India is thought to have the most vegetarians globally, with up to 42% of people avoiding meat products. Vezlay was one of the first major Indian companies to recognise this opportunity when it was founded by Amit Bajaj in 2010. Today, Vezlay makes meat and egg alternatives primarily for the Indian market, and adapted for the tastes of its consumers. Their products can be found with distributers and retailers including Walmart, Reliance, Le Marche, Spar and Spencer’s. The products also appear in high-end hotels including Hyatt, Radisson, Le-Meridian, Shangrila, ITC, Taj, Leela. With strong growth from coming from northern India, they have now set their sights of the rest of India and beyond.
The company was founded by businessman Amit Bajaj in 2010. The idea emerged when Amit was studying in Europe. He came across the concept of plant-based meat and was impressed by the innovation and variety of products available. A vegetarian himself, he decided to bring this inspiration home and launch the concept in India. With approximately 40% of the Indian population being vegetarian at the time (many for religious reasons), there was certainly a sizeable market for these products.
At the time, meat-substitutes were limited mostly to TVP (texturised vegetable protein) soya chunks and nuggets. These plain, dehydrated products required preparation, flavouring and a lot of imagination to substitute meat in dishes. Amit recognised there would be a demand for better-tasting, healthier, meat-free products. Soya was chosen as a main ingredient due to its health beneﬁts as a low-fat, nutrient-dense source of protein and its ability to absorb flavours and mimic the taste and texture of meat. Soon after, a manufacturing plant was opened in Delhi and after two years of research and development, the company began trading in 2012.
Today, Vezlay makes over 40 products, mostly soy-based items with a high protein content in two different categories: frozen and ambient. The ambient range includes soy versions of popular meat items such as chicken pieces, kababs, and chops. The frozen range includes soya shish kebabs, shawarma-style kebabs, chicken pieces, nuggets and chaap sicks. The next products in their pipeline include vegan sausages, salami, burgers, momos, mayonnaise and scrambled eggs.
At first, promoting plant-based meat was challenging. Despite slow beginnings, as the concept of veganism grew globally, so did acceptance of these types of products in India. This was made easier by the products being designed specifically for the Indian palate. The food was popular not just with vegans and vegetarians, but also non-vegetarians. The company found that many consumers wanted to avoid meat but had not previously been able to find a healthy tasty protein substitute. Vezlay satisfied that need by offering a healthy soy-based option.
One of the major challenges in the start of their business was a lack of awareness of the possibilities of plant-based food. Amit Bajaj explains: “As pioneers in the sector, when the market size was small, we had to work hard not just to create a market but also to educate the consumer. We did extensive sampling at trade shows and festivals, wrote articles, talked about the product and plant-based sector in the media, and did lots of digital marketing including our YouTube channel which has lots of cooking demonstrations.”
Amit Bajaj describes the thinking behind the company ethos “We are a vegetarian family and from our research into the sector we found that a vegan meat enterprise made good business sense. The global packaged vegan food market is expected to grow at a rate of around 12% annually and is expected to be worth $15.1 billion by 2026.
Vegetarian food is increasingly seen as healthier than non-vegetarian options, especially in the Indian context. Millennials and generation Z consumers are making more conscious choices. People are becoming more aware of health and hygiene issues around meat, especially since swine flu, bird flu and Covid-19.”
Vezlay has ambitious plans for the next year, including moving to 100% plant-based ingredients (curd is currently used in the marinate for the kebabs but this will be replaced by a plant-based substitute). The company is developing more protein-rich everyday plant-based products.
They are also working to keep prices as low as possible to encourage more people to give their products a try. Amit concluded “We firmly believe that the future of food is vegetarian and plant-based. We want to encourage consumers to continue to make conscious choices that are good for their health and the planet.”