Food Writer’s Point of View: How Can Plant-Based Meat Successfully Enter the Chinese Market?

Author/Photo: Jocelyn Chen

Pan-fried buns made with plant-based meat, special thanks: YongFoo Élite, duration: 2mins

Plant-based meat was originally created to reduce the environmental impact caused by human increases in the demand for meat. In a way, it provides the best of both worlds, humans can obtain the satisfaction of eating meat whilst at the same time do their part to protect the environment. In less than a year, the use of plant-based meat is clearly visible in China. Stores such as Starbucks, KFC have both launched plant-based meat and at present, you can also purchase Beyond Meat from Fresh Hema Supermarket Shanghai.
Having tasted plant-basedmeat from Beyond Meat and Hong Kong’s Omnipork, I have to say that this new generation of meat has pleasantly surprised me.

Omnipork (left),Beyond Meat (right)

 Looking at Beyond Meat’s products, their selection offers a range of artificial hamburger meat and sausages that Westerners seem to prefer more as the taste and texture are able to simulate real meat to a very high degree. In addition, after defrosting there is a strong barbecue aroma already present that further adds to the realism.

In comparison, the plant-based meat from Hong Kong has less additives. However, the mung bean taste is more apparent. I placed an order on Taobao and received it the next day, with the cold chain logistics done perfectly. I’ve found that using the plant-based meat to make dumplings work great and although the mashed meat is still different from real meat, if you ask a friend to try it without telling them, they would still think it is real meat.

Pumpkin / oven baked meat with green pepper and salted egg yolk (Omnipork)

The above being said, plant-based meat also has its short comings and that is the cost. I purchased a box of Beyond Meat with two pieces of hamburger meat from an online supermarket which cost RMB 60, whilst in comparison it is said that restaurant purchase prices are around RMB 20 each. In addition to cost, the sodium contentis high and the calories are similar to that of real meat. In my opinion, the best way is to take a moral standpoint and eat it once a week.

The price of Omnipork is relatively affordable, about a quarter of the price to that of Beyond Meat. I feel that the tastes are designed and targeted more for Asian taste buds, with the mung bean taste being much more apparent.

No matter which brand of plant-based meat you choose, it is only suitable for steaming and frying. It cannot be boiled directly, as once it is boiled it will taste like a baked cake. If you use it to make dumplings, the overall effect is excellent and if you add vinegar to it, the mung bean taste will be successfully covered up.

Handmade dumplings (Omnipork)

Asian countries are no strangers to plant-based meat, with vegetarian meat having always been the choice for vegetarians or those pursuing a healthy diet. However, due to the increase of environmental awareness in recent times, coupled with the increase in health awareness driven by the coronavirus, plant-based meat has suddenly become the main meat substitute in the market, allowing 95% of non-vegetarians to accept this kind of meat. In addition to this, the simulation technology for plant-based meat is far better than that of traditional vegetarian meat.

A visit to a plant-based meat factory, producer: Eater, duration: 11 mins

Global warming is already an irreversible problem. The documentary ‘Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret’ found that animal husbandry causes more environmental damage than that of the petrochemical industry, therefore if you are wanting to avoid this global disaster, reducing your meat diet seems to be the most direct and efficient way.

Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret, highlights cut, duration: 13 mins

The coronavirus epidemic has prompted more and more consumers to seek meat alternatives. One of the main reasons for this is because of frequent cluster infections in meat processing plants, which has created a demand for people seeking safe food sources during the epidemic and are therefore willing to try plant-based meat.    
The successful launch and listing of vegan stock in the US stock market has led to many other plant-based meat brands pursuing opportunities and investment, but as long as the taste of the product remains problematic, there is no real way for it to become mainstream and enter the lives of everyday people.
The biggest obstacle to the promotion of plant-based meat in the Asian market is simply the price. If the price cannot be reduced or made more competitive, this kind of meat may eventually become a premium product and food for the wealthy. The promotion of these new ingredients in China must be integrated into the restaurant system to be effective. Michelin Guide has already added several sustainability criteria’s to their evaluations and are actively promoting the use and acceptance of these new ingredients, whilst at the same time encouraging chefs to become more accepting to the use and taste of plant-based meat.

Plant-based meat used for pan-fried buns (Beyond Meat)

All in all, if these kind of products can enter mainstream restaurant channels such as: Din Tai Fung, Xiaoyang Pan-fried Bun or Cantonese style restaurants, this would be avery effective and efficient way to change the perception of plant-based meat as a premium food, but one that is more for the masses and everyday people.

The target audience should also be adjusted. It should be aimed at people who care about the environment, rather than people who are already vegetarian so that the market will expand. According to my vegetarian friend, he doesn’t need imitation meat products such as plant-based meat. It is actually designed for people who eat meat.

Plant-based meat must be developed by people who eat meat to reduce damage to the environment, which is more practical.

One other problem facing gourmets is the taste of the main ingredient of plant-based meat which is based off soy products, but the purpose of plant-based meat is to imitate the taste of real meat which is actually at odds with the taste.

In the future, if plant-based meat is to successfully enter the Chinese market, it must be accepted by Chinese restaurants so that the market can grow and the price lowered. Western fast food restaurants should also be encouraging the public totry these new foods. If it can be accepted by Chinese chefs, this would be amajor breakthrough for the future. However, based on its current selling price, it may only be suited in restaurants where the average cost of a meal perperson is more than 200 RMB.

The push to useand integrate plant-based meat into the market may take some time. Unless manufacturers form alliances in a short period of time to expand the market, only then can they truly enter the private sector.  I am looking forward to future marketing and promotion of plant-based meat. For example, the plant-based meat option now appears on the Xiaoyang Pan-fried Bun menu. In reality, it will never become mainstream, but if it can win a single-digit market share of meat consumption, then that is already very successful.

Although plant-based meat is still processed food, which completely goes against the norms of gourmet enthusiasts of having food with natural flavoring with no additives, I have been buying plant-based meat regularly. I personally feel that through the use of good cooking techniques, I get a sense of great satisfaction knowing that I am doing my part to help the environment and reduce animal cruelty. If we have the opportunity do so, why shouldn’t we?










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