These kebabs at Switch Foods are made entirely from non-meat sources Image Credit: Twitter/@Switch_foods

Abu Dhabi: Abu Dhabi now has its production facility for plant-based meat substitutes, with its first products expected to be available on store shelves from May 1 onwards.

Plant-based meat is made from vegetarian sources and meant to be similar to real meat in taste and texture.

Food tech startup Switch Foods, located in the Khalifa Economic Zones Abu Dhabi (KEZAD), is set to become only the second plant-based meat production factory in the UAE. Last month, the first such facility was launched at the Dubai Industrial City by IFFCO Group.

The Switch Foods production centre was inaugurated on Wednesday by Mariam AlMheiri, Minister of Climate Change and Environment.

Fighting climate change

“The food and agriculture sector faces the critical challenge of climate change. We must ensure a healthy and reliable food supply for our people while recognising that global food systems account for over a fourth of greenhouse gas emissions. Plant-based meat generates 30 to 90 per cent fewer greenhouse gas emissions than conventional meat and contributes to a more sustainable food supply,” Al Mheiri said at the launch.

“The inauguration of Switch Foods’ facility is timely as we celebrate the Year of Sustainability and prepare to host COP28 later this year. Our track-record will speak volumes to the world as we focus on a solutions-COP that outlines realistic action for mitigation, adaptation, loss and damage, and climate finance.

“The Ministry of Climate Change and Environment is accelerating national efforts by identifying critical areas of action, with food production being a core pillar. We are investing in a thriving ecosystem that fosters innovation and growth through partnerships and investments in sustainable food production. This project embodies the spirit of public-private collaboration and ingenuity necessary to achieve our food security and climate action objectives,” she added.

Food sustainability

Abdullah Al Hameli, CEO for Economic Cities and Free Zones at the Abu Dhabi Ports Group, said: “It is a proud moment for us at AD Ports Group and KEZAD to be adding an innovative venture like Switch Foods to our well-developed food ecosystem. Innovation and sustainability are key components of our strategic aim of making the UAE the world leader in food security by 2051, with the support of our visionary leadership.”

He added: “Companies like Switch Foods go a long way in supporting this aim of minimising our reliance on food imports. KEZAD’s infrastructure is designed to help investors maximise their output, through the well-developed ecosystems for various industries, including the food sector.”

Plant-based meat market

The global plant-based meat market was estimated to be worth $7.9 billion (Dh29 billion) in 2022, and is forecast to reach $15.7 billion (Dh57.6 billion) by 2027, according to industry analyst ResearchAndMarkets.com.

Local flavours

Switch Foods is therefore aiming cater to local tastes and culinary habits by offering a variety of appetising and sustainable plant-based meat alternatives that embrace regionally popular flavours, including products like the kafta, kebab and sujouk.

“We started with the science, and spent a lot of time in development and working with food scientists. We learnt the technology, then brought it here…Then we worked with chefs to develop products based on local tastes,” said Edward Hamod, founder and CEO at Switch Foods.

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Lower prices

According to the executive, Switch products will be “30 to 40 per cent cheaper” than similar products that are available in the market.

“Producing locally will drop price point tremendously. You cut down your supply chain by two-thirds, and we have a lot of the vegetables and legumes we incorporate into the product that is produced locally. For instance, the kafta product uses tomatoes, parsley and onions produced locally. The [pea] protein-base is [however] imported,” Hamod said.

The new facility spans 20,000 square feet, and can produce a tonne of the product an hour. There is also room to expand production based on demand, and Hamod said the availability of delicious, affordable meat substitutes will encourage more people to incorporate them into their diets.

Encouraging the switch

“We live in the largest meat consumption hub globally, consuming about 55kg per capita per year, even taking into consideration that half of our consumers in the UAE are non-meat consumers. Our mission is not to convert at all, but to get people to reduce their meat intake. The Food and Agriculture Organisation recommends only 20 kilograms of meat consumption per person per year, so we are about triple that in this region. So we are asking consumers to continue enjoying the steaks and burgers they love, but to reduce it, and replace one meal per week, or two meals per month, [with plant-based substitutes],” Hamod explained.