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The battle for China's meat-free market

Plant-based omnipork packs for sale at a Green Common plant-based grocery store, operated by Green Monday, in Hong Kong, China, Thursday, June 20, 2019.

Paul Yeung | Bloomberg | Getty Images

U.S. Plant-based "meat" producers targeting China such as Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat will need to battle homemade rivals developing local favorites such as climbing and mooncakes to nab a lucrative market share.

Growth in interest in recent months, with startups, traditional food companies and investors targeting trend-loving Chinese consumers will resort to plant-based protein like their American counterparts.

A devastating swine disease and bruising Sino-American trade war that have combined to push meat prices also play a role.

Among the new players are names such as Zhenmeat and Starfield, while long-time plant-based companies including Whole Perfect Food are rolling out new products.

Ham producer Jinzi Ham saw its share price soar 50% over a week after it announced in October that it would begin selling plant-made meat it developed with Danisco (China) Investment, a unit of US fir m DuPont.

The local company MYS Group has also announced that it is researching similar products.

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

"American and European companies have rich experience in roasting, roasting and baking, we have a different diet and cooking recipes," said Zhou Qiyu, a Whole Perfect Food marketer.

Local flavor

For example, one-year-old Zhenmeat, whose name translates to "tax meat," was touted by Chinese state media as the country's response to Beyond Meat after the used "meat" made from pea-based protein in its mooncakes, a popular snack eaten during the country's Mid-Autumn Festival.

Zhenmeat's co-founder Vince Lu said the company, which has partnered with noodle maker Ya ntai Shuangta Foods, considered making meatballs and dumplings.

"We analyze the taste behind pork, and we take that to make a difference between our competitor from the United States," he said.

Whole Perfect Food, which over the past 20 years has been mostly attended by China's mostly vegetarian Buddhists, recently rolled out a number of sausages made from soy and pea-based protein. The sausages come in 40 varieties, including spicy Sichuan and soy-spiced beef.

Zhou said the company was open to working with foreign companies. Earlier this year, it had conducted a trial collaboration with Walmart, which has since ended, but has partnered with Alibaba Group Holdings' Hema chain and Tencent-supported retailer Yonghui Superstores.

China's "meat-free" market, which includes plant-based products intended to replace meat, has grown 33.5% since 201

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

Impossible Foods has identified mainland China as its foreign market for future expansion and says its Impossible Burger product can be easily adapted for use in Chinese food. [19659002] This month demonstrated the use of its plant-based meat in dishes such as "Impossible Lion's Head Dumpling in Broth" at a high-profile import fair in Shanghai. It says it develops prototypes of many different products, including pork, but has no immediate plans to commercialize them.

"We have many in-depth interests. They are just waiting for us to get clearance to sell in China," said CEO Pat O. Brown, when asked if Impossible Foods had met with retailers and restaurants.

Beyond Meats CEO 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 start production in Asia by the end of next year before finally expanding to China.

"It's the same palate. There's nothing about what we do that prohibits us from making a product that will appeal to the Chinese market," he said.

Taste is king

China is no stranger to foods that use vegetarian ingredients to give a meat-like taste, for years consuming tofu and similar "mock" products made from soybeans. [19659002] Matilda Ho, CEO of Bits x Bites, a Shanghai-based math venture venture capital fund, says first and foremost that companies will need to make products tasty to shift consumers from real meat.

"If you just use peas protein or soy protein and then add a lot of additives to get them to stick together and then sell to the market, there is no real innovation, the taste is really bad, from a consumer perspective, think we will not be able to meet that demand. "

Textures are all that important, said Zhang Xinliang, founder of six-year-old plant-based meat manufacturer Ningbo Sulian Food, citing differences between Chinese and Western cooking.

crazy, "he said." Foreign plant-based foods may not be successful in China because they do not fit the Chinese skinny. "

Swine Pest factor

Market size means great opportunities, and the timing looks good. [19659002KinakastersegfortidenmedstigendepriserpåsvinekjøttbærefestekjøttetetteråhautslåttanslagsvishalvpartenavflokkenpågrunnavenepidemimedafrikansksvinepestEnblåhandelskrigmedUSAharogsåhevetprisenepåstorfekjøttogandrekjøttprodukter

"We think this is a huge driver for the trend of plant-based protein happening in China, but again, it's slow," said Ho of Bits x Bites.

Manufacturers can rely on demand from younger Chinese consumers, many of whom are keen fans of food trends and love to try new dishes.

Among them was 23-year-old Liu Dongyang, a vegetarian who traveled 160km (100 miles) from his home in Guangzhou to try Impossible Foods & # 39; meat-free burger cake in Hong Kong.

She si is that the buzz over plant-based trend has aroused interest in vegan diets from her meat-eating friends.

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

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