When Told About the Benefits, Almost Everybody in China Would Eat More Plant-Based Foods

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New research shows that health is the priority for Chinese consumers when it comes to plant-based food – and the more they know about the benefits, the more they’ll eat it.

When you inform people in China about the benefits of a vegan diet, nearly all of them (98%) would be willing to eat more plant-based foods, according to a new survey.

This number stays the same for flexitarians, though this demographic has more people displaying a ‘strong willingness’ to add plant-based foods (64%, versus 57% of the total). This makes sense considering that flexitarian by definition refers to people actively reducing their meat intake – but even amongst meat-eaters (or omnivores), 54% are willing to up their vegan consumption once learning about the benefits.

The results are from a poll carried out by Kantar for ProVeg International, covering 1,000 consumers from Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. It found that nearly a third (32%) of Chinese people identify as flexitarians, though the incidence of vegetarianism (1.5%) and veganism (0.9%) is low.

They were presented with 15 benefit statements about plant-based foods, 14 of which were based on peer-reviewed research. These included preventing or lowering the risk of type 2 diabetes, breast cancer, and antibiotic resistance; lowering body mass index (BMI); cutting greenhouse gas emissions; reducing global hunger; and being a source of delicious and satisfying meals (among others).

“We found that most people are concerned that they eat healthy food and that once they know just how healthy and climate-friendly plant-based food is, they will eat a lot more of it,” said Shirley Lu, managing director and Asia and China representative at ProVeg.

Health high on the agenda for China’s consumers

china vegan survey
Courtesy: ProVeg International

The survey participants were asked to agree or disagree with each of the statements, while also rating which ones would be the most effective in persuading them to eat plant-based food. Using this data, the pollsters created a four-quadrant Agreement/Persuasion Matrix.

Seven of the top 10 statements that respondents agreed with were related to health. The most popular was the one that suggested plant-based diets lowered BMI and reduced obesity rates, therefore also reducing rates of heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. More than half (56%) of Chinese people believe this is true.

The BMI statement was also the most persuasive in encouraging increased plant-based consumption, leading the first quadrant of the matrix. The three other statements in this quadrant – which combined strong agreement with strong persuasion – were health-related too. They stated that plant-based diets are high in calcium and bioavailability (52% agreement), provide adequate protein (49%), and are iron-rich (51%).

In quadrant 2, which highlights benefits that were met with low agreement but still tend to be influential in increasing uptake of plant-based foods, the top statement suggests that these foods lower the risk of developing antibiotic resistance. This was also the most persuasive statement overall, and was followed in this quadrant by the statements that animal agriculture makes up 80% of rainforest destruction, beef and dairy are among the biggest sources of methane, and vegan diets can help reduce world hunger.

In contrast, the idea that plant-based foods are more energy-efficient and use fewer natural resources was the least persuasive argument, despite 49% agreeing with this. The statement people agreed with the least was that animal agriculture accounts for up to 20% of all greenhouse gas emissions, something that was also one of the most insignificant benefits for respondents.

Who should plant-based companies market to?

china plant based survey
Courtesy: ProVeg International

This reflects the emphasis Chinese consumers put on health over the environment. Overall, the main reasons for consuming plant-based food were health (46%), nutrition (39%) and food safety (35%). Only 24% are motivated by the fact that they are climate-friendly.

Conversely, the biggest barriers are dissatisfaction with the freshness of ingredients (cited by 36%) and the taste (31%), and uncertainty about the nutritional completeness (30%).

For food manufacturers, targeting the right demographic is key to hit home your message. While more women (59%) expressed a strong willingness to change their diet than men (41%), responses were very similar across the age ranges of both sexes, at between 24% for those aged 18-24 and 27% for 40- to 60-year-olds.

Meanwhile, 36% of flexitarians displayed a strong willingness to eat more plant-based food. Among income groups, it seemed the richer the person, the less willing they were to change. People earning between ¥15,000 and ¥25,000 ($2,000-$3,300) each month were most happy to shift to a plant-based diet (29%), and those on the highest household income (above ¥40,000/5,400) were the least likely to do so (16%).

china vegan study
Courtesy: ProVeg International

The report recommends companies leverage the high-awareness and high-persuasion factors from the matrix, amplify the benefits that had low agreement but were still highly convincing, and market popular benefits with low persuasion rates in ways that can be more relevant to consumers.

Spotlight health, whether it’s produce or plant-based meat

In 2016, the Chinese government introduced the Healthy China 2030 policy, which stipulated that public health should be a precondition for all future socio-economic development. And four years later, it announced the 30-60 policy, committing to hit peak emissions by 2030 and become carbon-neutral by 2060.

Last year, a study by Singapore-based firm Asia Research Engagement found that China – the world’s largest producer of pork, fish and eggs – is expected to see animal consumption increase by 2030 despite falling population numbers. But if it is to meet the 1.5°C goal, 50% of all protein consumption in the country must be from alternative sources by 2060.

There are several things industry players can do to help nudge more plant-based consumption. Social media was found to be the most effective marketing tool, while a focus on nutritional transparency and lower price points will go a long way too.

gfi state of the industry report
Courtesy: GFI APAC

Companies need to improve the knowledge and awareness of nutrition and food processing, and finance R&D efforts to develop healthier and tastier plant-based meat products. More investment in consumer education about meat analogues’ health benefits is crucial too.

Finally, vegetables that are high in protein, iron and calcium are particularly appealing to consumers, so marketing strategies that highlight the nutritional value of both fresh produce and meat and dairy analogues can be highly influential.

“China boasts a rich heritage of plant-based diets and a wealth of healthy plant ingredients. Government agencies, educational institutions, and plant-based food businesses can leverage this study to educate consumers about the benefits and impact of plant-based diets,” said Lu.

“By highlighting the health, environmental, and culinary advantages, we can collectively work towards transforming our food system to one that is beneficial for humans, plants, and animals alike.”


  • Anay Mridul

    Anay is Green Queen's resident news reporter. Originally from India, he worked as a vegan food writer and editor in London, and is now travelling and reporting from across Asia. He's passionate about coffee, plant-based milk, cooking, eating, veganism, food tech, writing about all that, profiling people, and the Oxford comma.

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