China has become a battleground for plant-based meat companies looking to tap into the world’s largest market for meat-consumption.
American plant-based meat company Impossible Foods Inc. said Thursday it is awaiting regulatory approval to enter the China market, while rivals such as Beyond Meat have pushed forward with plans to set up production in China.
Those are just two of the companies with sights set on the 1.4 billion Chinese consumers they hope may join their Western counterparts in seeking alternatives to meat beyond traditional mock meat offerings that already span the spectrum from faux crab to duck breast and steak.
Impossible Foods needs extra regulatory approvals because its plant-based meat products include genetically modified substances including heme, a molecule that imparts a meaty flavor, as well as soy protein
"We’re going through a regulatory process and it takes its time. It’s going well as far as I can tell,” said Impossible Foods CEO Pat Brown told reporters.
Beyond Meat, which announced last week it is opening a factory in an industrial zone near Shanghai, says it does not use any genetically modified ingredients.
Nestle has said it is expanding a plant-based products factory in the northeastern city of Tianjin.
Local Chinese companies such as Zhenmeat and Starfield also are expanding their businesses, partnering with restaurants across the country and even offering vegan-based seafood.
Impossible Foods announced last Thursday the launch of a sausage product in Hong Kong, via menu items in coffee chain Starbucks and some other restaurants.
Impossible Foods' products include plant-based beef, pork and sausage.
Brown said the company plans to build a factory in China and a domestic supply chain for the ingredients it needs so that its products will be manufactured entirely in China.
However, since most plant-based meat products often cost more, breaking into the Chinese market could be challenging.
"The China market is challenging because the food culture and consumer palette are immensely diverse, and the market is very price sensitive,” said Elaine Siu, managing director of The Good Food Institute Asia-Pacific. "However, it’s important not to lose sight of what are the fundamentals that make any food product a market hit -- universally it’s taste, price, and convenience.”
Meat consumption in China has risen steadily since 1990, more than doubling though the pace of increase has slowed in the past decade. As a nation, China consumes more meat than any other country.