It took more than 30 years, but significant markets for meat alternatives have been established in North America and Western Europe, so the category could be considered mainstream today.
Given the fierce competition in these regions, investors and meatless companies with international ambitions are targeting more emerging markets – and China is often high on their list.
The interest of Chinese consumers is growing, but can a substantial market for plant-based meat develop in the country?
Many companies think that way – and The Livekindly Collective is one of them.
The US-based corporation, which has built its portfolio primarily through M&A, mainly in North America and Europe, has entered China with two new brands specially developed for the market, the first developed in-house.
Giggling Pig (“Ge Ji Zhu”) and Hpy Chicken (“Ha Pi Ji”) are aimed at Generation Z consumers in China with cartoon characters on the packaging. Products are designed for traditional Chinese cuisine and the palate, including plant-based dumplings, mushroom dishes, and seasoned ground beef.
„Chinese consumers definitely have very different characteristics,” Tao Zhang, an alternative protein investor in China, said on this website last year. “You are very demanding when it comes to taste. They may be curious about new products, but if they try your product and it doesn’t taste right, they won’t come back. The product applications for plant-based meat can also be so much more diverse in China than in the USA, for example. ”
Gen Z and Millennial cohorts are the main drivers of the vegetable meat trend in China. GlobalData’s 2021 Consumer Survey confirms this: Around half of Chinese respondents aged 18 to 44 confirm that they are “more likely” or “extremely likely” to choose vegan alternatives to red meat, white meat and pork products. Many of these consumers find plant-based meat analogues to be healthier, safer, and more ethical alternatives to animal meat.
China is becoming a global hub for plant-based lifestyles, fueled by the increasing adoption of a flexitarian diet. To reflect this trend, the Chinese Institute of Food Science and Technology (CIFST) recently demonstrated its first standard for the labeling of plant-based meat products, which are now classified as food containing plant materials or their processed products.
In 2016, Beijing has published nutritional guidelines to halve the pro-cita consumption of meat in the country from around 63 kg to around 14 kg to 27 kg per year in order to curb the increasing prevalence of lifestyle diseases such as diabetes and obesity and to combat greenhouse gas emissions.
Unsurprisingly, more and more alternative protein brands are heading for China, where GlobalData predicts that the meat substitute market will grow from 43.7 million kg in 2020 to 51 million kg by 2025.
Overall, China’s plant-based meat industry is still emerging compared to its counterparts in the North American and European markets. Activity is picking up, but essentially, China’s grocery retail channel doesn’t yet have the kind of category that markets like the US, UK, and Netherlands have.
But competition will also intensify in China. In order to gain a foothold in the market, brand owners need to put local tastes and dining occasions at the center of their product development. While affluent Chinese consumers have eagerly embraced certain aspects of Western lifestyle (clothing, interior design), Western food has been received with somewhat less emphasis in relative terms.
Chinese consumers do not always value “Western” flavors, and some industry watchers believe that the success of plant-based meats does not come automatically from selling burgers in Beijing, but from products that suit Chinese palates and local eating and cooking habits are. The Livekindly Collective seems to have taken this message to heart.