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Blue Tribe Foods Co-founder Nikki Arora Singh talks to Jumpstart about the startup’s plant-based meat products, the market in India, and why these products are important for sustainability.
Every second, one to two acres of rainforests are cleared for animal rearing and agriculture. Along with deforestation, animal agriculture accounts for 14.5% of all human greenhouse gas emissions annually. Growing awareness around the environmental costs of animal husbandry and the meat industry has led plant-based meat startups to surge on a tidal wave of popularity.
Demand for sustainable meat options is growing for good reason. Livestock farming uses huge amounts of water. 92% of freshwater is used in farming, with one-third of it used for rearing livestock and manufacturing animal products.
The global demand for beef and other ruminant meats is expected to grow by 88% between 2010 and 2050. According to the World Economic Forum, meeting this demand would require pasturelands larger than the size of India. The extensive deforestation required to clear this pastureland, combined with the emissions from the animals themselves, would further aggravate the climate crisis.
As a solution to this crisis, several startups across the globe have been working on plant- and cell-based meat products. In December last year, Singapore became the world’s first country to approve the sale of lab-grown meat.
According to Statista, the global market value of plant based-meat is expected to reach around US$35.5 billion in 2027, compared to $11.1 billion in 2019. Meanwhile in India, the meat substitutes market is expected to reach over $47.57 million by the end of the fiscal year 2026.
“The real issue facing our environment right now is that everyone thinks it’s someone else’s problem to solve,” Nikki Arora Singh, Co-founder of Blue Tribe Foods, tells Jumpstart. “With a growing child, we see the real-time issues. So me and my husband, fortunately, decided that we aren’t the people who want to just see, but actually act on it.”
Blue Tribe Foods is a Mumbai-based alt-meat startup that provides plant-based alternatives to meat. Singh, along with her husband Sandeep, set up the venture last year “to bring in a completely new era and new thought on food in India.”
“We know that industrial-scale animal farming is unsustainable. We want to leave a better world for not just our daughter but for the next generation,” Singh says.
Why is plant-based meat important to sustainability?
“Meat consumption in its present form is harmful to the planet – and hence to humans – for more than just ethical reasons,” Singh says. “Be it greenhouse gas contributions, forested land which will need to be converted to pasture, zoonotic diseases, or even the use of steroid and antibiotics in animals – the science against animal-based meat consumption is for real.”
“While animal meat or dairy consumption may have been important from an evolutionary standpoint, it’s no longer relevant,” she says, adding that we can replicate the taste and the nutrient profile of animal meat through plant-based sources.
This, she adds, requires only a fraction of the resources of animal meat. “It tastes, feels, and cooks the same and is a whole lot better for the environment and for us,” she says.
Elaborating on the health benefits of plant-based meat, Singh says that all plant-based products are completely cholesterol-free, as cholesterol only comes from animal sources. The products from Blue Tribe Foods, for instance, offer the same nutritional value in terms of protein as the animal counterparts, but sans the steroids and antibiotics.
Setting up Blue Tribe Foods
Around one and a half years ago, Singh’s husband visited the Good Food Institute (GFI), an international nonprofit organization that promotes plant-based alternatives to meat, dairy, and eggs, in California. The experience was an eye-opener for him.
Seeing potential in India for plant-based meat, the duo began researching the products they could introduce into the market. At its core, their aim was to make products that look, feel, taste, and cook exactly like animal meat.
As opposed to the Western meat market, where beef is the most-consumed meat, chicken takes the top spot in India. As a result, Blue Tribe decided to start off with plant-based chicken meat alternatives.
In November last year, they soft-launched Blue Tribe Foods with plant-based chicken nuggets. Recently, they also launched plant-based chicken keema or minced chicken, a versatile product that can be used in a variety of Indian as well as international dishes. Sausages, kebabs, and, burger patties are next in the pipeline.
To date, Blue Tribe has expanded to six cities – Mumbai, Pune, Bengaluru, Ahmedabad, Chennai, and Hyderabad – and plans to be in ten cities by April. Financially, the company is almost at break even.
“With the launch of keema now we are doubling [revenues] every month and hopefully that should continue as we add more products to our catalog,” Singh says.
Initially a jewelry designer, Singh launched her brand, Nikki Arora Fine Jewellery, in 2013. However, after having a child, she had to put the venture on hold. Then Blue Tribe came along.
“[Blue Tribe] is more like a baby to me,” Singh says. “After my daughter, we realized that this is more important – how we could do something better for the world.”
How plant-based chicken is made
Over the past year and a half, the team has been building their expertise in the plant-based meat space from scratch. Currently, they have a fully functional in-house R&D lab. The R&D team works closely with Nirvaan Thacker, their consultant chef, who has worked for multiple restaurants and hotels in the last few years.
“The products we make [are] reverse engineered,” Singh explains. “We take the product we want to replicate, say chicken nuggets, and then try to figure out which plant protein can give the same kind of texture and mouth feel and then flavor it to make it taste exactly like chicken.”
While the nuggets are made from proteins extracted from soy and peas, the mince is extracted from soy. Additionally, the sausages they are planning to launch will be completely extracted from pea protein.
Target consumers in India
“Non-vegetarians with a conscience” is how Singh defines their target consumers. “We want to appeal to non-vegetarians to reduce their meat consumption and replace it with plant-based sources. And definitely, vegans are welcome,” she says.
Singh adds that India’s huge population makes it a large meat market and hence, a potentially large plant-based meat market. However, India still has a long way to go in terms of awareness about the impact of animal agriculture. But Singh believes that there has been a positive change in that direction.
“As a community, we are becoming more and more aware of what we eat, and the recent pandemic has hastened that process,” she says. “This collective consciousness needs to grow exponentially if we are to create a positive impact for ourselves and for the little blue planet we call home.”
Singh claims that their first product, plant-based chicken nuggets, was a huge hit with consumers, who couldn’t tell the difference between real chicken and its plant-based alternative.
While the founders of Blue Tribe knew what they wanted to achieve from the onset, the journey behind getting the products to the market has been intense, Singh recalls.
“Right from getting a team in place, figuring out raw material suppliers – not just domestically but internationally – to create a fantastic product, to getting the right partnerships in place for manufacturing and distribution, it was challenging,” she says.
Going forward, the challenge of convincing a majority of the population that meat in its present form is bad for humans and the planet, is yet to come.
“For food lovers too, you’re kind of making a difference in each person’s views,” she says. “Hopefully, we could get to that mindset where people actually turn into vegan or vegetarians and still enjoy the chicken or meat [flavors through] plant-based food.”
Images courtesy of Blue Tribe Foods