Delhi, Pune, Bengaluru, and Hyderabad.
(Edited by Divya Sethu)