Along Ann Siang Hill is a butchery where no killing occurs.

Everything works just like a regular meat shop—it even looks the part. But instead of fresh cuts of meat, the menu is entirely vegan-friendly. Raw ingredients are neatly displayed in chillers, sold by the gram, and freshly sliced upon request. Purchases are even wrapped in kraft paper to prolong their shelf life.

We found it hard to believe that this place used to be a burger joint serving greasy stacks to flip the idea that vegan food is bland. Now, it accommodates a growing community of environmentalists and food consumers, who are more aware of their options.

Love Handle is the first plant-based store of its kind in Singapore, bringing together all the best meatless alternatives under one roof.

There are three sections to the store’s extensive selection: uncooked ‘meats’, marinated and ready-to-cook products, and pantry staples. “The market offers so many meat alternatives, but most aren’t available to the general public,” shares head chef Addis Tan.

As he points out, supermarket variants typically carry a limited range of products. “Love Handle hopes to fill in the gaps with items consumers need to cook, including condiments.”

Plant-based butcher and deli Love Handle.
Plant-based butcher and deli Love Handle.

Sign of the Times

A growing appetite can be attributed to the abundance of meatless brands. According to a study published by Abillion, a local vegan food technology company supported by Enterprise Singapore, interest in socially responsible consumption has more than doubled, from 2019 to 2020.

With consumer demand and government support, meat-free innovations have proliferated in recent years: San Francisco-based Eat Just, whose Asian headquarters is in Singapore, has become the first firm outside Japan to offer lab-grown chicken; Tokyo-based Next Meats chose Singapore to launch its plant- based yakiniku; and the Green Monday Group has established an all-vegan dining concept, Green Common Singapore.

(Related: Plant-based meats: 6 meat substitutes to try in Singapore)

Singaporeans are becoming more aware of, interested in, and demanding plant-based products, says David Yeung, co-founder of Green Monday Group and OmniFoods. “I am thrilled to see the market expanding with new plant-based brands mushrooming in Singapore over the past decade.”

The Next Gen Foods’ chicken replacement is a notable addition. To closely mimic the taste and texture of chicken, the company collaborated with chefs to create Tindle Thy, a healthier alternative that carries the Healthier Choice label from the Health Promotion Board. According to COO Alex Ward, “The demand for plant-based foods has surged in recent years, especially in South-east Asia.”

Mott 32's plant- based dishes.
Mott 32’s plant- based dishes.

A sign of the times is the demand for healthy, sustainably produced food. Yeung notes that the ongoing pandemic is an “unexpected catalyst” that accelerated the shift in the dietary habits among people. “We are quickly realising how vulnerable our current food supply chain has become,” he says. “People want safer, healthier alternatives to the current animal-reliant food system.”

Ward shares a similar view: “Consumers are now looking for better options when making purchase decisions; plant-based foods are becoming increasingly popular as these consumers become more selective.”

They are also more discerning, so they won’t accept just any plant-based product. Ward points out that flavour is the key factor in adopting meatless substitutes. “What we see in consumer trends is that people are happier to have sustainable options as long as it doesn’t compromise on taste and texture,” he says. “They are also asking their favourite restaurants for more plant-based meat options, and we expect this trend to continue.”

Feeding Frenzy

The movement to eschew meat originated in the West, and its people continue to push plant-based innovations. Manhattan restaurant Eleven Madison Park, No. 1 on the 2017 World’s 50 Best Restaurant list, announced last year that it would be serving an all-plants tasting menu.

Similarly, Dominique Crenn, who earlier removed all meat (except seafood) from his three Michelin starred Atelier Crenn in San Francisco, has put lab-grown protein back on the menu. In both establishments, fine dining is equally exquisite—even without caviar, foie gras, and other animal-derived delicacies.

With more eateries adopting vegan substitutes, it is impossible to ignore this burgeoning segment of the dining-out industry. Bloomberg Intelligence figures from 2021 estimate that the market for plant-based foods could reach $162 billion in 2030, up from $29.4 billion in 2020.

Plant-based alternatives are here to stay, as senior consumer staples analyst Jennifer Bartashus points out: “Food-related consumer habits often come and go as fads, but plant-based alternatives are here to stay and grow.”

Grilled mushroom features in Bedrock Origin's Steak Diane.
Grilled mushroom features in Bedrock Origin’s Steak Diane.

From casual concepts, like burrito chain Stuff’d, which substituted its regular beef supply with Impossible mince between last November and this February, to fancier hang-outs, such as Level33, which holds vegan events every last Monday of the month, this seed has naturally taken root in Singapore as well.

Mott 32, a modern Chinese restaurant in Marina Bay Sands, has also carved out a separate section of its menu for meatless dishes, including Sichuan chicken, crispy eel, and sweet and sour pork.

Co-founder Malcolm Wood says: “Restaurants are historically not regarded as sustainable businesses, but we have been looking for ways to improve—from using sustainable ingredients to incorporating plant-based meats.”

Wood also says it ties into wellness, “not necessarily by eating low-calorie or diet meals, but by making good choices that benefit both consumers and the planet.”

With more people making a conscious effort to eat better, even meat-centric restaurants are becoming more inclusive. Steakhouse Bedrock Origin, known for its prime cuts and smoke-kissed seafood, now also serves a vegan Beef Wellington, grilled mushroom steak, and other options.

(Related: Vegan restaurants to start on those New Year resolutions)

Plant-based food is more than just eating salads or vegetables, says Issac Tay, head of culinary and product innovations. “Whether the motivation is due to the health benefits of plant-based diets, or more sustainable food production, the meat in your meals can now be easily substituted without sacrificing flavour or nutrition.”

Watering holes can also be made sustainable. Chijmes’ Analogue is a plant-based bar and restaurant—a first of its kind in Singapore. Opened by Vijay Mudaliar, owner of Native, No 18 on the World’s 50 Best Bars list 2021, it offers a novel drinks list reimagined with sustainable ingredients, and bar bites include spice-scented jackfruit tacos and meat-free nuggets.

“Most unethical farming occurs in the meat industry. Hence, we decided to entirely plant-based,” says Mudaliar. “We hope to start a conversation with them, and inspire and be inspired by the opportunities the future brings.”

(Related: Dine at these 4 restaurants that minimise food waste)

Green Common Singapore offers an all-vegan menu.
Green Common Singapore offers an all-vegan menu.

Eating Right

That future requires reimagining what eating a plant-based diet means.

With Love Handle, home cooks can go beyond dining out and opting for meatless dishes. Tan has curated ready-to-cook products for Asian palates, and a growing selection of plant-based brands.

Egg mayonnaise, ginger soy mince, and a luncheon meat dish based on a family recipe are available for purchase, and can easily be added to any recipe. “We are adding value to products, and making them more flavourful and convenient for customers,” says the chef.

The process involves a lot of trial and error, says Love Handle’s CEO and co- founder, Ken Kuguru. “But we do that so that the consumer doesn’t have to. This reduces barriers for customers.”

It was also for this reason that Love Handle was conceived and designed to best mimic a mum and pop meat shop. With a variety of fresh, healthy ingredients at its fingertips, the one-stop plant-based destination hopes to emulate the warmth of a neighbourhood butcher.

Kuguru paints a picture: “You can still get that one-to-one engagement; someone will explain what kind of meat-free option is best; maybe you’d even get a free sample.”

(Related: Vegans in Singapore rejoice: 3 restaurants serve up new offerings)