Plant-based meat companies are largely based in two continents: Europe and North America. But in places where alterna-meats could have the largest impact on health and the environment, there are very few options available.
One company working to change that is Good Dot, a startup making plant-based meats, as their website states, “in India, for India, by India.”
Founded in 2016, the Udaipur-based company makes meat alternatives out of soy, wheat, and pea protein. Its flagship product is a vegan mutton, and it also has a dehydrated plant-based “chicken” product and an “egg” scramble in its lineup (some Indians don’t consider eggs vegetarian). The company is also working on a shredded-chicken alternative.
When I first heard about Good Dot, I wondered: in a land where 80 percent of the population believes that cows are sacred, and where vegetarian dishes like palak paneer, lentil-based dal and curried bhindi are the norm, is there really a need for meat alternative?
Apparently, I — and many others — am completely off base here. “It’s a huge misconception that India is a primarily vegetarian country,” said Abhishek Sinha, co-founder and CEO of Good Dot. In fact, he told me that around 72 percent of Indians do consume meat.
In a country of 1.3 billion, that still leaves over 360 million vegetarians. Like most alterna-meat companies, however, Good Dot isn’t just targeting vegetarians. Instead, it markets its products as an easy replacement that tastes as good as meat but is healthier for you (lower saturated fat, etc.) and better for the planet. Good Dot’s products are also shelf-stable, which means that people can store them for long periods of time (up to one year) without worrying about spoilage, as they would with meat.
In order to gain a foothold in the market, however, Sinha knew that Good Dot needed to get its products to cost the same — or less — than regular meat. “We believe that to make plant-based meat mainstream it is important to have cost parity with real meat,” he said. “This is where our strength lies.” Good Dot’s “mutton” is at price parity to its traditional counterpart, and its vegan egg product is cheaper than traditional eggs.
Another challenge Good Dot had to tackle was distribution. Chain grocery stores aren’t common in India; locals rely on smaller neighborhood shops and outdoors markets. To get around this hurdle, Good Dot sells its products through RCM, a direct selling company in India with 7,500 stores, as well as online via the Good Dot website and Amazon. In addition to its direct-to-consumer channel, the company also supplies its plant-based meats to hotels and restaurants throughout India.
In addition to its CPG business, Good Dot also has a food stall franchise called GoodDo which sells fried “chicken” made with Good Dot’s plant-based meat. GoodDo currently has four locations in India, and Sinha told me they plan to open 30 more.
Good Dot currently has a team of around 120 people and has raised an undisclosed amount of funding from New Crop Capital, as well as angel investors.
Its products are only available in India for now, but Sinha said Good Dot is in “advanced stage” talks with Canada and UAE about distribution opportunities. The startup can carve out some space in these markets thanks to the novelty of its products: while Beyond and Impossible already offer vegan burgers and sausages, no one is offering plant-based mutton (yet).
However, the place where Good Dot can make the biggest impact is on its home turf. Demand for meat in India is growing rapidly: as national wealth increases, more and more people are turning to a meat-heavy diet. This shift puts pressure on environmental resources, especially water, and also leads to more greenhouse gas emissions.
A similar dietary change is happening in China, where there’s a growing demand for pork despite the government’s goal to cut meat consumption in half. There, Omnipork is trying to do with pork what Good Dot is doing with chicken and mutton: feed the local demand for meat with a plant-based alternative, one that’s developed specifically for the tastes of the local population instead of the Western world.
The lack of consumer demand for plant-based meat in India is partly because, up to now, there haven’t been good options available. “Bleeding” vegan burgers from Impossible and Beyond wouldn’t make sense in the Indian market, since more than three-quarters of the country are Hindu and don’t eat beef in the first place. By targeting culturally appropriate meats (mutton and chicken), Good Dot has a chance to catalyze demand in the second-highest populated country globally and pave the way for more alterna-meat companies outside the Western world.