By Kim Seung-yeon
LAS VEGAS, Jan. 8 (Yonhap) -- Sustainable food is a promising area worth betting on not only businesswise but also for its social and environmental impact, one of the reasons why SK is targeting Asia and Europe for a market expansion, a senior SK executive has said.
Kim Dae-jung, vice president at SK Inc.'s Green Investment Center, said SK and its food tech partners intend to team up with local food and beverage companies in those two regions for partnerships to localize and sell various food items made with non-animal ingredients.
"The sustainable food market has achieved a great deal of technological advances in the past few years, to a point where they're really starting to taste like the real food," Kim said during an interview with Yonhap News Agency on Friday on the sidelines of CES 2023 in Las Vegas.
"We thought this was an area worth investing in. It aligns well with the social and environmental values that SK has committed to," he said.
SK Inc, the holding company of South Korea's SK Group, has invested more than US$100 million since 2019 in U.S. and British food tech companies that produce alternative foods.
The food items range from plant-based dairy proteins, with which milk and cream cheese can be made, fungi-derived animal-free protein and plant-based meat patties.
The most recent was the $8 million investment in Wildtype Foods, a California-based producer of alternative seafood, best known for its "lab-grown" salmon cultivated from cells.
Cell-based food is the most expensive currently, as it requires a sophisticated technology to be able to grow the cells at scale, and design the right structure, or "scaffolding," to grow the cells in the right shape, Kim said.
"Wildtype has succeeded in producing a whole cut salmon out of it, and it has even made the white lines that you see on real raw salmon," Kim said. "With these sustainable foods, we believe we can further advance into other parts of Asia besides Korea."
SK said in November last year it signed an initial agreement with Maeil Dairies Co., a major South Korean dairy producer, and Perfect Day, one of SK's food tech partners, to push for a joint venture in Korea to bring Perfect Day's products into the local market.
SK and the two partners plan to take the partnership further into Asia by collaborating with local food companies.
For Europe, SK is working with Meatless Farm, a British producer of plant-based burger patties and hot dogs, to establish and expand its foothold in the region, as well as China, Kim said.
"We want to help our partners grow into global firms," he said. "We'll start off with Asia first, and then beyond, to create the synergy that can elevate the values of these businesses."