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China’s appetite for meat fades as Vegan revolution takes hold

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China's government may see alternative proteins as a way to let citizens continue to have the 'luxury' of meat while also moving towards its carbon-reduction goals.

CRYSTAL REID: Over the last couple of years, after many years of rising meat consumption by China’s expanding middle classes for whom eating pork every day was a luxurious sign of new financial comforts, the green shoots of a vegan meat revolution have begun to sprout. Although China still consumes 28% of the world’s meat, including half of all pork, and boasts a meat market valued at $86bn (£62bn), plant-based meat substitutes are slowing carving out a place for themselves among a new generation of consumers increasingly alarmed by food crises such as coronavirus and African swine fever.

China’s most cosmopolitan cities are now home to social media groups, websites and communities dedicated to meat-free lifestyles. VegeRadar, for example, has compiled comprehensive maps of vegetarian and vegan restaurants all across China. According to a report by the Good Food Institute, China’s plant-based meat market was estimated at 6.1bn yuan (£675m) in 2018 and projected to grow between 20 and 25% annually…

Eating meat has been closely connected with the growing affluence of China… But in 2016, as part of its pledge to bring down carbon emissions, the Chinese government outlined a plan to cut the country’s meat intake by 50%. It was a radical move, and so far very few other governments around the world have included meat consumption in their carbon-reduction plans…

Alternative proteins are seen as a possible route forwards. Last year at the annual “two sessions” parliament, Sun Baoguo, a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, called for more investment in and regulation and promotion of artificial meat.

Some of the biggest international chains operating in China have been quick to bet on the growth of alternative meats. KFC is now selling vegan chicken nuggets, Burger King is offering an Impossible Whopper, and Starbucks is serving Beyond Meat pastas, salads and wraps.

But domestic companies are setting up shop too, betting that state backing will come soon, not least because the government may see alternative proteins as a way to let citizens continue to have the “luxury” of meat while also moving towards its carbon-reduction goals. That optimism has led to several Chinese competitors entering the market…

OmniFoods, which launched in Hong Kong in 2018, is one of a band of regional startups jostling for market share, having recently opened a multi-brand vegan shop and restaurant in Shanghai and secured its signature product, OmniPork… Shanghai-based Z-Rou produces a plant-based mince substitute which is already in the canteens of some of China’s top international schools, hospitals and businesses… Other China players include Zhenmeat, which makes plant-based beef, pork and crayfish, and Starfield, whose seaweed-based mince alternative has been turned into dishes at some of China’s leading restaurant chains…

Z-Rou’s CEO Franklin Yao… admits the industry is still very small in China but he thinks meat-free substitutes will become mainstream very soon. “Chinese consumers are actively looking for more sustainable products. While the link between meat and the environment is still weak among the majority of the population, the interest is there and China learns fast.”  SOURCE…

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