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The battle for meatless in China

Plant-based omnipork packets are on sale for sale at a Green Common-based grocery store, run by Green Monday, in Hong Kong, China, on Thursday, June 20, 2019.

Wrong Paul Yeung? Bloomberg | Pictures of Getty

U.S. plant-based "meat" manufacturers targeting China such as Impossible Foods and More Meat will have to fight homegrown rivals who develop local favorites such as dumplings and mooncakes to capturing a profitable market. rising interest in recent months, with startups, traditional food businesses and investors betting on trendy Chinese people to take on plant-based protein like their US counterparts.

A devastating swine disease and a painful Sino-US trade war combined to push meat prices also play a role.

New players include names such as Zhenmeat and Starfield, while longtime plant-based companies including Whole Perfect Food are releasing new products.

Ham producer Jinzi Ham saw its share price rise 50% a week after announcing in October that it would begin the sale of meat protein plant it developed with Danisco (China) Investment, a US fir unit

Local company MYS Group is also announced to be conducting research on similar products.

But unlike Impossible Food or Beyond Meat, most Chinese companies do not make burgers, instead focusing on local dishes such as dumplings, mooncakes or meatballs, and pork selection. rather than beef flavors in recognition of local palates.

"American and European companies have rich experiences in frying, baking, and baking, we have a different culture of dieting and cooking recipes," said Zhou Qiyu, a executive executive at Whole Perfect Food .

Local taste

A year old Zhenmeat, whose name translates to "meat of wealth", for example, has been touted by the Chinese state media as the country's answer to Beyond Meat after its use the "meat" made from peas based on the mooncakes, a popular snack eaten during the country's Mid-Autumn Festival.

Zhenmeat co-founder Vince Lu said the company, which is partnering with noodle maker Ya ntai Shuangta Foods, is looking into making balls and dumplings.

"We evaluate the taste behind pork, and we do that to make a difference between our competitor from the US," he said.

Whole Foods Perfect, which for 20 years has been mainly devoted to the majority of Chinese Buddhist Buddhists, recently launched a range of soy and pea-based protein sausages. The sausages come in 40 varieties, including spicy Sichuan and beef-flavored soy sauce.

Zhou said the firm was open to working with foreign companies. Earlier this year held a trial partnership with Walmart graduates but in collaboration with Hema chain Alibaba Group Holding and Tencent-backed Yonghui Superstores.

The "meat free" market, which includes plant-based products to replace meat, has grown 33.5% since 201

4 worth $ 9.7 billion last year, according to Euromonitor. It predicts the industry will be worth $ 11.9 billion by 2023.

Impossible Food has identified mainland China as its No.1 overseas market for future expansion and said Impossible Burger product we can easily adapt it for use in Chinese cuisine. [19659002] This month it has shown the use of plant-based meat in dishes such as "Impossible Lion's Head Dumpling in Broth" at a high-profile Shanghai import. It said it was developing prototypes of many different products including pork but there was no immediate plan to commercialize them.

"We have tons coming in. They are just waiting for us to get clearance to sell in China," said its CEO Pat O. Brown, when asked if Impossible Food was meeting with retailers and restaurants.

Beyond Meat & # 39; s executive chairman Seth Goldman told Reuters that it plans to customize pea-based meat for the Chinese market to make dumplings and other products. The company aims to begin production in Asia by the end of next year before eventually expanding to China.

"It is the same fate. There is nothing about what we are doing that prohibits us from making a product that will appeal to the Chinese market," he said.

Taste is king

China is no stranger to food that uses vegetarian ingredients to provide flavors like meat, for years consuming tofu and similar "mock meat" foods. product made with soy sauce. 19659002] Matilda Ho, managing director of Bits x Bites, a Shanghai-based food tech venture capital fund, says first and foremost, companies will need to make delicious products to move consumers away from real meat.

"If you just use pea protein, or soy protein, and then add lots of additives to make them stick together and then sell on the market, there is no real change, the taste is really bad, from one perspective consumer, we do not believe that demand will be able to meet the oversupply. "

Texture is thus the key, said Zhang Xinliang, founder of six-year-old plant-based meat manufacturer Ningbo Sulian Food, which cites the differences between Chinese and Western cooking.

"The texture of the Yangzhou-style meatball is very dimpled, while the meatball hotpots are crisp," he said. "Foreign plant-based foods may not succeed in China because they do not fit the Chinese stomachs."

Swine fever factor

Market size means that many opportunities are likely, and the timing looks good. ] China is currently catching up on rising prices for pork, its main meat, after culling an estimated half of its flock due to an africine swine epidemic of Africa. A bruising trade war with the United States has also raised prices for beef and other meat products.

"We believe this is a major driver for the plant-based protein trend that is happening in China, but again, slow," said Ho of Bits x Bites.

Manufacturers can expect demand from younger Chinese consumers, many of whom are avid followers of food trends and love to try new cuisines.

Among them is 23-year-old Liu Dongyang, a vegetarian who traveled 160 km (100 miles) from his home in Guangzhou to try the impossible meatless burger grown in Hong Kong.

He claims that the buzz in the plant-based trend has sparked interest in vegan diets from his meat diet. friends.

"My friends used to think vegetables and meat were completely different kinds of food. But now when we go to restaurants that serve plant-based food, they are very satisfied and interested. "

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