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The future of fake meat in China

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Photo credit: SupChina illustration

In the U.S., plant-based meat alternatives are all the rage. Beyond Meat, which serves up meat imitation products made from a mix of 22 ingredients, has quintupled in stock price since it went public in May. Impossible Foods, which adds in a genetically engineered ingredient to make its imitation meat “bleed,” is now the focus of investor buzz.

These fake meat leaders are now eyeing China. According to Sixth Tone, “Both are already expanding rapidly in Hong Kong and preparing to launch across the mainland — Beyond by the end of 2019, and Impossible within two years.” The chief executive of Impossible Foods even told Reuters, “China is our highest priority for future expansion, full stop.”

But can they replicate their success in the largest market across the Pacific? Sixth Tone explains why it’s uncertain:

  • Chinese competitors were bolstered by Beyond’s debut: “shares in nearly every Chinese company with even a tangential relation to plant-based protein skyrocketed on Shanghai’s A-share market.”
  • Domestic companies like Whole Perfect and Hong Chang Biotechnology are making a wider variety of plant-based meat products at cheaper prices than Impossible and Beyond.
  • China’s Buddhists have made popular vegetarian dishes for hundreds of years, and what is seen as a good meat substitute may be more culturally relative than companies assume.
  • Pork is the most popular meat in China, and that also happens to be one that no one has found a good substitute for yet because of its high fat content.

Either way, the meat alternative market is likely to grow in China, for several reasons.

  • The “government aims to convince consumers to halve their meat consumption by 2030 to cut carbon emissions and combat obesity,” according to Sixth Tone.
  • Vegetarianism is growing among younger Chinese people, as are preferences for organic and other foods perceived as healthy.
  • Endemic food safety problems — see, for example, the next story on the swine fever epizootic sweeping the country — may reduce China’s appetite for meat.
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