Innovations in technology have sparked China’s plant-based food renaissance and across the world. Last year in the US, the plant-based market value grew to a record high of $7.4 billion. In China, the plant-based meat industry is projected to be a $13 billion industry by 2023. And with long-term plans to reduce meat consumption by 50% by 2023, China is becoming a key target for businesses looking to either expand or enter into the plant-based food industry.
If you’re a business within the food & beverage industry, you may want to pay close attention to the fast developments that are taking place in China’s plant-based food industry. That’s because both plant-based and regular brands are starting to offer customers plant-based alternatives.
So, what’s been the cause of this growing trend? Who are some of the current rising brands within China’s plant-based food industry? And what can you learn from how these brands market these products to Chinese consumers?
Is Plant-based Food the Future?
There are many reasons shared universally across the world that explain the rise in interest and investment in plant-based food amongst consumers and businesses.
Firstly, studies have shown that transitioning to a plant-based diet can reduce your carbon footprint by up to 73%. In China, there are efforts to curb the rise in obesity rates amongst the population. Moreover, China’s growing middle class have the expendable income to make more health-conscious purchasing decisions.
One method to encourage healthier eating is to introduce plant-based alternatives to popular food and drink staples typically bought by the average consumer. What makes plant-based foods so appealing is that they don’t contain cholesterol and are low in saturated fat. Gone are the days where plant-based products couldn’t match the taste of their meat counterparts. As technology develops, so too does the accuracy in texture and taste of plant-based products.
When you think of popular Chinese cuisine, a plant-based diet typically doesn’t come to mind. But did you know there is a vegetarianism culture in China through practicing buddhists and monks? And while Chinese people love to eat meat, their diet also heavily consists of vegetables and soy products like tofu and soy milk.
As a result, the appeal of plant-based products amongst health-conscious Chinese consumers has been embraced relatively seamlessly and is constantly growing.
Let’s take a look at recent marketing strategies by famous foreign brands contributing to the growth of China’s plant-based food industry. This article will also cover notable Chinese plant-based companies that are adapting plant-based foods to Chinese taste buds.
Plant-based milks such as soy milk and even coconut milk are widely available and consumed in China. But recently, Swedish food company Oatly has helped introduce oat milk to the Chinese consumer. 60% of Oatly is owned by a 50-50 joint venture with Belgian venture capital firm Verlinvest and Chinese state-owned conglomerate China Resources.
Hence, Oatly has marketed heavily in the Chinese market, and its presence can be found everywhere in China’s major cities. For those that fancy drinking an oat latte, you can find oatly being supplied as the main provider of oat milk in most coffee shops and even restaurants such as McDonald’s. Or if you want to purchase a carton of oat milk, you can now find them stocked in convenient stores and supermarkets.
Eat Just is an American food company that specializes in producing plant-based alternatives to popular condiments and foods. They are most famous for creating their signature JUST Egg, an egg-replacer made from mung bean protein that consumers can use to cook omelet or scrambled egg. JUST Egg entered the Chinese market, and in 2021 saw an aspect of Chinese culture that they could incorporate within their marketing strategy to showcase their product.
Jianbing (similar to a crepe) is a popular breakfast dish in China. You can find jianbing stalls set up during the early mornings, with busy workers lining up to purchase jianbing for breakfast. Jianbings are filled with many toppings, but one of the key ingredients in making jianbing is cracking and mixing an egg on top of the crepe.
JUST Egg reached out to various jianbing shops across Shanghai and provided them with JUST Egg bottles so that jianbing shops could offer customers completely plant-based jianbing. Customers that bought the JUST Egg jianbing would then scan a JUST Egg QR code to complete the payment, and receive a free JUST Egg jianbing coupon as a reward.
Outside of China, Burger King has already tested adding plant-based burgers in their menu, having partnered with Impossible Foods to launch the Impossible Whopper in the US. In late 2020, Burger King launched their plant-based whopper in stores across cities in China. The plant-based burger patties, produced by Dutch plant-based brand The Vegetarian Butcher, provide meat-free burgers to consumers that taste almost identical to regular beef burgers.
American fast-food giant KFC is known worldwide for their signature fried chicken. In 2021, American plant-based meat producer Beyond Meat partnered with KFC China and launched a variety of plant-based products such as their plant-based beef wrap and plant-based fried chicken bucket. To differentiate and promote their plant-based menu items, KFC cleverly modified their famous red and white striped branding into bright green and white colors which visually stand out.
Chinese Plant-based Companies
So what about Chinese plant-based companies? And what are their strategies to compete against the likes of KFC and Burger King wanting a piece of the China plant-based market share? KFC and Burger King offer customers plant-based alternatives of their popular Western food items. But Chinese plant-based companies have gone a different route, producing plant-based meat substitutes that can be used in popular Chinese dishes. This caters to a much wider audience that primarily consumes Chinese food.
Omnifoods is a foodtech company owned by Hong Kong based company Green Monday. With a goal to reduce carbon footprint and introduce healthier alternatives to popular Chinese food staples, Omnifoods has gone on to launch a series of both Western and Chinese plant-based products. Omnifoods’ signature sub-brand is OmniPork, which sells a range of convincing pork imitation products such as pork mince, and luncheon meat that are widely used in asian cuisine.
Zhenmeat is a Chinese plant-based meat brand aimed at satisfying the appetite of Chinese consumers. For example, seafood and pork are extremely popular in Chinese cuisine. So Zhenmeat responded to this demand with their plant-based crayfish (made from seaweed and konjac extracts) and plant-based pork products that can be used to make dumplings or stir fry dishes.
Z-Rou is a Chinese plant-based meat brand by Youkuai, a plant-based meat supplier based in Shanghai, China. Z-Rou is one of the leading plant-based meat brands in China and, just like its competitors, produces a range of pork imitation products including dumplings, pork baozi (steamed buns), and meatballs. You can find their products stocked nationwide in high-end supermarkets.
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