The African Swine Fever crisis in China has spurred demand for plant-based meat products in the world’s second largest economy.
China is one of the biggest consumers and producers of pork, However, the African swine fever (ASF) ravaging China’s pig herds has also led to a drastic shortage of the country’s meat staple and a steep rise in its price.
According to a CNBC report, pork prices soared 69% in September from a year ago and despite damage control measures taken by Chinese authorities, including increasing imports from the US as well as releasing 30,000 metric tons of pork from national reserves, they’ve failed to bridge the gap in supply and arrest the surge in prices.
Good window of opportunity
The shortage in supply and steep prices however, have led to a huge opportunity for plant- based players to introduce their meat-less alternatives to China’s mainstream meat eaters.
“It is a good window of opportunity,” said Hong Kong entrepreneur David Yeung, co-founder and chief executive of social venture Green Monday, which is behind plant-based meat substitute Omnipork.
“With the hog stock in China dropping every day because of the epidemic, the demand for fake meat products will be more urgent than ever,” said Zhang Xinliang, the founder of Ningbo Sulian Foods, one of China’s three largest plant-based meat manufacturers.
In fact, some analysts estimate that the African swine fever virus’ impact on China’s pig herd could continue for years and the number of hogs could halve by the end of this year, according to a report by Dutch bank Rabobank.
Rising demand for meat-less alternatives
With the turn of events, consumers are looking for safer and cheaper options and vegan ‘meats’ are increasingly being accepted across mainland China.
Food items such ready-to-eat vegan mooncakes, dumplings and spicy vegan sausages are growing in popularity.
Health is another factor that has compelled many Chinese to try meat alternatives. A survey conducted by the New Zealand Institute for Plant & Food Research revealed that more than 39% of 2,000 consumers polled in major Chinese cities were limiting their meat intake largely due to weight and health reasons.
The government also seems to encourage people to consume less meat by issuing guidelines in 2016 that recommended people to limit their meat consumption by half by 2020.
Vegan meat choices
The choice of vegan meat in China is slightly different from the West.
While companies in the West are busy launching meatless options for beef and chicken, the Chinese prefer meat alternatives to pork.
Thus, manufacturers of plant-based protein meat such as Zhenmeat and Starfield are gearing to satiate local tastes with minced ‘pork’ and a range of seasoned plant-based sausages using soya and pea.
Hong Kong-based Omnipork makes a version of minced pork from mushrooms, peas, soy, and rice. The resulting product can be used to replace meat in several Chinese dishes such as filling for buns or toppings for noodles.
“In China and most of Asia, the meat we eat the most is not beef, not chicken, but pork,” said David Yeung, Omnipork’s founder.
“Local adaptation based on flavor is very important. In the future we might roll out tailored products for different regions of China,” he added.
How successful will plant-based meat manufacturers be in China? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
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