In China, meat consumption has long been viewed as a status symbol and an indicator of wealth. But as consumers become more aware of health and environmental issues, data from organisations such as GFI suggest that the tide is turning.
China is a huge market, consuming 28% of the world’s meat, so a reduction in meat consumption in the country could have a huge impact. What’s more, China has the ability to bring down supply costs for alt-protein products, as well as producing raw materials and making vital R&D investments. As has happened with other sectors such as renewable energy, having China on board could radically speed up progress worldwide.
This is already beginning to happen with cell-cultured products. For example, TurtleTree Scientific recently announced it would be partnering with Chinese biotech company JSBiosciences to make cellular agriculture more affordable. And China has its own cell-cultured startups, which are rapidly gaining investments.
Meanwhile, fast-food chains in China are rolling out plant-based options at a rate that would have been unthinkable a few years ago. McDonald’s China has just launched Omnipork’s luncheon meat in several provinces, and leading Chinese fast-food chain Dicos has replaced chicken eggs with JUST Egg.
After closing an $850K pre-seed funding round, Chinese alt-meat startup HERO protein described plant-based meat as “a rising and unstoppable trend in China“. Another Chinese alt-meat company, Starfield, raised huge amounts of funding last year, as did Hey Maet.
Western alt-protein companies are also making inroads into the Chinese market. Beyond Meat, for example, has just opened a cutting-edge facility in Shanghai.
Currently, the cost of alt-meat products is a barrier to many Chinese consumers, but several companies are working to bring prices down — such as Hong-Kong-based OmniFoods, which will be opening a factory in China next year.
“Obviously minimizing logistics and middle parties and creating economies of scale will have a big impact on the value chain,” founder David Yeung recently told The Guardian. “As we cut these expenses in China, we foresee a significant price drop.”
If alt-meat products become as cheap — or cheaper than — conventional meat, the impact will be felt worldwide. And China could be a key player in making that change happen.