While China’s plant-based meat industry is still in its early days, there are a growing number of homegrown startups rising to develop alternative proteins that are tailored to the local market, and Hero Protein is the latest to join the growing list. Founded earlier this year to offer a range of plant-based analogues for beef, chicken and fish, the company is already turning heads amongst investors, including Lever VC’s dedicated China fund.
Having closed its pre-seed funding round earlier this September, which saw participation from the Lever China Alternative Protein Fund, a dedicated fund that invests in pioneering early-stage food techs in China, Hero Protein is on a mission to expand the range of locally-made plant-based meat substitutes on the Chinese market.
The Shanghai-based startup’s initial range, which includes plant-based chicken, beef and fish, were formulated by an impressive team of former senior R&D executives at some of the most recognisable plant-based brands, such as Beyond Meat, Impossible Foods, Gardein and Morningstar. The entire line-up is vegan-friendly, containing soybeans, peas, wheat, coconut oil, soybean oil, mushroom extract, potato starch and natural seasonings and spices. The products are still under development and have yet to land on shelves.
Developed with knowledge and expertise of the local market, several of the products are particularly suited for classic dishes that often feature in Chinese cuisine, from steamed pork patties and meatballs to stir-fries and dumpling fillings, while other products can be used in a wide variety of international cuisines such as burgers. In addition, by emphasising the GMO-free, antibiotic-free and cholesterol-free qualities of its plant-based meat, Hero Protein appeals to the increasingly food safety conscious mainstream Chinese consumer.
Speaking about the decision to select Hero Protein, Nina Ju, investment director of the Lever China Fund, explained that the fund “prioritise[s] companies that bring innovative and delicious products and novel food technologies to China.”
The other companies the fund chose include plant-based chicken startup HaoFood who has recently joined ProVeg Incubator’s female-led cohort, Tianjin-based vegan seafood company New Singularity, mainland China’s first cell-cultivated meat startup LIKE Foods in Beijing, and Hong Kong-based cultured fish maw maker Avant Meats.
Other homegrown Chinese food techs have also gained traction with investors, including newly launched Hey Maet, a Shanghai plant-based company who has secured funding from UpHonest Capital, a VC founded by Silicon Valley angel investor Wei Guo, and an investment partnership with Shuangta Food, a pea protein company that supplies Beyond Meat. Hey Maet is also on a mission to create Chinese-tailored plant-based products, including vegan iterations of minced pork, Chinese sausages, minced beef, meatballs for hot pot and beef cubes.
Other domestic startups carving out its place in the Chinese market include Zhenmeat, a Beijing-based food tech with a similar focus on adapting to Chinese cuisine who has recently debuted vegan crayfish and pork belly, as well as Starfield, a Shenzhen-based company that has attracted US$10 million to ramp up its aggressive foodservice roll-out strategy.
Lead image courtesy of Hero Protein / designed by Sally Ho for Green Queen Media.