Asia goes plant-based

Both mainstream brands and startups are offering plant-based alternatives, and soon cultured Meat, to appeal not only to vegetarians and vegans but also to meat eaters.

Beyond Meat, a Los Angeles-based company, announced this month that its Beyond Burgers would soon be available at China’s Hema Supermarkets, known also as Freshippo. Alibaba’s chain of smart supermarkets is known for offering a seamless experience online and offline. It offers everything from live fish tanks to in-store dining, contactless payments, and home delivery.

Starbucks China will begin serving Beyond Meat’s beef-substitute in April 2020. Starbucks has also added a Vietnamese Noodle Salad sprinkled with Omnipork pork substitute and oat milk from the Swedish brand Oatly.

KFC is also testing faux chicken nuggets made of soy, pea, and wheat protein in the trendy cities of Shanghai and Guangzhou.

These efforts are part of a global effort by food giants to expand plant-based meals around the globe. They’re noteworthy because, in China and Asia, meat consumption has steadily increased in recent years. This is correlated with rising incomes.

According to Euromonitor, although Chinese meat consumption is still lower than that in Western countries per capita, the Chinese market grew from 145 billion dollars in 2015 to 155 billion dollars in 2019. This was almost double the US meat market.

But meat alternatives have also gained in popularity. China spent $9.6 billion on meat alternatives in 2019 compared to $7.1 billion in 2015. In Asia Pacific, meat alternatives accounted for 15.3 billion dollars in 2019. This is up from $12.9 in 2015.

Health & Ethics

Asia is the home of Indian vegetarian cuisine, as well as mock meat dishes from Buddhist temples. As societies become wealthier, more people consume Meat. This raises questions about animal farming’s impact on the environment. In particular, young people say that they are rethinking the food they consume for ethical and health reasons.

A survey conducted by Wunderman Thompson Intelligence in 2009 of 4,500 teenagers and young adults from nine Asian markets found that 56% said they were trying to eat less beef, 70% said they read food labels, and 60% said they only eat natural foods.

Covid-19 has become the latest catalyst. Elaine Siu of the Good Food Institute Asia Pacific told Wunderman Thompson Intelligence that the alternative protein sector was the one to see growth during the pandemic in both China and the US.

It is expected to continue doing well in 2020 and beyond because it is less susceptible to disruptions to the supply chain and perishability. The interest of consumers in alternative proteins has also increased during this period, as they have become more health-conscious and motivated by crisis resilience.”

In late 2018, when China’s first food technology accelerator, Bits x Bites, held its first China Food Tech Summit, it attracted a diverse group of vegans, scientists who advocated chickpea, algae, and chickpea protein, and venture capitalists.

The community has grown so much that last month, [June], the APAC Chapter of the Good Food Institute announced the inaugural Asia Alt 100. It includes producers, products, and investors, as well as R&D players.

Siu said, “Protein alternatives are already mainstream, and we see that as inevitable due to the inherent problems in traditional animal farming, including conversion inefficiency and environmental impact on public health.” We also see an increasing interest by corporations to create products that are tailored for diverse Asian palates and cultures.

In this area, the Asia Alt 100 will compete with some of the largest food producers around.

Charoen Pokphand Foods is Thailand’s largest agribusiness, and it is a major exporter of seafood and pork. This year, the company will introduce plant-based substitutes for Meat to meet the growing demand from “flexitarians” who choose to avoid Meat at least once a week.

Meanwhile, Nestle–the world’s largest food and beverage company–said in May it would pump $103.6 million into expanding its facilities in the Tianjin Economic-Technological Development Area in northeast China to produce plant-based foods.

The Asian palate

For meat substitutes to become mainstream, they need to be compatible and work with Asian traditional cooking. The new startups are focusing on this.

Zhenmeat, a Beijing-based startup, recently launched plant-based products for Chinese cuisines like hotpot and dim sum. They are made from peas, mushrooms, brown rice, and soy and include sausages, steaks, mooncakes, and meatballs.

Vince Lu Zhongming, founder of Zhenmeat, told the South China Morning Post that the company is working to approximate heme – the patented iron molecule that gives Impossible Foods Meat substitutes their meaty taste.

Shiok Meats, a Singaporean company, is working to develop lab-grown seafood in order to combat the problems of shrimp farms that destroy mangroves and spread disease. The company has raised $ 7.6 million from US accelerator Y Combinator, among others, and is currently building its first manufacturing facility in Singapore.

Shiok also tries to grow lobster and crab meat in laboratories using cellular technology. Shiok products will be available commercially in a few short years, according to the company.

This will likely result in more options for everyone, not fewer.

As supermarkets now offer soya and almond milk, GFI’s Siu envisions a future in which the meat aisle includes plant-based alternatives as well as cultivated meats such as wagyu and foie gras and new foods that combine animal and plant origins.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *