YouKuai Group International, the Chinese plant-based company behind the pork analogue Zrou, has announced today the close of a US$7.3 million Series A funding round led by Singaporean investment firm TRIREC. Proceeds from the fundraise will go towards expanding partnerships with foodservice players across China to bolster Zrou’s “loyal fanbase” as the alternative proteins continue to grow in popularity in the country.
Shanghai-based YouKuai has announced the closing of a seven-digit Series A financing round, led by Singapore sustainable investment company Trirec, whose portfolio includes American plant-based brand Hungry Planet and whose focus is supporting decarbonization-related technologies and businesses. Others who joined the round include Thibault Villet, co-founder of Chinese luxury fashion e-commerce platform Mei, which was later acquired by Alibaba, as well as several Asia-based angel investors.
YouKuai says that the capital will go towards expanding its Zrou brand of plant-based pork. The firm’s vegan alternative, which is manufactured in the country using non-GMO soybeans sourced from Northeast China, is available in around 100 foodservice outlets, including in Michelin-starred restaurants, premium resorts, private schools and corporate cafeterias.
Zrou, which comes in ground or mince formats, also contains coconut oil, konjac and shiitake mushrooms, and boasts over 10-grams of protein per 100-gram serving.
The two-year-old brand takes a social media and influencer-forward approach in its marketing to reach younger consumers, and also works with renowned chefs to build a trendy “community of early-adopters” of alternative proteins in China.
We believe our model tailored for local culinary art and early-adopters will power YouKuai into a leading alternative protein company that represents China on the global stage.Frankin Yao, Founder & CEO, YouKuai
“This round of financing is a recognition of our unique model of popularising alternative protein in China,” commented Franklin Yao, founder and CEO of YouKuai.
“It allows us to expand our partnership and strengthen our loyal fanbase through tasty, healthy, sustainable products and creative presentations. We believe our model tailored for local culinary art and early-adopters will power YouKuai into a leading alternative protein company that represents China on the global stage,” Yao added.
While the alternative protein industry is still relatively new in China, YouKuai is joined by a rising cohort of homegrown food techs who are developing sustainable meat alternatives suited to Chinese appetites and cuisines. Among them are Zhenmeat, Starfield, Haey Meat, Hero Protein and Haofood.
These players are serving the fast-growing demand for healthier and safer foods in China, a trend that has accelerated amid the pandemic and prompted swathes of consumers to begin practicing flexitarianism, according to a recent market report by Beijing and Singapore-based Asymmetrics Research.
YouKuai’s flagship Zrou products taste great, are versatile across a diverse set of cuisines, and are locally produced in China for the Chinese palette.Melvyn Yeo, Co-Founder, Trirec
Investors have been pouring greater sums into alternative protein companies, given the market potential. According to AgFunder data, Chinese agri-food techs raised a record US$6 billion in 2020, of which US$127 million was secured by startups working on meat and dairy replacement products in the country.
Pork is a category particularly ripe for disruption in China, given the country’s standing as the world’s largest consumer of the meat, and ongoing supply chain strains caused by livestock diseases affecting pig herds, namely African swine fever.
Commenting on the decision to back YouKuai, co-founder of lead investor Trirec, Melvyn Yeo, said: “YouKuai’s flagship Zrou products taste great, are versatile across a diverse set of cuisines, and are locally produced in China for the Chinese palette.”
“Trirec is proud to be a partner in YouKuai’s endeavor of shaping the plant-based conversation in China and globally. We believe this new round of financing is only the beginning of an exciting journey.”
All images courtesy of YouKuai.