Beijing-based plant-based meat startup Zhenmeat is now seeking US$ 2 million in funding from global investors in order to capture the growing demand for plant-based meat alternatives in China. This follows the latest news from Silicon Valley-based Impossible Foods, who debuted two new plant-based pork products at CES in Vegas earlier this month in a bid to claim their share of the pork-loving Asian market. Fuelled by the outbreak of African swine fever that has wiped out pork supplies in the region and increasingly eco-conscious and ethical consumers, a host of plant-based companies are now vying to capitalise on the meatless meat trend with a particular focus on the lucrative China market.
In a recent interview with CNBC, founder Vince Lu said that Zhenmeat is now “talking aggressively” with investors from Europe, China and the United States in hopes to raise around US$ 2 million in funding this year. According to Lu, the funding will enable the company to expand rapidly and tap into the ever-rising demand for plant-based meat alternatives in China, which the founder estimates can take over as much as 10% real meat consumption in the country within the near future.
In the same interview, Lu referenced that plant-based milks have grown to enormous popularity and have already substituted around 15% of the dairy market in China as an example of the lucrative opportunity that plant-based companies in the region hold for investors.
The management team is looking to at increase Zhenmeat’s scale of production. “Volume production is going to be the most important thing if we ever want to partner with a big name, big chain restaurant in China…[and] meet up with the volume they need,” Lu said.
The startup, which is less than one year old, has already managed to raise over US$ 720,000. Zhenmeat’s main product is a plant-based mince meat made from pea protein, and is available in both pork and beef flavours. Their product line also includes vegan versions of Chinese delicacies such as mooncakes, dumplings and meatballs.
Zhenmeat’s latest funding push comes as a wave of plant-based rivals, including American-based Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat have expressed their intentions to capitalise on the massive Chinese market. Last week, Impossible Foods debuted two new plant-based pork products through a range of Asian-style dishes such as dumplings and baos at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Vegas, an outward reflection of their hopes to tap into Chinese demand. This came after Impossible’s rival Beyond Meat indicated that it was making inroads for partnerships to launch production locally in the country.
These developments are unsurprising, given that China represents the second-largest economy in the world, and towers over other countries in Asia. According to figures from the Good Food Institute (GFI), the plant-based industry in China is worth an estimated US$ 884 million in 2018, which indicates a year-on-year growth of 14.2%.
In comparison, the same market in the United States stood at about US$684 million. To add to this existing demand driven by consumers who have coupled their animal consumption habits with huge environmental footprint and health concerns is the outbreak of African swine fever, which has led to skyrocketing pork prices in the region. Altogether, the most updated estimates have placed the value of Asia’s plant-based market at a whopping US$ 16 billion this year.
Despite the host of American rivals eyeing the Chinese market with glee, Zhenmeat is convinced that they have an upper hand in catering to local palates. According to Lu, the Beijing startup is unique because they tailor their products to suit Chinese cuisines, so “Chinese chefs and customers can make a lot of Chinese dishes, like dumplings.” He added that he welcomed the entry of American plant-based startups because they share the “same vision” to disrupt the host of negative impacts stemming from animal agriculture and increase the exposure of plant-based alternatives.
Elsewhere in Asia, regional plant-based startups have also developed their own meat analogues that are specifically suited to local appetites and tastes. Hong Kong-based Green Monday’s Right Treat venture, for instance, launched their pork mince alternative Omnipork last year to huge fanfare, and are now serving restaurants all over Asia including in Singapore, Hong Kong, Thailand, Taiwan and mainland China, with dishes tailored to Asian palettes. Malaysia and Hong Kong-based Phuture Foods have joined in, developing a Halal-friendly vegan pork product that is expected to launch later this year.
Lead image courtesy of Zhenmeat / SCMP.