Plant-Based Startup Hero Protein Brings On Former McDonald’s CMO As New Chief To Accelerate China Growth

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Shanghai-based food tech Hero Protein has announced Vicky Lee, former CMO of McDonald’s Taiwan, as its new CEO as the young startup looks to accelerate its growth in China. The company, which launched its products in January this year, also announced a rebranding of its Chinese name to 植物家, meaning “plant-based pioneer”. 

Hero Protein has just welcomed food industry veteran Vicky Lee to lead the company as CEO, the startup announced on Tuesday (May 18). Previously, Lee was the CMO at McDonald’s Taiwan and group vice president of Xiabu Xiabu, a major Beijing-based restaurant brand and the country’s second largest hot pot chain.

“I am very excited to join the team at Hero Protein, where we share the mission to create healthier and more sustainable alternatives for Chinese consumers,” commented Lee. 

“With growing concerns on health, food safety and sustainability in China, I believe the development of plant-based foods is a key part of the solution, and we have the right technology and people at Hero Protein to bring the best offerings to the market.” 

Spaghetti Bolognese made with Hero Protein’s plant-based meat.

I am very excited to join the team at Hero Protein, where we share the mission to create healthier and more sustainable alternatives for Chinese consumers.

Vicky Lee, CEO, Hero Protein

In the same announcement, the Shanghai-based food tech also said it is now rebranding its Chinese name to 植物家 to better reflect its “ambition to lead the development of the new protein industry in China”. The new name directly translates to “plant-based pioneer” or “plant-based powerhouse”. 

Hero Protein first landed on the market in January this year, launching its range of plant-based chicken, beef and fish products via foodservice at a number of restaurants, corporate and school catering establishments across Shanghai. Its entire range is vegan, made from soybeans, peas, wheat, coconut oil, soybean oil, mushroom extract, potato starch and natural seasonings and spices.

According to the startup, whose R&D team consists of former team members of internationally recognised plant-based brands such as Beyond Meat, Impossible Foods, Gardein and Morningstar, Hero Protein products are first homegrown analogues produced using high-moisture extrusion technology, which enables a more realistic meat-like texture. 

Hero Protein Sichuan Chicken.

The young company has already turned heads of investors, including Lever VC’s dedicated China fund in November last year. In February, the company closed US$850,000 in a pre-seed round, and now says they are gearing up to open another seed round of fundraising this month. 

Hero Protein says the capital raised will be used to accelerate its growth across mainland China, with the aim of becoming the country’s “leading plant-based meat brand delivering best-in-class plant-based products formulated specifically for the Chinese market.”

While the alternative protein industry is still in its nascent stages in China compared to Western markets, the food tech scene is quickly heating up with a number of homegrown players standing alongside Hero Protein to serve the fast-growing demand for plant-based foods, among them Zhenmeat, Starfield, Haey Meat, Haofood, and Zrou

Fuelled by coronavirus-driven concerns about health, food safety and sustainability, Chinese consumers have been turning to flexitarian diets more than ever before, which will drive unprecedented growth in the country’s alternative protein industry in the years to come, according to a recent market report by Beijing and Singapore-based Asymmetrics Research. 


All images courtesy of Hero Protein.

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